Category: gifts

Valentine’s Day Treatsie sweets box review & giveaway!

Happy Valentine’s Day, four days early!

You know what the perfect Valentine’s Day gift is for me? Other than flowers (which I do actually love)? CANDY! I love candy. I love sweets in general, but if you buy me chocolate, especially chocolate with caramel, I’ll love you forever.

A Treatsie giveaway!

Speaking of candy, two weeks ago I was gifted with an amazing treat box from Treatsie! If you’ve never heard of Treatsie, and you’ve got a sweet tooth, you’re going to want to pay attention.

What is Treatsie, exactly?

Treatsie helps you find amazing, high-end artisan sweets you’d normally never find unless you stumbled across the shop. Try our monthly subscription sample box of multiple and ever-changing vendors or order boxes from our store to get sweets right away!

The sweets you get in a Treatsie box aren’t the kind you’ll find at big box stores. We only work with small, independent vendors. By subscribing to Treatsie, you are directly supporting small businesses around the country as every Treatsie box and store sale benefits those vendors.

And they certainly aren’t! This January box included hot chocolate pops from PopBar, lavender sea salt caramels from Lillie Belle Farms, peanut brittle from Brittle Brothers, AvenueSweets espresso caramels… this isn’t your average drug store candy. And I LOVE drugstore candy, but trust me. This is better.

A Treatsie box giveaway!

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DIY magic: mason jar snow globes.

Oh, December. How I love you. Make no mistake- Halloween is my absolute favorite holiday. Hands down. However, it’s only acceptable for me to play White Christmas over & over again in December. I don’t mind watching it in February or July, but I find other people take issue. Or perhaps they just take issue with me singing all of the songs (particularly this one & this one) out loud at the top of my lungs? Anyway. I wait until at least after turkey day to break out the Bing! Also, December is the Mount Everest of baking/creating: the best crafts, recipes, and decorations are happening  right around now!

Like these…

DIY mason jar snowglobes. Easiest winter project ever!

This tutorial is something you’ve probably seen all over the internet.

No, not probably. Definitely.  I’ve seen this concept more times in the past two weeks than I’ve seen my fiancee, it seems. I’m just repeating it here to show you how stupidly easy it is. And how fun it is. And chances are, you’ve already got the materials- or most of them- laying around the house. It’s a knockoff of a product that Anthropologie made (they made salt shaker ones too), hence the lack of water.

DIY mason jar snowglobes.

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Sprinkles! A “rainbowlicious” book review & giveaway!

Back in 2011, Quirk Books sent me a delicious cookbook (this one) to review & do a giveaway for. I loved the book & every recipe in it! The frosted maple pecan cookies are some of Jay’s favorite cookies ever. So when they asked me to do a review for a new book, Sprinkles! Recipes and Ideas for Rainbowlicious Desserts, I totally had to say yes!

And I had to ask if I could give one of YOU a copy as well!

Sprinkles! Recipes and Ideas for Rainbowlicious Desserts! Makes a great Christmas gift.

I love cookbooks. I love books in general, really- especially cookbooks, how-to books or DIY/craft books. I’m in the middle of redoing things around the ol’ homestead, so I don’t have easy access to them right now. Which is another reason why I jumped at the chance to get my hands on a new one.

But the main reason? It’s December! It’s time to start thinking about Christmas baking & Christmas presents. Cookbooks like this make not only amazing gifts, but provide some inspiration when we get a little stuck for holiday treats.

A review of: Sprinkles! Recipes and Ideas for Rainbowlicious Desserts.

Sprinkles! Recipes and Ideas for Rainbowlicious Desserts: Here’s a guide to baking and decorating delicious desserts with a colorful twist: sprinkles! Of course you can scatter them over cakes and pies–but you can also swirl them into waffles, “embroider” them on cookies, and freeze them in pretty popsicles. Jackie Alpers shares dozens of creative, colorful, super-fun recipes, plus quick-and-easy projects (ideal for little kids), holiday treats, party-perfect sprinkles crafts (great for gifting!). She also offers simple tutorials for tinting sparkling sugars, concocting homemade pop rocks, and even crafting your own sprinkles from scratch. Sprinkles! is an awesome rainbow explosion of a cookbook you won’t want to miss.”

The first thing that you need to know is that the photography in the book (& on the front & back covers) is beautiful. Beautiful colors & beautiful layouts. It’s enough to make a food blogger a little jealous.

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The dish ran away with the wooden spoon.

Back in June when I posted that DIY tea towel apron tutorial, I got a ton of great feedback. So I thought maybe I’d bring back the DIY thing with another really easy project: painted-handle wooden spoons.

I’ve seen these wooden spoons all over Etsy & Pinterest. Every time I see them I think “I can do that.” I even mentioned doing it to match the apron in that post.

So I finally did it.

Make your own painted-handle wooden spoons!

Except these aren’t dipped in rubber like most of the ones you’ll see, they’re just painted in Martha Stewart Crafts™ multi-surface acrylic craft paint. Which, it just so happens, is both “weather-resistant” & non-toxic. They also did not cost $29.00 for a set of three like those other ones for sale on the internet. Instead, it probably cost me less than $5.00 a set, maybe even less than $3.00: The glitter paint is $2.99 & the satin is $1.99 (you could paint a ton of spoons with one bottle!), and a set of the three spoons cost me $1.00.

I think it took me ten minutes to paint three of them. I did one set for myself in pink (of course) and a set for my mother in black. Once I saw how cute they came out, I started experimenting with different colors & styles. You can paint them to match your KitchenAid mixer, to match your Le Creuset, to match your kitchen color scheme or just in your favorite color. Gold/silver/metallic or pearl paints are interesting choices, too!

