Category: materials

How do I love thee, let me count the Le Creuset…

Whew. Things are absolutely crazy around here. I mean crazy busy. INSANE. I feel like I have no time to sit down, at all. I barely have time to figure out what to make for dinner, or to come up with interesting things to post for you guys. It’s as if I literally have no time for anything at all, but somehow I’m managing to maintain my blog; I guess that shows where my priorities are. For example, I had this bread slathered with butter for dinner the night after I made it because I hadn’t defrosted anything and was way too tired to make anything by the time I got around to even thinking about it. Never before now has that above sign been more appropriate. Dinner-making has gone from an every night thing to a few nights a week thing, and there’s been a lot of take-out. I’m really that busy & preoccupied.

But I had this  recipe bookmarked for years now, just waiting for the right time (and the right equipment) to make it. It’s a no-knead bread from Sullivan Street Bakery. Very easy, extremely delicious, and of course it’s all to show off my new LE CREUSET. Yes, that’s right. I said it.

Get ready, this is going to be long-winded.

See, there’s a story behind this. A few months back, right after New Year’s, after having had an exceptionally & spectacularly shitty week I made an executive decision:

I was getting myself a Le Creuset French oven.

To the uninitiated, this may not seem like such a big deal, or such a crazy decision. But for ONE single kitchen item that costs $300.00+, I assure you it is. So after crunching some numbers and assuring myself I was worth it & I deserved such a thing, I made the decision that I would finally get one. Like Lola, my KitchenAid stand mixer, it’s an investment piece. Not only does it improve my kitchen-witchery with all it’s benefits, but it’ll last forever. As in it’s entirely possible that generations from now my Le Creuset will be gracing the kitchen counter of one of my great-grandchildren. Yeah. It’s that serious. Plus it just looks beautiful.

Le Creuset was founded in the French town of Fresnoy-le-Grand, Aisne, Picardy, a strategic location at the crossroads of transportation routes for iron, coke and sand. Armand Desaegher (a casting specialist) and Octave Aubecq (an enameling specialist) opened their foundry in 1925. That same year, the first cocotte (or French Oven) was produced, laying the foundation for what is now an extensive range of cookware and kitchen utensils.

The Le Creuset signature color, Flame (orange) was born in this first piece. With their new ability to pigment the enamel glaze, Desaegher and Aubecq modeled their first color after the intense orange hue of molten cast iron inside a cauldron (“creuset” in French).

During World War II, Le Creuset began to focus on continually improving their cast iron. In 1939, Le Creuset launched the patented Doufeu, an oven containing the world’s first patented basting spikes that allow condensation to drip back into the food during cooking. In 1957, Le Creuset purchased a competitor, Les Hauts Fourneaux de Cousances, and began producing items such as a grill model and a fondue set.

In 1995 Le Creuset began exploring new product categories: stainless steel, stoneware, silicone, enamel on steel, textiles and forged hard-anodized aluminum.

The current Le Creuset logo was introduced in 1970 and was designed to be a symbolic representation of metal casting and molding. The company was purchased by current owner Paul Van Zuydam in 1987.

To manufacture their cast iron cookware, the Le Creuset foundry uses standard sand casting methods. After hand finishing, items are sprayed with at least two coats of enamel. The enamel becomes resistant to damage during normal use. Currently, all Le Creuset cast iron cookware is still manufactured in the company’s foundry in Fresnoy-le-Grand, where workers employ a 12 step finishing process implemented by 15 different pairs of hands to ensure that there are no flaws or imperfections in the final product.

-Wikipedia

I’ve wanted one for years, but I had a few problems. One, I kept spending the money on other things. And two, I couldn’t decide what color I wanted. In typical me fashion, I was drawn to black… but they didn’t have it anymore (they do in the U.K., however, and more than one kind of black, no less). They have a ton of colors- but I’m not a colorful girl. I like pink, yeah, but more often I’m drawn to black, gray, etc. My kitchen isn’t one that has Fiestaware or multicolored gadgets, & so a bright yellow, bright blue or bright green French oven just isn’t me. I’m not a Caribbean girl, or a Cherry girl, or a Soleil girl. I’m just not. Those colors are beautiful. But not ME. They also have white, and a color called Dune, which is a creamy off-white color. I wasn’t crazy about it, though. I mean- it’s a lovely color, but it didn’t have the WOW factor I was going for. But despite that, I was actually going to go with one of the two just because they were neutral and went with my kitchen, etc. And they also matched the set of mini cocottes I have. Truth be told? I really wanted pink; but Le Creuset doesn’t make pink, and the ones that they do make are so rare you can’t get your grubby little hands on them anywhere. Unless it’s this adorable little one. Or unless – and here’s the caveat- just like with the black color that’s long been discontinued in the U.S., you’ve gotta live in the U.K. to get it. And if you do, and you want to make me very, very happy… SEND ME A PINK LE CREUSET! Something. ANYTHING.

Kidding. Sorta. *cough* Anyway, then a few years back they introduced two new colors: Lilac (which I think is gone now) & Cassis. And immediately, I fell head over heels for the Cassis.

Named for the sweet black currant, Le Creuset’s CASSIS incorporates the nature-inspired shades found in aubergine and wild berries. Elegantly understated, CASSIS displays a warmth that complements soft-hued neutrals, and is one of today’s most sought-after colors.

Cassis is the French word for black currant which is a plant that produces dark purple berries, while purple has been a color associated with weath, luxury, and status throughout history.

If I have to get a color, and I can’t have pink? Well then I’m gonna get one that’s not too bright, but one that’s really beautiful and dark. One that looks like it could be almost black, but it isn’t. And so, I decided screw it. Screw matching shit. I love this color. And so yeah, I said I’d get the Cassis, when the time came for me to get one.

And that time was now.

So I went & I bought one. And the minute it arrived I sat on the floor, opened it, and just looked at it. I did the same thing when I first got my stand mixer, you know her as Lola. Sometimes, you just have to admire something before you use it. The color in the sunlight is a royal purple, like you see above. In regular light, it’s a deep, dark aubergine-type purple with a gradient. It’s beautiful.

And then, of course, once you’re done looking at it… you have to use it.

And what was I to make? How could I “break the seal” on this? What should the very first recipe I make be? I decided to go with something brainless. I originally tossed around all kinds of ideas; bœuf bourguignon, coq au vin, all those interesting French dishes, plus paella, stews and other assorted all-day meals. But I thought maybe I’d work up to those. Let’s just start with a super easy bread. Note: you need a Le Creuset French oven or some other 6-8 quart pot with lid to make this bread. Pyrex or a ceramic something or other with a lid will work too, although if you want a cast iron oven and don’t want to spend a lot, you can get Dutch ovens for a pretty decent price. Of course, I’m partial to my new love: Le Creuset.

Anyway, I know I just posted a bread last week. But give me a break, here. I know you’ll love this one. It’s very simple and it’ll blow you away!

SULLIVAN STREET BAKERY NO-KNEAD BREAD (from Jim Leahy, owner)

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 11/2 cups water
  • 1/4 teaspoon yeast
  • 11/4 teaspoon salt
  • olive oil (for coating)
  • extra flour, wheat bran, or cornmeal (for dusting)

Directions:

  1. Mix all of the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Add water and incorporate by hand or with a wooden spoon or spatula for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Lightly coat the inside of a second medium bowl (NOT aluminum or other reactive metal- only a glass or stainless steel bowl) with olive oil and place the dough in the bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest 12 hours at room temperature (approx. 65-72°F).
  2. Remove the dough from the bowl and fold once or twice. Let the dough rest 15 minutes in the bowl or on the work surface. Next, shape the dough into ball. Generously coat a cotton towel with flour, wheat bran, or cornmeal; place the dough seam side down on the towel and dust with flour. Cover the dough with a cotton towel and let rise 1-2 hours at room temperature, until more than doubled in size. Preheat oven to 450-500°F.
  3. Place the pot in the oven at least 30 minutes prior to baking to preheat. Once the dough has more than doubled in volume, remove the pot from the oven and place the dough in the pot seam side up. Cover with the lid and bake 30 minutes Then remove the lid and bake 15-30 minutes uncovered, until the loaf is nicely browned.

Stunning! I think this was definitely the easiest bread ever. Seriously. Some breads require either a lot of steps & a starter, like the Levain, or they require a shit load of kneading, like the French bread I made way back when. This one has neither. Don’t get me wrong, the Levain is well worth the trouble, so is the French bread. But there are times you really don’t want to do all of that. I would assume, also, that you can use any flour you like; whole wheat, unbleached, etc. as well as top it with anything you like… seeds, oats, oat bran, etc. You could probably alter it to suit you with any kind of flavoring or herbs, too.

It would be fantastic in a grilled cheese sandwich, or for bruschetta (maybe when it gets hard). And it would also be great just toasted for breakfast, or with fresh jam.

I don’t know about using something like bran flour or coconut flour in it. I’d love for someone to try it & let me know, though! Pola, where are you? 

I’m sure you’ll be seeing a lot more of my new acquisition around here, since it’s good for everything from baking to making jam to roasting chicken & braising meat. This is just the beginning! If anyone has a great French oven recipe, feel free to leave it in the comments or e-mail me. I love new ideas. And here’s the deal: I know that some people will say that $300 for a French oven is extreme, or “decadent,” or crazy. I have a little something to say to those of you about that. See, I’ve had four or five hand mixers since 2008- all of them broke on me, except the last one, which is a $99 KitchenAid 9-speed digital model. And the other ones were NOT KitchenAid, and definitely not $99. One of them died mixing cheesecake, which is understandable. A hand mixer and cheesecake shouldn’t really mix. But the rest? One sputtered and slowed down during a batch of buttercream, and another one just didn’t start one day. Another had something rattling around inside of it after a few uses, which was not only unsettling in and of itself, but it smelled like burning plastic when I turned it on. Who knows what that even was. That’s just one small example, but let me say that now I’ve officially learned my lesson: sometimes, you really do just get what you pay for. And as far as Le Creuset vs. a cheaper model dutch oven goes, this post from the Local Kitchen explains it better than I can.

I’d rather pay a little more one time than pay less over & over again, regretting my decision. When your cheap(er) dutch oven gets chips in it within a month, and scratches n the inside enamel, & mine still looks brand new, we can talk about decadence; specifically how wasteful & decadent it is to buy a less expensive item more than once just to prove a point, rather than investing in one that costs more & lasts longer.

*Le Creuset in no way sponsored this post. All thoughts & opinions are my own, I was not provided with any products free of charge (I wish! But sadly not) and most certainly not in exchange for a positive review. This French oven was purchased by me and all comments in reference to it are mine. I do wish I could give you all a beautiful French oven of your own, but I’m not made of money. *wink*

Canning for dummies.

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No, I don’t think you’re all dummies.

But I realize that for a lot of my readers, this is the closest they’ll get to a canning blog. Most of you are here for the cupcakes or baked goods, maybe even the macaroni & cheese or pizza, but that doesn’t mean you can’t expand your repertoire. Maybe you want to, but you just don’t know where to go to find info. Maybe you, too, were in a Williams-Sonoma store lately and saw those displays I photographed (below) and thought, “Hey… I’d really like to try it. But I don’t know how.” So I figured I’d do a kind of canning-summary post for newbies. Granted, I’m far FAR from being a pro. I am not a Master Preserver, I am not perfect and I sure as hell don’t know everything. But I’m not a professional baker, either, and that didn’t stop me from making some frosting tutorials a couple of years back. So I thought I’d do a brief outline of what you’ll need, what you’ll want, and some basics you’ll need to know before you get started with waterbath canning.*

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Canning is not hard. Canning is not something you can only do if you have a lot of chemistry knowledge. Canning is a lot of fun, and if you do it right, it can save you money too. Although I do it just for fun, if you’re serious about it, you can put up just about anything & feed your family for an entire season using it all. However… it’s serious too. If you aren’t clean enough, and your jars aren’t sanitized enough, and you don’t wash your produce or follow safety procedures, you can expose yourself and anyone who eats what you make to things like botulism, listeria, e. coli or some very nasty yeasts, to name a few. But it’s not dangerous, it’s not scary, and it’s not something that should scare you. Why should you start canning? Well, there are tons of reasons. Some people, particularly those who eat only locally or sustainably, like to create their own products from local organic produce. People who live on farms or grow their own produce do it to avoid wasting the product & to sustain their families through the winter, just like in old times. Others still do it because they like to create unique “designer” jams or jellies or pickles… like me. Sure, you can probably buy a lemon-orange whiskey marmalade somewhere, at some gourmet shop most likely, but you’ll be paying far more for one small jar than I did per 4 pints. I made an amazing version of Brooklyn Brine Co’s Hop Pickles for way less than the $15.00 a jar they sell it for. And not only that, but food made from scratch just tastes better, and canning is no exception. No preservatives, no dye, no high fructose corn syrup. Just real ingredients. And price wise, if you’re buying the fruit or vegetables from a farmer’s market when it’s in season and not paying exorbitant prices, you’re still coming out on top price-wise vs. supermarket canned goods. I did the math for mint jelly last summer, but it’s easy enough to figure out any type of canned goods when you’ve got all the prices at hand.

I’m known as sort of a baking rebel, but when it comes to canning, DO NOT BE A REBEL. You can certainly come up with your own recipes, but they have to be acidic enough to be safe. Do your research first. Don’t play around with the health & safety of yourself and others. True, you never hear of people dying from improperly home-canned items. It’s pretty rare. But do you want to be that one asshole that makes it on the nightly news because of your jam?

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Like I said above, this list of basics focuses on waterbath canning, NOT pressure canning* and not freezer jams.** Waterbath canning is the process most commonly used for high-acid foods: pickles, jams, jellies, preserves, fruit butters, conserves & marmalades. And I quote:

High acid foods are processed in a boiling-water canner. The heat is transferred to the product by the boiling water which completely surrounds the jar and two-piece cap. A temperature of 100° C (212° F) is reached and it must be maintained for the time specified. Always follow a modern recipe with proven and tested processing times.

This method is adequate to kill molds, yeasts, enzymes and some bacteria. This method never reaches the super-high temperatures needed to kill certain bacterial spores and their toxins, which can produce botulism, therefore, this method cannot be used for processing low-acid foods. See more about the Basic Steps for this method, or learn more about pressure canning and low acid foods.

Water bath canners are widely available. You can use any big pot, however, if it is deep enough for the water to cover the tops of jars by several inches. Allow 5 to 10cm (2 to 4 inches) above jar tops for brisk boiling. The canner must have a tight-fitting lid and a wire or wooden rack. The jars must be held off the bottom so the heat can penetrate properly. The jars are divided so they will not bump into each other or tip over in the boiling water during processing.

To ensure uniform processing of all jars with an electric range, the canner should be no more than four inches wider in diameter than the element on which it is heated. However for flat top stoves, canners should be no more than 2 inches wider than the diameter of the element.