Here they are in pink:

DIY painted wooden spoons.“pink dahlia”

Here they are in black:

Make your own painted-handle wooden spoons.“beetle black”

Here they are in light green:

DIY painted wooden spoons!“scallion”

And finally… here they are in glittery pink:

DIY pink glitter wooden spoons. Crazy easy & cheap to make!“bubblegum pink”

Awesome, right? No wonder the dish ran away with the spoon; look at how freakin’ cute the spoons are!

This is what you’ll need:

  • Acrylic paint. Mine is useable on wood, fabric, metal & glass among other surfaces, and like I said above- it’s non-toxic. Of course, you’re not painting the part of the spoon that touches the food, but why take a chance? I actually highly recommend the Martha Stewart line; it comes in a zillion colors (the colors I used are named above). I used the satin & glitter finishes, but you can use a gloss, metallic or pearl if you prefer, it makes no difference. All of them are non-toxic & weather resistant.
  • A small paintbrush.
  • Scotch tape.
  • Wooden spoons. I got mine in a 3-pack at the dollar store, you can buy whatever ones you want, or you can freshen up old ones you already have at home (as long as they aren’t recently oiled or varnished).
  • A pint jar or drinking glass, deep enough & with a wide enough mouth to accommodate the amount of spoons you’ll be painting without having the painted parts of the handles touch each other or the glass itself.

How to make your own painted-handle wooden spoons.

This doesn’t even really need a tutorial, it’s pretty much self-explanatory, but here goes nothin’.

The first thing you’re gonna do is gently wash the spoons in hot water with mild dish soap. Let them dry thoroughly. Then, you’re going to tape them where you want the painted section to end. Very easy. I made them all even so that when the spoon parts line up, so does the paint. You can paint as far down as you like, but I’d leave a decent amount of plain wooden space above the spoon part.

How to make those adorable painted handle wooden spoons.

Okay… once they’re taped, get your glass or jar handy & get your workspace ready. Paint your spoon handles with a thin coat of paint, placing them handle side up in the jar or glass as you go. Make sure the painted parts are separate from each other as they dry. After one hour, check to see if they need a second coat (they probably do). Keep the tape on and paint a second coat. Let them dry again in the jar.

It's so easy to make your own colored-handle wooden spoons. Here's a tutorial!

After 2-3 hours you can remove the tape to check if they’re even. If not, just re-tape the spoon a little bit lower and fix your mistakes. Keep the spoons in the jar for 12 hours after they feel dry just to be sure. Let the spoons cure for 21 days (or according to your paint directions) before using or washing them again. If you screw up & get paint on a spot you don’t want it, you can sand it off with some sand paper once it dries.

The glittery ones took about 4-5 coats to look good, but if you paint a solid color underneath then paint the glitter, it’d take less.

And that’s it… you’re done!

If you want a less perfect look, you can definitely paint them without using the tape. Go freehand. Be wild.

Adorable DIY painted wooden spoons.

Adorable x 1,000. I just love them.

Another idea: before painting, drill small holes at the end of each handle in the same spot. Sand away any rough patches & then wash/dry/paint the spoons as directed above. After painting, while it’s still wet, poke a toothpick through to make sure they stay clear. When they’re dry, tie them all together with a pretty matching ribbon for a throw-in gift (or stocking stuffer).

You don’t have to make it solid either- you can do stripes if you’re daring (ha!). Just place the tape all the way up the handle leaving spaces in between for painting. You can do polka dots in another color once the first color is totally dry, too, using a pencil eraser to make the dots. Or you can use pinking shears to cut the tape so yours isn’t a straight line around, but a zig-zag. Tons of ideas!*

Like this “zebra” style version I did (it’s more like an Ikat pattern, really):

DIY hand-painted wooden spoons to spice up the kitchen!

So, how easy is that? Very. Go get on it. And make yourself some fancy spoons!

*Yoyo also sent me a link for this post at red-brolly.com that shows you how to cover the spoon handles in fabric or Washi tape! It’s a bit more complicated than using just the paint, but it’s worth it judging by the photos.

Tea towel apron D.I.Y.

Also known as: sewing for the lazy & talentless.

I’m going to preface this by saying that yes, I went to F.I.T., also known as the Fashion Institute of Technology, for Fashion Design. This is true. Yes, I have a dressmakers mannequin in my house, which you will see shortly. And yes, I spent a good many hours seated at a massive industrial sweatshop-style sewing machine, once even witnessing a girl sew her fingers together. This is all true. And yes, I also took draping & patternmaking classes. I did very poorly in them, though, to be quite honest. Yes, I also made my own dress with a Peter Pan collar, skirt with a zipper up the back & light summer-weight coat. Yes, I did also create patterns for a business suit with a Batman-style collar & fishtail skirt out of muslin. But they weren’t exactly loved by the faculty. Not the design aspect- but the patterns (and consequently the poor sewing of said patterns) themselves. My strong suit was not the actual making of the clothes, but the designing. And yes- Professor Wong made it quite clear that in order to DESIGN them well one must understand how to CREATE them well. I understand.

That’s also why I transferred to Fashion Illustration shortly thereafter. I make a better artist than seamstress, and I despise patterns.

However, that’s not to say I can’t do some damage with a needle & thread. I’ve made- all sewn by hand, mind you- skirts, shirts, handbags & scarves. I spend a fair amount of my time sewing Jay’s police uniforms as well. I’ve had a sewing machine of my own in the past, but it wasn’t a very large or expensive one & all it was good for was straight seams on thin fabric. Investing in a really good machine for me would be dangerous. First of all, I might injure myself or sew my own pants to whatever it is I’m trying to make, and second, it’s very possible I might become obsessed and never stop making things.

Make your own half-apron out of a tea towel! Insanely simple, and can be sewn by hand or with a machine!Gettin’ myself all ready to be crafty!