- missvickie.com

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First off, you need certain supplies.  Like jars. You must use canning-safe jars- not old spaghetti sauce or applesauce jars (save those for refrigerator pickles & salsa). Ball® & Kerr® are the two most popular brands. Both are made in the U.S.A. and are fairly inexpensive. They’re both owned by Jarden Brands and the lids and bands are interchangeable. These jars are both the easiest to use and the easiest to find; you can get them at some Target stores, Ace Hardware, Walmart, and other hardware and home goods stores as well as the usual online ordering.

They come in the following shapes/sizes:

Unless you’re going to be doing some serious canning and/or you’re planning on making your own juice, or canning whole fruits, you probably won’t need a half gallon or quart jar. I have quarts for making sun tea or storing beans, grains, rice, etc. However they’re also really good for making pickles. If you eat a lot of pickles or want to make whole pickles (not sliced) then a quart jar is perfect. If you want to just make regular supermarket size jars of pickles, a pint jar will do. If you’re going to be focused more on jams or jellies, I’d recommend the 8 – or 4- ounce jars. All the jars come with lids & bands, but if you end up reusing the jars, you’ll need to buy more lids as they’re only made for one time use. The bands can be reused as long as they’re not rusted or crusty or they don’t impede with the sealing process.

(EDIT 9.7.12: Thanks to Susan Lutz at Zester Daily, there’s a new rundown of what jars are good for what products. Check it out!)

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Walmart sells other jars as well, under the Golden Harvest name, the Alltrista1 name and the Mainstays name. Having never used any of them but Golden Harvest, I can’t speak of them from experience. However I do have a few quart Golden Harvest jars and they work just fine (I used Ball® brand lids/bands, I don’t trust the lids that come with them for canning). Quattro Stagioni is yet another canning jar option. They use a one-piece lid that can only be used one time for canning. I’ve never used this brand myself, but the jars are very attractive and there is something to be said for the one-piece lid. HOWEVER, they’re a bit expensive (around $3.95 per jar at the Container Store). Another jar option is Weck. Weck is a German company that makes fancier canning jars at higher prices. They’re beautiful looking, beautifully made, come in a variety of sizes and don’t use rings or bands like the Ball®/Kerr® jars do. They instead use a rubber ring, or gasket type thing, and a glass lid. Because these jar options are a bit trickier to use and also pricier, I’d recommend starting out with Ball® or Kerr®. And frankly in comparison, they’re just made to a better standard of quality than the Golden Harvest/Alltrista1/Mainstays jars, as far as I’m concerned. The Weck jars are also made very well, but far more expensive. For example, Weck is priced at $17.75 for six 19.6-ounce jars, whereas Ball is $12.99 for twelve 24-ounce jars.

And before I continue I have to say this: DO NOT USE VINTAGE OR SECONDHAND JARS FOR CANNING. For decoration, or storage, or even fridge pickles if you must… but never for canning. Those adorable blue vintage jars you bought at the thrift store? Keep them for their looks. Use brand new (or at least ones bought fairly recently, i.e. modern) jars. The old model jars are not recommended for safe canning any more, due to numerous reasons. Also, never use a jar with any kind of chips or cracks in it. It seems obvious, but you never know.

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Second, you’ll need equipment to process the jars safely. I use a large stainless steel lobster pot and a cheapo plastic rack for processing my jars. There are tons of options here, from canning kits that include everything from the canning pot, a metal rack & jar lifter tongs to the simpler kits that just include a plastic canning rack and an instruction booklet that rely on you to get your own pot, tongs, etc. Then there’s the “elite” canning kit. I highly recommend you get a kit, regardless of what kind it is. It’s cheaper than buying things individually and there are certain things you just NEED. Like..

  1. A canning pot – this is just a necessity. Whether you buy a dedicated “canning pot” or use a very large pasta pot or lobster pot, if you’re canning you’re going to 100% need a pot to process them in. Ideally, when filled with water, there should be 1-2″ of it over the tops of your jars. And as I quoted above: To ensure uniform processing of all jars with an electric range, the canner should be no more than four inches wider in diameter than the element on which it is heated. However for flat top stoves, canners should be no more than 2 inches wider than the diameter of the element. This pot also needs a lid that fits.
  2. A large saucepan – for cooking the jellies, jams and brines. Ideally, it should be at least three times as deep as the mixture you’re cooking, so we’re talking about a fairly large pot. This is especially important for jams and jellies which bubble up a LOT and can boil over, which is obviously dangerous. For brine, unless you’re doing very large batches, a medium (or even small) saucepan will do.
  3. A canning rack – this is another absolutely necessity. The jars that are being processed cannot touch the bottom of your pot, they must be held off of it. Now, a lot of people just use some rolled up dish towels, and some people tie together canning rings to make a little homemade rack. Still others opt for the stainless steel racks, and like I said, I have a simple, small green plastic one that processes roughly four jars at a time. Which is great for me since I do small-batch canning. Whatever works for you.
  4. Jar lifter – the first time you can, you’ll think you won’t need this. Then you’ll either burn your hands or drop a hot jar using an oven mitt and you’ll see the error of your ways. So just buy one now.
  5. Jar funnel – Not an absolutely necessity, but it certainly makes things a hell of a lot easier. A jar funnel fits perfectly in the rims of your jars, filling them with boiling hot jam/jelly or pickle brine without spilling it all over.
  6. Tea towels or linen dish towels – this is something that you’ll need for after you remove the jars from the boiling water. The hot jars shouldn’t touch a cold countertop, particularly if you have a granite or stone counter. So you fold up one or two very light, not textured linen towels for them to sit on. It absorbs the temperature and it’s soft. If the hot jars touch a cold counter, they could crack or shatter immediately. Now, I’ve never had this happen, and I’ve sometimes been a bit rushed or lazy (I hate to admit), but it can and it does… so please be aware. Don’t take the chance. I stock up on these linen towels at Ikea every time I go. For around $.79 cents each, they’re worth their weight in gold. I use them for not just canning, but for everything! When they get too grungy, I toss ‘em. (Side note: I barely use paper towels anymore!)
  7. Jelly bag – if you’re going to venture into jellies (and by that I mean fruit jellies, not things like wine jelly or tea jelly), you’re going to need a jelly bag. You can buy a jelly bag contraption, or you can rig one up using cheesecloth/jelly bags and either your faucet (if it’s a gooseneck) or something else. But you’ll definitely need it- especially if you want clear jelly.
  8. Commercial pectin or homemade apple pectin – Commercial pectin comes in many different kinds. There’s liquid pectin (ex: Certo), powdered pectin (ex: Ball Flex batch/ Small batch and Sure-Jell) and powdered pectin that uses calcium water to gel (Pomona’s). Each pectin needs a different amount of sugar & acid to set, and they are NOT interchangeable. Pomona’s Universal Pectin can be used with full sugar jams & jellies and also with low-sugar or even NO sugar. Ball also makes a low-sugar powdered pectin. All pectin is made from natural fruit pectin, so they aren’t in any way “fake” at all, but still, if you choose to go au naturel & use something homemade, there are ways of making your own pectin. I have a recipe for homemade apple pectin here. There are tons of different kinds, and they all work very well. I’ve used every single one at one point or another and I’ve never had an issue. For clear jelly, I like liquid Certo. For jams I don’t mind using a powdered one, usually Sure-Jell. But I’ve used Pomona’s too, and it wasn’t as complicated as it seemed. All in all, it’s about personal preference. Try them all & see which works for you.
  9. Candy thermometer – if you’re making jelly, this is another requirement. They can be purchased in any supermarket, Bed Bath & Beyond store, online or at any housewares store for pretty cheap. And remember, if you buy a glass one, they’re delicate and they retain the heat like crazy. I dropped mine after trying to grab it while it was still hot when I was making champagne jelly last New Year’s and ended up with no thermometer & shards of glass all over the damn floor. That is something you do NOT want to happen to you, it really ruins the mood of the jelly-making.
  10. Pickling salt – this isn’t a necessity, meaning you can still pickle with Iodized salt or un-Iodized salt. But most recipes will probably call for pickling salt. Basically, it’s just a finer grain of salt that has no Iodine mixed in it, so you can use regular un-Iodized salt if you like. It works just fine and that’s mostly what I use. Iodized salt might make your brine cloudy. It most likely won’t affect the taste or quality, but it won’t look as nice.
  11. Vinegar – the most basic and obvious of all, along with salt. You need this for pickles; be they “fridge” pickles (or quick pickles) or actual “canned” pickles. The type might vary. For starters, get a gallon of white vinegar, and a smaller bottle of apple cider vinegar, both MUST BE 5% acidity. After that, it’s basically all a matter of taste. You might want to try an Asian-inspired pickle and use rice wine vinegar. You might want a red wine vinegar pickle. Those are all just fine. But the most basic vinegars you’ll need are white and apple cider. And any recipe that is canned using a waterbath canner must use a vinegar with 5% acidity. No less. Any vinegars less than 5% can be used for fridge pickles, but not shelf-stable pickles.
  12. Lemon juice – I always have at least one bottle of lemon juice in my fridge. You need it for providing the acid in a lot of jam or jelly recipes. Some people prefer to use only fresh lemon juice, but I like to use the bottled stuff for most things. Some exceptions include lemon curd & lemon jellies.