Then nobody would eat, and this would become a sewing blog. In the words of Sweet Brown: “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

So because of all this, I rely on the professionals to make my aprons, as a rule. I have beautiful vintage ones, gorgeous Jessie Steele ones, whimsical Anthropologie ones and amazing aprons handmade for me by the wonderful Yoyo of topstitch.org. I love them all to bits, but sometimes I feel guilty wearing a stunning apron & then getting it covered in wet flour (which basically becomes a super glue once it dries) & other messy stuff. I mean, let’s be honest- they’re too pretty to get really dirty. And when I make strawberry or cherry jam, and I know I’m going to get splattered on, I actually avoid wearing one of my super cute aprons because of that. ‘Cause I know I’ll NEVER get the stains out, and I’ll be crazy sad for the rest of my life (especially since every apron I own is either one of a kind, vintage or limited edition, so I can’t replace them). However in my internet travels, I happened upon this blog post with a how-to on making your own tea towel apron, and I thought “Oh crap! I HAVE that tea towel!” One Ikea shopper can spot another, you know. Then, I was surfing the internet & found this post. I figured that the fact that I found these two posts within a short amount of time was kind of kismet, and anyway, Yoyo is always saying how fun it is to make half-aprons from tea towels, and it seemed so stupidly easy, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

I went out, bought some ribbon and made one with that very same Ikea tea towel.

D.I.Y. tea towel apron: super easy to make, takes about 15 minutes if you sew it by hand!

I love it.

I’m not afraid to get it dirty & wipe my disgusting dough-&-batter covered hands all over it.

How to make your own tea towel half-apron using just ribbon & a towel. No sewing machine required!

Yet it’s still cute! It actually looks like a skirt from the front, not an apron. Functional yet still adorable… sounds good to me! Plus, it took me basically 15 minutes to make it by hand. If I had used grosgrain ribbon (easier to fold than satin) & had a sewing machine, it would’ve been finished in 5. It’s that easy. It makes a great gift, too. Maybe for a wishing well gift; make the apron and give that plus the three other towels from the pack with some wooden spoons. I’d even dip the ends of the wooden spoons in a paint to match.

What you need: 1 tea towel (or one piece of fabric cut to 21″ x 27″ and hemmed 1″ around), 1 spool of wide ribbon (thin ribbon doesn’t quite work) needle & thread (or sewing machine). Any tea towel will work, as long as it’s cotton or linen. Don’t use those terry cloth ones or ones that feel like a bathroom towel. Ikea has a ton of options; from the set I got mine from to fancier ones. I personally love the cupcake printed ones, the rose print/pink gingham or the multi-colored stripes. And they’re all inexpensive yet they look beautiful. But you can buy yours anywhere! Even the dollar store.

Okay… so here’s the how-to, direct from Slow Mama:

  • Cut two pieces of ribbon for your ties that are one and a half yards long each. For each piece of ribbon, put a quarter-inch fold in one end, then fold again and press (this will keep your cut edge from unraveling). On the back of your towel, align the folded end of each ribbon along the top edge of the towel so that the folded section is centered over the towel’s side seam. (I set it up so the wider edge of the towel went around my waist)
An insanely easy Do-It-Yourself apron made from an Ikea tea towel!Very simple to do this with fabric as well. Just cut & hem it to size (the size of the towels are 20″ x 26″) and then sew your ribbon on.

  • On your sewing machine, position the needle over the seam of the tea towel, then stitch a few lines back and forth over the ribbon (this will hide your new seam from the front). If sewing by hand, the same principle applies. See photo above. Repeat for both sides.
  • Try on the apron to check the length of your ties and trim as needed, then put the same fold in the free end of each tie and stitch those closed, too. If you want, you can switch thread color to match the ribbon. I didn’t. Also, using satin ribbon makes the folding harder, unless you iron it first- which I didn’t. Grosgrain would make it slightly easier… but either way, it’s really not that big of a deal. I stitched just the sides, but you can stitch across if you like. Or use a serger to prevent the ribbon ends from fraying.

The easiest apron tutorial on the internet. 15 minutes from start to finish, even if sewing by hand!

And that’s it! Your basic apron is done. Now you can add things if you want; add a pocket made from another towel, add a monogram, etc Also, just a random thought, but if you’re making it for a little girl (or boy!), depending on their size you could make a full apron from this tea towel. It wouldn’t be that hard to just turn it around the other way, sew some ribbon for around the neck and then sew some halfway down for the waist. You could also use slightly thinner ribbon. Make one for you, then make one to match for your little one!

Big thanks to Yoyo, Simple Simon & Company & Margaret Cabaniss from Slow Mama for the inspiration to finally make one of these. It was so quick & fun, I might just make more.

So what do you guys think… should I post more D.I.Y. stuff or household-y stuff on here? Or should I stick to the edibles?

A homemade life.

“That’s the thing with handmade items. They still have the person’s mark on them, and when you hold them, you feel less alone.”

-Aimee Bender

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A couple of years ago I read a book by Molly Wizenberg (the blogger behind Orangette), called ‘A Homemade Life.’ It was part of a book club selection- and no, this wasn’t just your average, boring, every day book club- do I look or sound remotely boring to you? It was an awesome one I had with three high school friends (that I’m hoping we can start up again soon- HELLO LADIES ARE YOU LISTENING) where we chose books involving food/recipes and cooked from them, then blogged about it. But anyway, I loved the book. Why? Well, it was just a good book for one thing. Secondly, it turned me on to Molly’s blog, which I had been previously unaware of (I know, I know) and it turns out Molly is cool in tons of different ways. She named her new baby girl after June Carter Cash! Automatic points. But besides all that, I liked the title of the book.

A homemade life. That sounds good to me. I have a homemade life. Homemade pumpkin spice lattes, homemade sodas, homemade jams, homemade breads, homemade pickles…. basically, whether it’s made with a needle & thread or a pot & wooden spoon, I’m down.