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The rest of the stuff: sugar, spices, etc., is all dependent on the recipe/pectin you decide to use. And what is pectin, exactly?

Pectin is a naturally-occurring thickening agent that is most often used by adding it to jams, jellies and similar products to help them gel and thicken. Pectin creates a thick, clear set when it gels. It is a carbohydrate (a polysaccharide) found in and around the cell walls of plants, and helps to bind those cells together. All fruit has pectin in it, but the amount varies widely. Apples and oranges contain the most pectin, and the pectin from both fruits is used commercially to thicken many different types of products. Pectin generally needs a high sugar content and some acid, such as citric acid, to activate, and some commercially available pectins include citric acid as an ingredient to help ensure that consumers get their desired result when working with their products.  Pectin can be bought at the grocery store in both powder and liquid forms, and it can also be introduced to a recipe by adding fruit that has a high natural pectin content, such as apples or plums.

Gelatin and pectin both produce clear gels with a high sheen, but the products are not the same. Pectin is a water-soluble fiber, while gelatin is a protein derived from animals. Pectin is used almost exclusively in high-sugar products, like jams. Gelatin, on the other hand, is used in a much wider variety of foods, including mousses, marshmallows and frostings because gelatin sets in a cool environment and does not require that specific ingredients be included to activate it.

- Baking Bites

Like I said, what kind of pectin you use: homemade, commercial, liquid, powdered, etc., influences how much sugar (or what kind of “sweetener”) that you’ll be needing, which is in turn all dependent on either your dietary needs/wants or the recipe you’re using. Which brings me to the Three R’s.

When it comes to The Three R’s: research, resources and recipes (three very important things), you have to know where to go. There are a number of amazing canning blogs and websites out there jam-packed (pun intended) with amazing information. But how do you find them? Well, right here! These are seven of my favorite and most trusted sites when it comes to preserving (and some of them have other stuff, too, like cooking or grilling). The first is an official website for the USDA, the second one is a website that’s instructional on all the basic canning steps & info (and has information on where you can pick your own veggies & fruits) and the third is a similar site, and the fourth one is a community of canners/preservers all sharing their knowledge. However, the last four are user-friendly blogs. Bookmark them. Now.

You’ll also need a few books. Websites are great, yes, and there are tons of them that can help you with questions you have. But a book will always be there for reference. I recommend the following books: The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving by Judy Kingry & Lauren Devine, Better Homes & Gardens You Can Can, We Sure Can! by Sarah B. Hood, and Canning For a New Generation by Liana Krissoff. The first two are basic guides, with the most commonly used and requested recipes for jams, jellies, pickles, chutneys & more, along with detailed drawings & explanations as to why certain procedures are done, why certain things are not waterbath-canner safe, etc. The second two books are filled with such things as homemade pectin recipes and recipes for more unusual or unique jams, jellies & pickles. Altogether they’re a compact yet excellent little collection of canning books that cover everything you need to know, from the very basic to the more exotic.

In my humble opinion, pickles are the easiest to make. I’d definitely start with pickles, either pickled cucumbers or pickled green beans (“Dilly beans”; shown in the top photo) or pickled vegetables like Giardiniera. Then I’d say jams would be the next easiest, specifically blueberry, raspberry or strawberry jam. Blackberry too, but the fact that you might want to use a food mill to get rid of the seeds makes it a bit more tedious than the others (I never ever do that, by the way). None of them require much work, though, not even any added commercial pectin. Next easiest? I’d say marmalade; either orange, lemon or a combination of the two. It’s a longer process then jam but it, too, doesn’t require added pectin. Some people have a difficult time getting it to set, but I personally never have, and my whole philosophy is “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” You never know until you try, right? And then last, but not least, jelly. Jelly is the hardest because it requires added pectin, and also it requires a candy thermometer and a very specific degree that it has to be cooked at before it will set. Now, technically speaking, all jam & marmalade has to be cooked to that degree, or “setting point” as well, but it’s easier to “see” when jams/marmalades/preserves are at the setting point. Jelly is a bit harder since it stays mostly liquid until it cools. Not only that, but you need patience and even then it can be tricky. It’s not something to be scared of, but to me it’s the most difficult of all the waterbath canned products.

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Canning, like baking or cooking, is fun. But it’s also work. It’s an art and a science. It’s important, just as in baking, to understand the different chemistry that makes things work the way they do before attempting to do it. If you don’t understand why you need baking powder & salt, then you shouldn’t bake; or at least you shouldn’t consider yourself a “baker.” And if you don’t understand why you need lemon juice to make your commercial pectin work, then you shouldn’t be canning. You don’t need to be a master chemist or science major, you don’t need to have a pH kit or massive knowledge of the acidity of every fruit or vegetable on the face of the earth. All you need is curiosity, and the basic knowledge of why you have to do certain things to make it work. At the very least, you should be open to learning the reasons why things are the way they are. Once you’ve got that- you’re on your way.

The acidity level, or pH, of foods determines whether they should be processed in a boiling water canner or pressure canner. The lower the pH, the more acidic the food.

Acidic foods have pH values below 4.6. These foods include pickles, most fruits, and jams and jellies made from fruit. (In pickling, the acid level is increased by adding lemon juice, citric acid, or vinegar.) Acidic foods contain enough acidity either to stop the growth of botulinum bacteria or destroy the bacteria more rapidly when heated. Acidic foods may be safely canned in a boiling water canner.

Low-acid foods include red meats, seafood, poultry, milk, all fresh vegetables and some tomatoes.  Low-acid foods have pH values higher than 4.6. They do not contain enough acid to prevent the growth of botulinum bacteria. These foods are processed at temperatures of 240 degrees F to 250 degrees F, attainable with pressure canners operated at 10 to 15 pounds per square inch (psi) of pressure. The exact time depends on the kind of food being canned, the way it is packed in jars, and the size of jars.