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And see, here’s the deal: I also like homemade Christmas gifts. I like homemade gifts in general, actually; one of my absolute favorite gifts of all time is a Victorian dollhouse cabinet my uncle Pat made for me. He made it 100% from scratch; four floors, five rooms, doors between rooms that open & close, five fireplaces, staircases complete with newel posts & bannisters, clear plexi-glass door on the front with a glass knob, all the furniture included. It’s beautiful and it remains a treasured piece to this day. I miss my uncle dearly, but when I look at that dollhouse I think of how amazing he was & I feel like he’s still here. And the same goes for a lot of objects around here. The holidays can be a bittersweet time- I miss so many people who aren’t here with us anymore, and I’m reminded of them so strongly this time of year. Which is both good & bad, happy & sad.

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Anyway I am definitely not one of those people that turns her nose up at a hand-knit scarf or a pair of crocheted slippers. I love when Yoyo sends me a package of homemade aprons, table runners, etc. I really do adore handmade gifts. I love when people give me things they made for me, and I think most people whom I’ve given homemade items to are thankful in return (perhaps some more than others). That isn’t to say I don’t like store bought gifts. I do. I love them. My KitchenAid mixer (“Lola”), laptop, iPhone & handmixer count among the best gifts I ever received. But a beautiful homemade gift can speak volumes. Time is money, and talent isn’t to be overlooked. If someone thinks highly enough of you to spend their time creating something just for you… then you’re a very lucky person indeed. Last year I gave a variety of homemade jams, jellies & pickles as additional Christmas gifts: candy apple jelly, Amaretto cranberry sauce/Chinese apple-cranberry sauce, vanilla-brandy chestnut jam & gingerbread spice jelly, and some regular ol’ pickles just to name a few. I also gave some individually-sized homemade chocolate chip panettone. To be honest; I did in fact throw in store-bought presents as well, however, so it wasn’t a completely handmade/homemade Christmas.

Why am I writing all this? I’m not really sure. All I know is, I was making some apple-cranberry-ginger preserves (for gift giving!) and it all occurred to me. What with Christmas rapidly coming, and the gift-giving time of year upon us. So I felt the need to get it out, “onto paper” as they say. Or in this case… my blog.

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A LITTLE GINGERY APPLE-CRANBERRY PRESERVES

Makes about 3-4 half-pints

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups peeled & diced apples (I used McIntosh, but any apple on the softer side will do)
  • 2 cups fresh whole cranberries
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped candied ginger
  • 1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice (depending on your taste)

Directions:

  1. Sterilize your jars and place your lids in hot water. Set aside, keeping your jars hot.
  2. Add apples, cranberries & water in a large saucepan. Heat them over medium heat, stirring occasionally,  until they’re just warm, then add sugar. Stir until sugar is completely mixed in, then bring to a boil. Cook this way (still stirring every now & then) until cranberries begin to pop.
  3. Add lemon juice, ginger, and allspice. Lower the heat to a simmer, and continue to peek at it and give it a good stir every so often, until the cranberries have softened & broken down & the mixture is a pinkish red.
  4. Continue cooking until mixture is on the thick side. Do not let it get too thick- as it cools, it thickens more. Ladle into hot jars & wipe rims clean. Place lids & bands, and process for 10 minutes in a water bath canner. Let cool, check seal, and proceed to give as gifts!

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This is a really easy recipe that comes together quickly and doesn’t require a lot of hubbub. No extra pectin, no special materials. It gels easily and you’re done before you know it. That’s why it’s so great for giving as gifts! It’s a terrific entry way into canning, too (just read this post before you start).

However- regardless of how “easy” a gift may be: I hope people who receive homemade gifts appreciate the effort and thought that go into them. It’s not like going into Williams-Sonoma & buying a jar of expensive preserves or a box of peppermint bark & wrapping ‘em up; these people are spending valuable time over a stove, stirring a pot. Chopping fruit or vegetables. Lovingly seasoning it to perfection and cooking it (or baking it) into a personalized gift just for you. If you don’t appreciate it, then I hate to say it, but you’re probably really shallow.

And shallow people don’t get jars of delightfully gingery apple-cranberry preserves. At least not from me.

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Here are some great places to get ideas on buying or creating homemade gifts:

And if you create homemade jams or pickles to give as gifts, Well Preserved‘s Pimp That Preserve contest entries from the last two years can give you some excellent ideas on how to decorate those jars to really make an impression, as well as the Facebook album with all the 2011 entries (you don’t need Facebook to view it). It just so happens that I’m a 2011 Pimp That Preserve winner *cough*these are the winning jars*cough* so I might know a thing or two about this.

What do you think? Do you like homemade gifts? Do you prefer to give them or receive them or both?

Panettone Al Cioccolato.

Don’t you love espresso? I do. Well, I love coffee of all kinds. One of the best gifts Jay ever got me was my Keurig. Yes- I am aware that I have said that about both Lola, my laptop (a.k.a. “June Carter”) & most recently my iPhone (through all my Andy Rooney-like anti-iPhone “you are all sheeple” grumblings I’ve come to realize this thing is amazing), but it’s kinda sick how much I love this Keurig. He gives good gifts, what can I say? I definitely inherited my love of coffee from my parents, despite wondering as a child how people could drink so much of it in one day when they could just have a can of Coke. They weren’t the kind of people that had one cup at 8 a.m. & the coffee machine was cold until the next morning, they were the kind of people who had cup after cup after cup all day long. And I never understood that.

Until now. Things have changed. I love coffee, I love fancy coffee, I love frapps, I love cappuccino, I love it all. But sometimes I just enjoy a simple espresso. And sometimes… I like some frothy milk on top.

So yeah, I like coffee. I find it’s pretty much a perfect match for anything- cookies, cupcakes, cakes, pies, muffins, even ice cream. But for the purposes of this post, I had it with some panettone. Yes, panettone. What could go better with espresso than panettone?

Panettone (pronounced /pænəˈtoʊni/[1]) is a type of sweet bread loaf originally from Milan (in Milanese it is called panaton),[2] usually prepared and enjoyed for Christmas and New Year in Italy, Malta, Brazil, Germany and Switzerland, and is one of the symbols of the city of Milan. Maltese nationals are also traditionally associated with this sweet loaf. In Latin America, especially in Venezuela, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Peru, it is a Christmas dinner staple and in some places replaces roscón de reyes/bolo rei (King cake).

It has a cupola shape, which extends from a cylindrical base and is usually about 12-15 cm high for a panettone weighing 1 kg. Other bases may be used, such as an octagon, or a frustum with star section shape more common to pandoro. It is made during a long process that involves the curing of the dough, which is acidic, similar to sourdough. The proofing process alone takes several days, giving the cake its distinctive fluffy characteristics. It contains candied orange, citron, and lemon zest, as well as raisins, which are added dry and not soaked. Many other variations are available such as plain or with chocolate . It is served in slices, vertically cut, accompanied with sweet hot beverages or a sweet wine, such as Asti or Moscato d’Asti. In some regions of Italy, it is served with crema di mascarpone, a cream made from mascarpone, eggs, sometimes dried or candied fruits, and typically a sweet liqueur such as amaretto; if mascarpone cheese is unavailable, zabaione is sometimes used as a substitute.

Efforts are underway to obtain Protected Designation of Origin and Denominazione di origine controllata status for this product, but, as of late 2008, this had not occurred.[3] Italian Agriculture Minister Paolo De Castro was looking at ways to protect the real Italian cakes from growing competition in Latin America and whether they can take action at the World Trade Organization.

-Wikipedia

But no, this is not the stuff that comes in a box that you can find in every Italian family’s home at this time of year. This is homemade stuff, made with ingredients that make it practically irresistible to me; chocolate chips. I’m personally not big on the dried fruit or citron thing. But when I saw the recipe I knew I’d have to alter it to suit me. It’s made in a buttered brown bag… how the hell was I supposed to resist? So here’s my version of panettones… little ones that are easier to give (and eat!).

CHOCOLATE CHIP MINI-PANETTONE’S

Makes 7

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon warm water
  • 1 envelope active dry yeast (about 1 scant tablespoon)
  • 1 ¼ cups flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2 tablespoons warm milk
  • 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 large eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • pinch salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pure vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
  • ½ cup chocolate chips
  • ¾ teaspoon heavy cream

Directions:

  1. Pour warm water into a bowl, and sprinkle with half of the yeast. Stir with a fork until yeast has dissolved, then let stand until foamy, 5 to 10 minutes.
  2. Stir in ⅛ cup flour, and cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let stand in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 30 minutes.
  3. Pour warm milk into a bowl, and sprinkle with remaining yeast. Stir with a fork until yeast has dissolved, then let stand until foamy, 5 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together sugar, whole egg, 1 egg yolk, salt, and vanilla. Whisk in milk mixture.
  4. Beat butter and remaining flour with a mixer fitted with a dough hook on medium speed until mixture is crumbly. Reduce speed to low, and gradually add egg mixture. Raise speed to medium, and beat until smooth. Add yeast-and-flour mixture, and beat on high speed until dough is elastic and long strands form when it’s stretched, about 5 minutes (it will still be very sticky.) Stir in chocolate chips.
  5. Transfer to a buttered bowl, and cover with buttered plastic wrap. Let dough stand in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours. Preheat oven to 400° degrees, with rack in lower third. Turn dough out onto a floured surface, and divide into 7 little portions of dough. Knead a few times, then shape into balls. Drop each ball into a buttered brown paper mold (see below for directions) and loosely cover with buttered plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until rises slightly to the top, about 30 to 45 minutes. Whisk remaining yolk with cream, and brush onto tops of balls. Cut an X in the top of each ball with kitchen shears (I didn’t do this).
  6. Bake 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350° degrees, and bake until tops are golden brown and rise slightly above rims of molds, about 15 minutes. Tent baking sheet with foil if tops are beginning to get too brown. Transfer panettone to a wire rack to cool. Panettone can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
Pre-baking, & pre-egg wash!

Recipe can be doubled, probably tripled too, FYI.

Okay so what I did was I cut up some brown paper lunch bags & used those as the “liners” or molds. It’s really easy, all you have to do is cut circle-squares (uneven circles or rounded squares) or tear them. Melt about 4-5 tablespoons butter and get a pastry brush ready. Then check & see if the paper fits in your muffin pan. If it doesn’t, trim it, if it does, butter it by brushing it on one side generously with butter & place it in a cavity, pressing down so it stays in place. Then plop a ball of dough on top of it. So simple. But you can also use these liners as well, if the whole DIY thing isn’t your bag (no pun intended). And if you’re a stickler, you can use real panettone paper molds. However I like to be very hands-on & creative, its a good outlet, & I’m always doing shit like this so for me it was a snap. If you do choose to DIY it, then use an old muffin tin. That’s what I did because I like my new ones to stay nice & clean & shiny. I keep an old one around for when I make pupcakes or popovers or stuff like this.

You can also substitute any dried fruits for the chocolate chips, and also add lemon or orange zest to the batter. But just so you know, the first batch of 7 that I made went all in one night.

Super easy, really. And delicious. Let’s face it, edible gifts are sometimes the best gifts. Like I said before- homemade jellies/jams/marmalades, breads, cookies & even homemade limoncello or vanilla extract can make a great gift. It doesn’t take much to personalize an edible gift. I happen to think homemade gifts are worth more than bought gifts, if there was time & effort obviously put into it. Someone once said the greatest gift a person can give you is their time, and if they made you a really beautiful homemade gift then that’s exactly what they did.

And I don’t mean a piece of construction paper with glitter on it, either. That’s only acceptable if you’re 10 or younger, sorry.

Pain au chocolat, oui oui.

Well, Christmas is over. But the “holidays” aren’t, since NYE is just around the corner. All the gifts have been ripped open and kids are counting down to next Christmas, but it’s still winter, a lot of people are still on vacation, and what better to make for breakfast but a delicacy filled with butter and chocolate? That’s right. Croissants.