Although tomatoes used to be considered an acidic food, some are now known to have pH values slightly above 4.6, which means they are low acid. To safely can them as acidic foods in a boiling water canner, you must add lemon juice or citric acid.

Pressure canning is the only canning method recommended for low-acid foods like meat, poultry, seafood and vegetables.

Clostridium botulinum, the bacterium that causes botulism food poisoning, is destroyed in low-acid foods when they are processed at the correct time and temperature in pressure canners. Canning low acid foods in boiling-water canners is absolutely unsafe because the botulinum bacteria can survive this process. If Clostridium botulinum bacteria survive and grow inside a sealed jar of food, they can produce a deadly toxin. Just a tiny taste of food containing this toxin can be fatal.

- missvickie.com

Before I wrap this up, I’m going to really quickly cover refrigerator pickles. It’s not technically “canning” per se, but if you’re unsure/scared about starting the real canning process, you could try making some “quick pickles” or fridge pickles & see how you like it. The upside for most people to fridge pickles, aside from the fact that they’re super quick to make, is that it requires no canning pot, no canning jars/lids, no jar lifter, and no canning knowledge whatsoever. You can use any clean, food-safe glass jar that you want; from a clean spaghetti sauce jar, to a mayonnaise jar, to an applesauce jar, even a pickle jar. Or, a regular old canning jar! Anything. And you can “pickle” anything you want this way. You can make regular cucumber pickles, pickled green beans, pickled cauliflower, pickled okra, Vietnamese pickles, pickled carrots, pickled onions… the list goes on. The downside? Not shelf-stable, meaning they have to be stored in the fridge at all times. Also, they should be thrown out after 6 months in there, tops. Confession: I have some in my fridge for longer that are just fine, but I’m a loner Dottie… a rebel.

All you do is clean and chop or cut up your veggies, pack them into a jar, add your spices or herbs of choice, heat up some brine (usually a combination of vinegar/salt/water but sometimes there’s no vinegar, as in the Kosher Dill’s I list below) and then pour the brine over the veggies. Close the lid (not too tight!) and put them in the refrigerator. That’s all.

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Just like canned pickles, you can make fridge pickles with fresh dill and/or herbs, or you can use dill seed and/or dried herbs & seeds, as you can see above. I have a few recipes for fridge pickles up on the blog, one of which is taken from Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking‘s basic fridge pickle recipe, & I’m going to list them below. I encourage you to give it a shot, it’s very easy and it’ll give you a taste of what canning pickles is like without actually having to can them.

For preserving summer produce without canning at all, visit this page at The Kitchn. a complete list of the jams/jellies/preserves/pickles I have posted, see the recipe index. Or just search the categories, below. Either way- go forth & can! That way, little brunches & lunches like this can be an every day occurrence.

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P.S. Do you have any questions? Leave them in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer them, or refer you somewhere else. And did I forget anything? Did I leave something out? Is there a book or website you think people should know about? Add it in the comments! All input, big or small, is graciously & gratefully accepted.

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*None of this references pressure canning, which is primarily used for low-acid foods (potatoes, soups, meats, etc). If you’re interested in that, please visit this page.

** For more freezer jam information, please visit this page.

A sweet $50.00 giveaway!

COMMENTS ARE CLOSED as of 12:00 a.m. 3/25/12. The winner, according to random.org, is number 35. Number 35 is Elizabeth!

Congrats, Elizabeth!

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Happy Spring! I dunno about where you are but here in NY, it’s 70-something degrees & lovely. And, well, now that St. Patrick’s Day is behind us, we can take a little while to relax before the spring/Easter baking starts. But we can start planning! And isn’t it more fun to plan to bake things when you know they’re going in pretty packaging?

I like to bake. You like to bake. I mean, that’s why you’re here, right?

They don’t call me the Rosie the Riveter of baking for nothin’, you know?

But I also like shopping. I like to shop for anything; my parents used to say as a kid I’d find something to buy anywhere- even a hardware store (which is especially true now since I’m older & discovered the wonders of home & garden DIY/canning), but one of my favorite things to shop for is cupcake supplies. Cute little liners, vintage-y toppers, sprinkles, etc. It sucks me in & I end up spending all day on websites looking at it. I feel slightly nerdy about that; I could use some comrades in arms. And I want to help you in your cupcake decorating obsessions. So me & Lyns from Sweet Cuppin’ Cakes Bakery & Cupcakery Supplies are pairing up to giveaway a 50.00 gift certificate to her website… for you!

Yup, $50.00 bucks for you to buy whatever you want: liners, toppers, sprinkles, extracts, you name it. Save it for Easter baking, save it for the fall (if you can wait that long) or Christmas, use half now & half later, use it all now to buy pretty spring-themed stuff, whatever! But all I know is there are TONS of things to choose from. Like these… which I personally love.

And how do you win?

All you have to do is ‘like’ her new Facebook page, then come back here & comment. If you don’t have a Facebook, then follow her on Twitter & come here to comment. If you have both, that means two separate entries & two chances to win. If you have neither, then just comment with the promise that you’ll tell every single person you meet about her website (kidding… ). For bonus entries, become a fan of Cupcake Rehab on Facebook and follow me on Twitter too, and if you already are doing those things, you can still comment & say so. That’s two extra bonus entries! Four chances at winning.

And finally- one more bonus entry for tweeting about the giveaway! Just copy & paste this into a tweet:

I just entered to win a $50 gift certificate to @sweetsupply from @CupcakeRehab! You can too: http://cupcakerehab.com/2012/03/a-sweet-50-00-giveaway/

You could also write up your own tweet, so long as you mention me & Lyns both, as well as a link to this post (duh!). Don’t forget; after you tweet it come back here & tell me for your fifth entry chance. Each of those things I listed are irrelevant without leaving a comment for each! The comments are your entries. I’ll pick a winner on the 25th at midnight EST via random.org. I’ll e-mail the winner ASAP so make sure you leave a valid e-mail address!

Easy peasy. Any questions? Feel free to e-mail me at any time. Otherwise, happy entering!

Cupcakes in boxes for a Cupcake Rehab birthday.

If you’re a baker like me, or rather, I should say a person who enjoys baking/does it all the time/bakes for birthdays & holidays/gets requests all the time/pretty much rocks at it, then you know that there are serious problems presented when it’s time to transport said baked goods. Sure, you can use the old school way: a plate covered in tinfoil. But that’s kinda, well, ghetto. Or you could buy one of those silver foil take-out containers, or use a disposable foil cupcake pan… but those are also kind of cheap. And sure, you can go the “mom” route & buy one of those cupcake carriers (which are no doubt awesome, useful & very easy, but they’re kinda ‘bake sale’ & not very ‘bakery’). But you could also get yourself some bakery boxes.

How professional looking, right?

Recently, I was lucky enough to be sent a large box (yes- a box of boxes!) from Bake-A-Box. Inside was a variety of different-sized bakery boxes. Needless to say, I was super excited about this. And when presented with an opportunity to go somewhere for dinner, I decided to bring some cupcakes in my nifty new boxes. Killing two birds with one stone; bringing a lovely dessert to my host & also testing out these convenient little portable cupcake containers. Not to mention the fact that this coming Monday, September 12th, is my blog’s 4th birthday! Usually, I do a giveaway or a big birthday bash, but this year I just wasn’t into it. However, at the very least, I thought we I deserved some prettiful cupcakes after almost 4 years of bloggin’, rockin’ & rollin’… & beating people with whisks.