Croissants are awesome. Flaky, buttery, delicious. When I was about 9, I was in a ballet class and the teacher, Margie, took us all (my class and her two other classes) to practice for a big performance at the dance room in Adelphi University. It was so exciting, except I had to be there at 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday. So on the way, I stopped with my mom and got a chocolate croissant and orange juice. I find they do make mornings much more manageable, so the French are definitely on to something. Maybe it’s all that butter? Since then, croissants (especially ones with chocolate) have been a treat that I’ve only indulged in rarely, but when I do indulge I always think, “Hot damn, I need to have these more often, maybe even make them myself!” And I never have. Until now!

These technically aren’t croissants, because they aren’t in the usual crescent shape. They’re actually pain au chocolat; or ‘chocolate bread.’ Here in America, we bastardize everything so we just use sweeping generalizations, hence calling these “chocolate croissants” when they’re really pain au chocolat, also known as…

….a chocolatine (IPA: [ʃɔkɔlatin]) in southwestern France and in French Canada, is a French pastry consisting of a cuboid-shaped piece of yeast-leavened laminated dough, similar to puff pastry, with one or two pieces of chocolate in the centre.

Pain au chocolat is made of the same puff pastry variant as that for a standard croissant. Often sold still hot or at least warm from the oven, they are commonly sold alongside croissants in French bakeries and supermarkets.

A croissant (French pronunciation: [kʁwasɑ̃] ( listen), anglicised variously as /krəˈsɑːnt/, /kwɑːˈsɑːn/, etc.) is a buttery flaky bread or pastry named for its distinctive crescent shape. It is also sometimes called a crescent[1] or crescent roll.[2] Croissants are made of a leavened variant of puff pastry. The yeastdough is layered with butter, rolled and folded several times in succession, then rolled into a sheet, a technique called laminating.

Croissant pastry can also be wrapped around any praline, almond paste or chocolate before it is baked (in the last case, it becomes like pain au chocolat, which has a different, non-crescent, shape), or sliced to admit sweet or savoury fillings. In France and Spain, croissants are generally sold without filling and eaten without added butter, but sometimes with almond filling. In the United States, sweet fillings or toppings are common, and warm croissants may be filled with ham and cheese or feta cheese and spinach. In the Levant, croissants are sold plain or filled with chocolate, cheese, almonds, or zaatar. In Germany, croissants are sometimes filled with Nutella or persipan; in Southern Germany there also is a popular variety of a croissant glazed with lye (“Laugencroissant”). In Switzerland the croissant is typically called a Gipfeli which typically has a crisper crust and is less buttery than the French style croissant. In some Latin American countries, croissants are commonly served alongside coffee as a breakfast or merienda. These croissant are referred to as medialunas (“half moons”) and are typically coated with a sweet glaze (“de manteca”, made with butter). Another variant is a medialuna “de grasa” (“of lard”), which is not sweet.

QUICK PASTRY DOUGH

First you get:

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups cold butter (1 pound)
  • 1 ¼ cups ice water

Then you:

  1. In a large mixing bowl stir together flour and salt. Cut the cold butter into ½-inch-thick slices (not cubes). Add the butter slices to the flour mixture; toss till butter slices are coated with the flour mixture and are separated. Pour ice water over the flour mixture.
  2. Using a spoon, quickly mix (butter will remain in large pieces and flour will not be completely moistened). Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead dough 10 times by pressing and pushing dough together to form a rough-looking ball. Shape dough into a rectangle (dough still will have some dry-looking areas). Make the corners as square as possible. Slightly flatten dough.
  3. Working on a well-floured surface, roll the dough into an 18″ x 15″ -inch rectangle. Fold crosswise into thirds to form a 15″ x 6″ -inch rectangle. Give dough a quarter turn, then fold crosswise into thirds to form a 5″ x 6″ -inch rectangle and to create 9 layers.
  4. Repeat the rolling, folding, turning, and folding process once more, forming a 5×4-inch rectangle. Wrap dough with plastic wrap. Chill for 20 minutes.
  5. Repeat the rolling and folding process 2 more times. Before using, chill dough for 20 minutes more. Roll out into approx. 15″ x 18″ rectangle once again.

CHOCOLATE CROISSANTS

You’ll need:

  • pastry dough (recipe above, or your own)
  • 1 package (12 oz) semi-sweet chocolate chips or chocolate chunks, or, alternately, 1 or 2 chopped bars of chocolate
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 egg yolk

Then you’ll have to:

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 F. Mix together egg yolk and milk in a small bowl.
  2. Take the chilled dough that’s ready to be used and cut it into pieces that measure about 12″ by 3″, roughly.
  3. Spread semi-sweet chocolate chips along the center of one of the rectangles, leaving spaces on all 4 sides. Roll it up the long way, so that you get a sort of cinnamon roll looking thing, filled with chocolate chips. Place seam side down on to a greased baking sheet and repeat until all the dough is used.
  4. Brush the tops with the egg yolk mixture and bake until golden brown, around 15-20 minutes. Allow to cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer to a wire rack. Serve warm.

Mine took way longer than 20 minutes, but I made mine a bit larger and a bit thicker than normal, on top of the fact my oven runs at a weird temperature. They came out lovely, though, didn’t they?

Of course, you can use any pastry dough you like; one with yeast, one without, one that has to be chilled overnight, etc. I just chose a shortcut version because I like instant gratification. You could even use Pillsbury refrigerated crescent rolls if you want. I prefer to use homemade, if I can, so I opted to pull together an easy pastry dough myself. And man- was it flaky & buttery! Perfect. I drizzled melted chocolate (½ – ¾ cup chocolate chips mixed with 2 tablespoons shortening, melted in a double boiler or in the microwave at 2 minute increments until smooth, put it in a disposable candy bag or Ziploc & snip off the bottom to make the drizzle) over the tops as well, but that’s up to you. They can be reheated in a low-temperature oven, but just keep an eye on them. You don’t want them to burn! And if you do coat them in chocolate drizzle, reheating them may be tricky.

To make them croissants, just roll the dough thinner and cut into triangles, then roll them up from the long side and then tucking it up into the short end. A better explanation can be found in this YouTube video. You can also make them triangular and also fill them with chocolate. Another alternative is Nutella; just spread it on the dough instead of sprinkling the chocolate chips.

Fantastic on a cold winter morning, or anytime. Equally yummy for any meal, or as a portable treat tucked in a lunchbox. A delicious New Year’s morning breakfast item, also good on any other holiday, or everyday. Speaking of holidays, I hope everyone’s Christmas was beyond fantastic, and filled with love, liquor and baked goods, just the way it oughta be. Mine certainly was, and I received some amazing gifts such as…

Tiffany & Co. cupcake necklace!

Rose Levy Beranbaum’s cookbooks, The Cake Bible & Rose’s Heavenly Cakes!


I know, I’m a lucky girl. I’ve already got Post-It’s on tons of recipes in both books, & I’m now completely engrossed in the chemistry of baking (i.e. the proteins in egg whites & how they can be broken down, that cornstarch only thickens when it boils at 212° F & what exactly gliadin & glutenin are). And what better reading material for a Sunday/Monday where I was snowed in under 2 feet of snow?

I hope that your New Year’s is safe and happy and healthy. I’ll see you in 2011; with new recipes, of course.

Baker’s Delight.

It’s like rappers delight, without all the hippin’ and hoppin’, but with a whole lot of mixin’ & bakin.’

So, wow, it’s December already! ‘Tis the season to go shopping! If you’re looking for a gift for the baker (or cook) in your life, then here are some ideas to help you out. It’s just a short list this year, because I’ve been busy, and sadly haven’t been able to add all that I wanted to, but enjoy it anyway! Really, it’s just a little wishlist of my own (save for the mixer which I already have) and I just thought there might be others out there like myself who’d want the same things. So here’s my Top 10 Holiday Gifts (for the baker in your life) of 2010!

I’ll have a new recipe for you all next week, but in the meantime… take notes! Psst: these ideas apply ONLY to women (or certain types of men, I suppose) who love and live to cook or bake. I take no responsibility for you buying your wife or girlfriend a stand mixer only to have your clothes thrown out in the street because she wanted a lame Dooney & Bourke or whatever.


CATEGORY 1:

USEFUL THINGS that are pretty…

Now as far as Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa/Solstice/New Year’s/Birthday/Anniversary/etc gifts go, one of my personal all-time favorites is the Kitchen Aid stand mixer. *cue angel’s singing*

The Kitchen Aid Artisan stand mixer is an investment, built to last. If you know someone who’s been wanting one, let me tell you: it’s worth the money. You’ll get your money’s worth AND MORE. I’ve heard of people who have their parents Kitchen Aid’s, and they still work! At $299.99 (and free ground shipping), it’s an amazing holiday gift no one will forget. I showed it in Empire Red because of the holiday, but there are so many other beautiful colors (I’m partial to my pink one, she’s become such a huge part of my life she’s even all over my website!) including silver, cornflower blue, boysenberry, caviar, yellow pepper and a shitload more to match any kitchen or color scheme.

Another thing I’m in love with are these amazing Tin Woodsman/Crosby & Taylor pewter measuring cups & spoons (shown: fish handles with palm tree stand). At $179.00 (for the measuring cups, the spoons are $79.99) they’re a thing of beauty, but admittedly slightly pricier than the ones you see at Williams-Sonoma or Crate & Barrel. They’re like works of art, though, and if you know a kitchen artist, it’s a wonderful gift idea. I first saw them on Paula Deen’s show and fell in love instantly. They’re absolutely amazing and they’re sure to get a few gasps (among the right crowd).

CATEGORY 2:

PRETTY THINGS that are useful…

If it’s one thing I’m obsessed with, it’s aprons. Every brand, shape, size, color and style. So here’s a little rundown of my top Christmas aprons this year, just in case you wanna buy a little something for an equally obsessed Kitchen Witch.

The first up is this adorable apron called the “Party in Pink” apron from Carolyn’s Kitchen. 10% of the purchase price of the apron ($42.00) goes to Breast Cancer Research. Same goes for the half-apron ($36.00) and the gloves/garter ($12.00 and $22.00, respectively). Yes, matching gloves AND garter. This one is a HUGE favorite of mine, I love that it’s Christmas-y but pink… and I’m really hoping to find it under the tree this year, especially since a portion goes towards a worthy charity.

Next is yet another from Carolyn’s Kitchen. It’s the “Holiday Sparkle” apron. The prices are same as above: full apron: $42.00, half-apron: $36.00 and gloves: $12.00. No garter for this one, sorry folks. This is the cutest Christmas pattern; kitschy and super retro. The style of the trees reminds me of a tablecloth my mother made as a little girl with felt and sequins.

Now this apron is from a longtime favorite company of mine, Jessie Steele. The “Mrs. Claus” apron is red with black buttons and white trim to mimic the Claus’ outfits. At $32.95 it’s the most affordable one of the first three, and it’s totally cute. Imagine making your Christmas cookies or making Christmas dinner in that! Adorbs!

And then we have this beauty. From Etsy, a retro-inspired Christmas apron with both a peppermint stripe fabric and a vintagey Santa Claus pattern. I love (no pun intended) loverdoversclothing‘s aprons and this is no exception. They’re handmade and absolutely adorable. For $29.99 it’s a beautiful gift for the vintage-loving baker that looks like it really could be vintage.

CATEGORY 3:

PRETTY THINGS that aren’t useful at all, they’re just pretty…

So I’m a sucker for a cute necklace. And since I love to bake, I’m an even  bigger sucker for a cute necklace that’s also baking-related.