So me & Lola got to work.

Lola lookin’ foine & reppin’ Sourpuss Clothing! Have you met Lola?

You have to make a pretty dynamic cupcake to have it be prettier than Lola, just saying. My first attempt (strawberry shortcake cupcakes) was kind of a failure. Not for any other reason than they just weren’t “post-worthy.” They looked okay, tasted awesome, but just didn’t have enough oompf or pizzazz to blog photos of ‘em. I mean, look at these cupcakes I posted last week. They’re perfection. I can’t follow those up with average-looking, amateurish cupcakes. But not being one to waste perfectly good food, I packed up the boxes with them anyway to give to another deserving person. Not someone any less important, mind you, just someone who appreciates the taste more than the aesthetics. Then I went to Plan B: lemon marmalade cupcakes, all of them piped high with seven-minute frosting; some topped with marmalade, frosted, then toasted & some not topped with marmalade, but with candy lemon slices on the frosting. Ta-da!

See, I had an open 16 oz. jar of strawberry jam in the fridge & the urge to use it. Sure, it’s being eaten on toast & scones & bread, etc. But I wanted to bake with it. So the first batch was a vanilla cupcake filled to the bursting point with this strawberry jam, then topped with a Swiss meringue buttercream. Seeing as how those weren’t photo-worthy, I went on to make these, crossing my fingers they’d be better. But… the jam was mysteriously much emptier when I went back to use it. Not wanting to open another jar, I used the lemon marmalade I’d made recently instead of the strawberry jam (recipe here). The cupcakes are bright, lemony, sweet & tart yet had a slight complexity from the tea; plus they’re vintage-y looking. They were basically the perfect cupcake to showcase these awesome boxes- and celebrate 4 years of Cupcake Rehab!

LEMON MARMALADE CUPCAKES

Makes about 18 cupcakes

Ingredients:

  • 1 8-oz. jar Lady Grey’s lemon marmalade
  • 2 cups flour
  • ¾ cup milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch salt

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350° degrees F. Line cupcake or muffin tins with papers; set aside. Into a medium bowl, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg & mix thoroughly. Combine vanilla with milk in a glass measuring cup.
  2. In a separate bowl, sift flour, baking powder and salt together. Add flour mixture to butter mixture in three batches, alternating with the milk mixture and starting and ending with the flour. Do not overbeat.
  3. Add ¾ cup marmalade, a ¼ cup at a time, until combined.
  4. Spoon batter into prepared tins, filling cups about ¾ full. Bake until a cake tester inserted near the centers comes out clean and the tops spring back when pressed lightly in the center, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven; spoon a teaspoon of marmalade on top of each while still hot, then remove from pan after 10 minutes. Let cool completely out of the pan before frosting.

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SEVEN-MINUTE FROSTING

Makes about 4 cups, plenty of frosting for 18, possibly 24 cupcakes depending on how high you frost!

Ingredients:

  • ¾ cups plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ⅓ cup water
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 3 large egg whites, room temperature

Directions:

  1. Combine ¾ cup sugar with the water and corn syrup in a small saucepan; clip a candy thermometer to side of pan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves. Continue boiling, without stirring, until syrup reaches 230° degrees.
  2. Meanwhile, in the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk egg whites on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. With mixer running, add remaining tablespoon sugar, beating to combine.
  3. As soon as sugar syrup reaches 230° degrees, remove from heat. With mixer on medium-low speed, pour syrup down side of bowl in a slow, steady stream. Raise speed to medium-high; whisk until mixture is completely cool (test by touching the bottom of the bowl) and stiff (but not dry) peaks form, about 7 minutes. Use immediately.

For those of you who have trouble with 7-minute frosting: the key is to accurately measure the temperature of the boiling sugar/water mixture. It MUST reach 230°! If not, the frosting will probably not work. I’ve never had a failed attempt at 7-minute frosting, and that’s because my candy thermometer is my best friend. If you don’t have one- get one. Especially if you plan on ever attempting cooked frosting’s or if you want to start to make candy or begin canning. Also, you probably need a stand mixer to make it. If not, your arm will most likely become numb & fall off long before the frosting is done. Have you ever tried to mix something with a hand mixer for over 7 minutes straight? You can also double the above recipe for frosting layer cakes or 24+ batches of cupcakes. Also, when it says use immediately, it means immediately. Do not wait. If you wait even a little bit, it’ll get clumpier and not pipe as smoothly. So make this frosting only when you’re 100% ready to use it.

Anyway, I piped the frosting high with my favorite tip, then toasted it slightly. For the rest, I used a quartered slice of candy lemon. Then of course I put them in my new Bake-A-Box boxes for delivery. Thanks to Lyns for the cute little yellow scalloped liners; they were perfect with these! Not only did the scalloping match the boxes, but the yellow was just the right color.

The thing I hate about most boxes- the assembly- was a cinch with these. And they were really cute! Not boring or plain, even though they’re white they’re attractive. People even asked me where I got them, or suggested I bought the cupcakes at a bakery *gasp* AS IF! So yes, I’d definitely buy from them, and yes, I’d encourage my fellow bakers to do so as well. The cupcake holders inside pop in and out, so you could fill them with cakes, cookies or brownies too. And they come in a ton of different sizes. The shipping was super fast too! Go visit Bake-A-Box & tell them I sent you (I always wanted to say that).

Anyway, I love the yellow sunshine-y-ness of these cupcakes. The scalloped edges of the liners & the box not to mention the colors remind me of my marigolds.

It’s been a tough summer, and I know that there’s more rough spots ahead. And between my grandma’s passing, my crazy neighbor’s antics (another story for another day), an East Coast earthquake & then a friggin’ hurricane, it’s been full of excess drama & bullshit that I really didn’t need. But I’m making the best of things, and trying to enjoy at least a little bit of every day. I want to thank Nicole at Bake-A-Box for sending the fantastic boxes… all you bakers out there, go buy some! They’re awesome. And I want to thank all my readers & followers! You guys are the best & you make every blog post worth it, not to mention the past 4 years.

I may not have the most popular blog ever, I may not make the most beautiful or most creative cupcakes (however I do happen think they’re pretty amazing), I may not have the best or even the funniest blog (although, shit, I think I’m fucking HILARIOUS), I may not get so many hits my server overloads weekly, I may not have KitchenAid giveaways weekly or 560 comments kissing my ass on every post. But none of that has ever been important to me, nor was it why I got into doing this. I got into it for fun, all I really wanted to do was to bake fun stuff & share it with other cool like-minded people. So to me the fact that I have almost 1,000 Facebook fans & over 800 Twitter followers just blows me away. Every single time I get a comment or an e-mail that praise me or compliment me or the blog in the slightest, it automatically turns into a good day. That’s how much I value all of you. And don’t worry- I’m doing just fine in the visitors department, by the way, of course I ain’t on Dooce level… but who is? Other than Dooce, I mean. So no, I don’t make so much money off the blog that I can retire at 30, I don’t get any huge compensation for it, I don’t get money or trips thrown at me, nor is it always easy to do this; between the tech aspect, the design aspect, the social media aspect & the recipe aspect itself, it’s actually like a full-time second job. But I adore it. And it’s my personal opinion that anyone in anything JUST for money or fame is a phony, so rest assured when you read this blog, you’re reading the work of someone who puts 100% into it just for the fun & enjoyment of it, and for the community of it, not for any monetary gain. Not that that’s a bad thing at all… it’s just not where I’m at. I don’t give a shit about getting a TV show that might air after The Neely’s, getting an advertising deal with Le Creuset, or that I may have too filthy of a mouth to impress Martha. But again, I don’t give a flying fig about that or anything else; especially what people may think of me. Never have, never will. I’m in it for my amusement & yours, and that’s all, whatever positive things come from that are greatly appreciated & welcomed, but definitely not needed. I’m having a blast just the way things are & I hope my readers are too. The day it becomes a chore or just a way to make a buck is the day I quit. I enjoy it, I hope you do too, and I hope it continues for a long time.