Another item I hope I find under the tree this year: a sterling silver whisk necklace by exodesign on Etsy. At $38.00, it’s a handmade piece of jewelry that can be customized (with or without twisted ring) to suit you. I think it’s just so cute and I love it to pieces. And I just love Etsy, don’t you?

Another example of extreme cuteness from Etsy. This tiny little cupcake pendant on a chain is made of silver, and the pendant is just 3/8″ in diameter. How cute! It costs $28.00 and it’s by lulubugjewelry. I think this is absolutely perfect for someone who loves cupcakes (or makes ‘em), but is over the age of 16 and doesn’t want a hot pink cupcake hanging around their neck all the time. Not that there’s anything wrong with that- but there’s a time and a place. This necklace can go anyhere and be worn with anything. Perfect.

CATEGORY 4:

PRETTY THINGS that are both useful & incredibly convenient…

The thing I like BEST about making cupcakes is the fantastic liners, toppers, sprinkles & decorations that are available. Some of my favorite sites are Sweet Cuppin’ Cakes Bakery & Cupcakery Supplies, Bake It Pretty, sweet estelle’s baking supply, Sutton Gourmet Paper, and Fancy Flours. Below, I’ll give you some examples of little “sets” to buy the baker you know who’s so crazy she has plastic storage cases filled with liners & accessories *ahem* Not that I speak from experience or anything… *ah-hem*

First up is Bake It Pretty‘s “Cupcakes 101” kit. I love this idea. Whether you’re buying it for an experienced baker, or to try and encourage a newbie, it’s perfect. It includes: approx. 125 standard baking cups in assorted polka dot, striped, and solid colors, over 25 traditional toppers in assorted styles (clowns, flowers, ballerinas, etc.), 4 ounces of Rainbow Jimmy Sprinkles in resealable bag… plus, everything is packaged in a paperboard suitcase in the color of your choice (well, as long as it’s available). You also can specify whether it’s for a male or female, what colors you absolutely hate, and whether “clowns scare you.” For only $22.95, it’s a great cupcake-y gift. I have never been disappointed with Bake It Pretty, I highly recommend them.

Another adorable “kit” idea is this one from sweet estelle’s baking supply on Etsy. It’s called the “Woodland Cupcake Kit” and it has everything you need for Christmas-y cupcakes. A great hostess gift for someone who loves to bake, or a great idea for kids; get it for them to make cupcakes (or a cake) with you! At $12.00, it’s really affordable and you get a lot: 24 standard green with little dot cupcake liners, 12 small deer picks, 12 pine tree picks, 6 edible sugar snowflake decorations, 6 edible pine cone decorations & 2 ounces of green non-pareils and comes packaged in a pink bakery box with brown baker’s twine.

Well I hope you enjoyed those, and found something interesting to buy for the baker or cupcaker you love. Although I’d actually like to add just one more little thing

My dear friend Yoyo makes the cutest tissue holders, and this one is a Christmas one. So while it isn’t necessarily for a baker, it has peppermints on it and it would be mighty cute to buy and stuff in the pocket of one of those above aprons you just bought. It’s sparkly, it’s Christmas-y, it’s thoughtful, it’s only $3.00, and as if that’s not cheap enough, if you enter the code CUPCAKEREHAB you get 20% off. So click on over to Topstitch and buy one!

So go forth and buy!

Whatchu talkin’ bout, Watkins?

Well its the new year, so happy 2009! I hope you all had a lovely holiday filled with family, friends, and even more importantly- lots of good food, cupcakes, alcohol and gifts. And of course a happy and healthy start to the new year as well.

Speaking of gifts, I myself was gifted some pretty nifty items. All of them were great (especially the cash!) but the ones you all care about, coming from a food blog point-of-view would be the following: a huge set of Watkins extracts and a brand spankin’ new Jessie Steele apron from the Officer, aka Jay.

I recieved imitation banana, pure lemon, pure orange, imitation root beer, imitation maple, imitation peanut butter, pure madagascar bourbon vanilla extracts as well as two large size (imitation) coconut and caramel extracts. They come in glass bottles, smell absolutely mind-blowing and I can’t wait to use them. Jay got me 4 maple extracts as a small hint to make more maple iced cookies, and quite possibly french toast cupcakes as well. He’s so subtle.

Now… as far as the Jessie Steele apron goes… its fabulous. Its the leopard one with pink trim and ribbons that I’ve been salivating over for months. And matching oven mitt of course.

Yes, yes, I know you’re jealous. I’m very spoiled. I’ve got so many beautiful aprons- my 3 Jessie Steele’s, my four vintage ones, the one Yoyo made me… plus my incredibly awesome tattoo print oven mitt and pot holder set from Sourpuss Clothing… I really need one of those racks with hooks for my kitchen, with hooks for the aprons and smaller hooks above them for the matching mitts.  And then I’d never let anyone near them but me. You want to come bake with me? Yes, thats wonderful- bring your own damn apron. Your grubby hands aren’t dirtying MY aprons.

Also, from my friend Dayna who runs All Things Sweet, I got this cute little lollipop necklace that I wore on Christmas with my favorite Christmas shirt. You can buy cupcake necklaces, lollipop necklaces and custom charms of all the sweet treats you can think of from Dayna by going to her MySpace page: All Things Sweet.

That shirt I got when I saw ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ on Broadway last year. Its pale pink, its got Cindy Loo Who in little wreaths on it and its just the cutest thing ever. It was perfect because the lollipop is pink, purple and yellow… and the shirt is pink with red green and yellow, and my cardigan was dark pink! Okay, sorry, enough of me boring you with wardrobe details. Dayna also gave me a cupcake cell phone charm and a resin cupcake charm with sprinkles. Thanks Dayna!!

So this year rest assured there will be more baking, more cooking and more apron-wearing and it will all be shared with you!