So it’s been four whole years! And I, for one, am not going anywhere. Not anytime soon. But I just want to thank you all… you all who’s e-mails & comments make it doubly & triply worthwhile… all of the amazing bakers & cupcakers I’ve gotten the chance to “meet”… all the great businesses who I’ve had the pleasure of discovering… THANK YOU! YOU LIKE ME, YOU REALLY LIKE ME!

I look forward to spending many more with you.

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!

Christmas time is here, happiness & cheer.

It’s that time, ladies & gents. That time of year when parents try to kill themselves in toy stores to get the “IT” toy of the year and kids are running around overloaded on sugar from Christmas parties, and there’s piles of snow on the ground and your back aches from shoveling it all. Ahh, Christmas.

That being said, I really do enjoy this time of year. Specifically the delicious food and baked goods, the gifts , the pretty decorations and the shopping. Me not being a religious person, that’s how I roll. See? When you aren’t religious, you can be all about the gifts and no one says you’re going to hell or “missed the meaning of Christmas.” Oh no, wait. People tell me I’m going to hell anyway. Shit.

 

But I do love me a good tree. Anyway…  pretty much everyone knows the Christian version of Christmas, but not a lot of people realize that it pre-dates Christianity, and that Christianity actually stole most of the elements of Christmas from pagan celebrations of the Winter Solstice, and it has been said that it was also inspired by the Roman holiday of Saturnalia. In reality, according to actual time-lines, Jesus was probably born closer to March which was tax time in Israel, which is why Mary & Joseph were traveling during his birth. So if you believe in that sort of thing, Jesus’ birthday isn’t even in December, let alone on the 25th- it’s probably in March. Although there’s another theory that it was September, due to the shepherd’s tending the flocks. Christians stole the pagan timeline (and most of the traditions) so that they could celebrate without being persecuted, which means that there really isn’t any “Christ in Christmas” as it is celebrated now, in December. And if you want to be super technical? You can get into how the concept of a virgin birth happening on December 25th is ripped off from Mithra, and the birth being on the 25th of December itself is extremely common with a number of “gods”: Attis of Greece- c1200 BC, Krishna of India- c900 BC, Dionysus of Greece- c500 BC, Mithra of Persia- c1200 BC, Horus of Egypt- c3000 BC… and Jesus of Nazareth- 1 AD.

The Christmas tree is often explained as a Christianisation of pagan tradition and ritual surrounding the Winter Solstice, which included the use of evergreen boughs, and an adaptation of pagan tree worship.[32] The English language phrase “Christmas tree” is first recorded in 1835[33] and represents an importation from the German language. The modern Christmas tree tradition is believed to have begun in Germany in the 18th century[32] though many argue that Martin Luther began the tradition in the 16th century.[34][35] From Germany the custom was introduced to Britain, first via Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, and then more successfully by Prince Albert during the reign of Queen Victoria. By 1841 the Christmas tree had become even more widespread throughout Britain.[36] By the 1870s, people in the United States had adopted the custom of putting up a Christmas tree.[37] Christmas trees may be decorated with lights and ornaments.

Since the 19th century, the poinsettia, a native plant from Mexico, has been associated with Christmas. Other popular holiday plants include holly, mistletoe, red amaryllis, and Christmas cactus. Along with a Christmas tree, the interior of a home may be decorated with these plants, along with garlands and evergreen foliage.

Anyway I’ll stop there to avoid getting bombarded with hate mail. I just wanted to clear that up, since I’ve been asked a lot “If you aren’t religious, why do you celebrate  Christmas?” And contrary to popular belief, I am not a Grinch. I love Christmas. I love Christmas music. I love decorating. I love the lights. I love the baking and cooking. I love Starbucks peppermint hot cocoa in the red cups. I love the shopping. I don’t even mind the crowds, really. I love everything about it. Except the snow. I extremely dislike snow… sucks to be me, I guess, seeing as how I live in New York. But I’d rather live in NY and have snow on Christmas then go swimming in a bikini & sunscreen on Christmas, so I’ll deal with it. Speaking of snow, did you notice it’s snowing on the blog? And there’s a new seasonal header, too. Spiffy.

I did one of these posts for Halloween and another for Thanksgiving, so I figured hey, why not do it for Christmas!? So here we are: my top 5 Favorite Christmas Cupcakes. Of course, these are ones I made, not my top 5 favorite all over the web. I did a post like that a few years back for Cupcakes Take The Cake, if you’re interested you can still see it here. So grab some hot cocoa, hot mulled cider or some Old Fezziwig’s Ale and let’s get crackin’!

Nigella, oh Nigella. I made these cupcakes spur of the moment, mainly because I liked how Nigella called the pan a “bun muffin pan” in the recipe… and I decided to do little poinsettias on them at the last second, and they turned out so amazing. Beautiful, really. Everyone loved these, and the flowers aren’t that hard to make. Find the recipe & more here: Poinsettia (& Nigella) cupcakes.

These are so adorable. I just love the way they look, and the little snowman toppers with matching liners. These are just plain vanilla with vanilla buttercream, but the decorating makes them really special. A perfect example of the fact that a cupcake doesn’t have to be fancy flavored to make an impact. The great thing about these is they’re not just for Christmas, but the entire winter season. The candy coated sunflower seeds were a gift from Lyns, and you can find them here in blue, but they also have pink and yellow. The recipe can be found by clicking this link: Jack Frost cupcakes.

These babies are some of my favorites not only because they look gorgeous, but because they tasted fantastic as well. A wonderful chocolatey cake with a rich chocolate buttercream, and a light, peppermint-y meringue “ornament” (or cookie) on top all combined to make an awesome Christmas cupcake. You can get all the info and recipes here: Even cupcakes deserve ornaments at Christmas.

Another recipe/decorating combo that’s perfect not just for Christmas, but all winter long. Great for a winter birthday or a Winter Solstice celebration as well. These coconut cupcakes are Ina Garten’s recipe, but I left out her cream cheese frosting and made a coconut-flavored buttercream, and topped it with dyed coconut. This is one amazing cupcake recipe, trust me, despite the fact (and probably because of the fact) that the cake + the frosting combined calls for over a pound of butter. The recipes for both the frosting and cakes are at this link: “Let it Snow” coconut cupcakes.


And last, but certainly not least, one of the most requested, most complimented and most loved cupcake recipes I’ve ever made: the french toast cupcake. Topped with a cream cheese frosting sprinkled with cinnamon sugar it’s a definite crowd pleaser. Get your mitts on the recipe here: Are french toast cupcakes technically a breakfast food?

These are by no means the only Christmas recipes for cupcakes I have posted- no, no. They’re just my favorites. I have tons of others including super cute gingerbread cupcakes, delicious eggnog cupcakes, beautiful red velvet cupcakes, alcohol-laced hot buttered rum cupcakes, etc. Take a peek at the Christmas category to find that and more, including 7-layer magic cookie bars and biscotti di natale al cioccolato.

If you’re the kind of person who prefers to leave cookies for Santa instead of cupcakes, try looking in my “cookies” category- I have everything from chocolate cookies to oatmeal chocolate chip, including an amazing shortbread cookie recipe, and for the more adventurous, exotic spice cookies with cardamom, ginger and rose water. Typically I try and bake one Christmas-y cupcake a week the entire month of December, but this will have to do for the first week. Sorry guys. Take a trip down memory lane by clicking some of those links to get some inspiration and I’ll be back soon with something tasty and pretty for you to look at.

One more little thing… I’d like to think of myself as a not materialistic person. Sure, I love nice things- pretty clothes, expensive makeup, nice housewares, etc. Yes, I can be a bit selfish at times, all us humans can be/are by nature. But I also give to any and every charity I can, donate food to food banks, donate toys to toy drives, give to the Salvation Army every time I see the bell-ringers, donate my old clothing to the Lupus foundation, etc. I do my best to make this world a slightly better place, day by day, person by person. I am never mean or cruel to people unless warranted. Sarcastic, yes, all the time. But mean? Not usually. I consider myself to be a happy person. Someone who can find the bright side of many situations. Someone who no matter what is going wrong, can find either a positive angle or at least a drop of good in it. I can make myself happy with very little, and sometimes little things are what truly make me happiest anyway. But this is a season when it’s really easy to go crazy with “wants.” Yeah, I have a lot of wants. Everyone does. But whether or not I get them, I know I’ll be happy with myself for being a good person, and that I’ll be happy what I do have; family, friends, pets, and all the material objects I love and adore (my laptop, my Kitchen Aid mixer “Lola”… etc). If I never got another “thing” in my life, I could be happy because I’m aware that’s not what’s important. But let’s be honest: it sure as shit makes life (and Christmas) fun to have things, or be able to give things, or to have the comfort of knowing someone is looking out for you.

So this Christmas, amidst all your hustling and bustling and shopping, please make a donation to at least ONE charity. Any charity that speaks to you- cancer research, diabetes research, programs that feed the hungry, AIDS research, programs that help the homeless, religious programs, neglected or abused animal organizations- whatever. Pick  at least one, and donate even just $5.00 or $10.00 to them. Consider it a Christmas or Hanukkah gift. There are SO many out there less fortunate than you or I, let’s remember them and use this giving season to lend them a hand. And if you choose not to… when you’re sitting in front of your fire, drinking hot cocoa and opening lavish presents this year while listening to Bing Crosby on your iPod, remember those who are hungry, lonely, sick, and without all the comforts you have… and be grateful that life dealt you a better hand. Whatever religion or non-religion you are, that’s an important thing to keep in mind. I’ll get off my soapbox now.

This post is brought to you by the 1930’s & Sutton Gourmet Paper.

I know you’ve been missing the cupcakes, so here they are. The lovely Kellie at Sutton Gourmet Paper sent me an assortment of these beautiful liners, and coincidentally the next day I received a gift from my mother of a vintage 1930’s white enameled metal cake carrier, with hand-painted detail.  I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m slightly obsessed with vintage anything. Especially vintage kitchen-related material like aprons, mixers, cake plates, etc. And this cake carrier is really lovely. It’s so pretty, and in excellent condition. The colors in the liners reminded me of the cake carrier, very vintage-y and bright, and I thought using them together would be a great photo opportunity…..

Sutton Gourmet Paper liners pride themselves on the fact that their liners are greaseproof and will stay just as colorful and crisp looking after baking as they do beforehand. I admit, I was skeptical. Of course, I’m always willing to try something new and give my honest opinion. And I found that what they say is true. I made a chocolate cupcake, my favorite chocolate cupcake recipe actually, and I’ll be damned- the liners did stay, for the most part, pretty clear, even after baking. Much better than regular liners. I have never had that experience with a chocolate cupcake + paper liner combination. Ever. As a matter of fact, I haven’t had that experience with many vanilla or white cupcake recipes + paper liners! The zebra ones, red damask, and red & white checked ones did get a bit darker than the rest, but all in all they were much better than I expected them to be. The red/turquoise and the brown/turquoise ones just stayed so bright and beautiful, so did the brown/white damask, which made me happy, because they looked so pretty next to my new vintage cake carrier. These liners would be outstanding for a vanilla cupcake as well, the color would be so amazingly bright. The green and pink checked ones also stayed lovely.

Look how gorgeous that turquoise one is!

..

As far as the recipe goes, like I said, it’s my favorite chocolate cupcake recipe from Billy’s Bakery in NYC. I cut the recipe in half because I didn’t need 27+ cupcakes. But just so you know, this full recipe does indeed make that much, so it’s perfect for a party. This recipe isn’t a particularly greasy or oily recipe, neither is it the darkest chocolate, but it’s dark enough to know whether or not the liners do what they say they do. And they do! That’s a lot of ‘do’s.’ I frosted them with a vanilla/orange buttercream. Another excellent chocolate cupcake recipe that has a bit more of a punch to it (thanks to coffee) is this one, also frosted with a vanilla/orange buttercream. I have other chocolate cupcake recipes, including a S’mores recipe, if you’d like to see them. Just search or nose around in the archives over there to the right. But now, I give you Billy’s chocolate cupcakes.

I wonder if Lou Ann Stallings will steal these pictures too. They’ll probably be on Craigslist tomorrow! Haha. Speaking of that, let me reiterate once more (despite it being written on almost every fucking page here) that these photos are my property. If you steal them, that’s theft. Plain & simple.

BILLY’S BAKERY CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES

Ingredients:

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter (8 ounces)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar (7 ounces)
  • 1 cup light brown sugar (7-¾ ounces)
  • 4 large eggs (one at a time)
  • 6 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
  • 2 cups cake flour (9-¼ ounces)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup buttermilk (room temperature)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Cream butter, granulated sugar and light brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer.
  2. Add 4 large eggs (one at a time) and beat each until thoroughly combined, then add chocolate (chocolate should be melted, then cooled for approximately 15 minutes before being added)*. Add and alternate cake flour plus baking soda with buttermilk (room temperature) plus vanilla extract.
  3. Place cupcake paper into each cup of 2 muffin pans (each pan yielding 12 muffins). Then fill each cup with 1 leveled off scoop of an ice cream scooper.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees in regular oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until tester comes out clean.

*If you only have unsweetened cocoa powder, not baking chocolate, and still want to make these cupcakes, you can. For every ounce of baking chocolate required, simply use 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder plus 1 tablespoon oil or shortening. Ta-da! If my calculations are correct, which I’m sure they are, that roughly means 6 tablespoons shortening or oil plus ¾ cups of cocoa powder for this full recipe. You do not have to melt it together separately. Just add it when it says to add the unsweetened chocolate. Or, alternately, you can just add unsweetened cocoa powder to the dry ingredients. That’s what I did.


All in all I was extremely satisfied! I would definitely buy from Sutton, absolutely. I was super pleased with the end results. There’s really nothing I hate more than greasy liners. Well, there are things I hate more, actually. But greasy liners are up there on the list.

And on that note, here is a picture of me being very awesome lame with my new(er) short(er) hair that I mentioned previously. And please don’t tell me I look like Pink. Not that there’s anything wrong with Pink, I’ve just been hearing that for 10 years now, and I absolutely do not see it at all. By the time you see this, my hair might be a is a totally different color. Oh- and my hair is slick with product in this picture, so don’t think I just have a greasy head. Haha.