Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Oh No. It's That Strange Vegetable Pie Again!

I had originally intended to have this post ready for Canadian Thanksgiving way back in October, but I never got around to making my pumpkin pie. Until now. Coincidentally, just in time for American Thanksgiving. I had been wanting to make pumpkin pie for ages, which required numerous phone calls home to mom for the recipe since I'd never made it before. I've been on a bit of a pumpkin kick lately (you'll see what I mean over the next week or so!), and I really wanted to make a pumpkin pie so I could introduce it to all my UK friends who'd never had it before. You see, pumpkin pie is a very typical fall / autumn dessert in North America, and is traditionally served at Thanksgiving and Christmas. I remember my first autumn in the UK - I wanted to make a batch of my favourite pumpkin spice cupcakes, but I couldn't find any canned pumpkin. It just doesn't exist here unless you can get to one of the few places in London that carry imported American foods such as Whole Foods. But don't worry - I have a solution for that!

When you mention pumpkin to people here in the UK, they tend to think of things like pumpkin risotto or pumpkin ravioli. You know, savoury things. Definitely not sweet things like pies, cakes, muffins, brownies or breads. I think we North Americans have a real knack for turning absolutely everything imaginable into some kind of sweet dessert or cake.

And as I mentioned in my post here the other day, I've found that most people in the UK don't like overly sweet things. And because pumpkin pie isn't too sweet, I'm pretty sure that people here in the UK would really like it if they got a chance to try it. But.... I didn't know for sure, so I decided to turn my pumpkin pie into a pumpkin tart since a tart would have less pumpkin filling in it than the regular pie version. See.....

To make my pumpkin tart I cheated and used a pre-made pastry crust. I just couldn't be bothered to make one from scratch. Why? Well, because I'd already spent a bunch of time making my own fresh pumpkin puree to use in my pie. I was going to use a can of Libby's pumpkin puree (as shown in my picture below), but changed my mind at the last minute and decided to go with a fresh puree. Making your own pumpkin puree definitely takes a bit of time, but it's really easy to do - I'll explain below. In addition to a pie crust and pumpkin puree, you'll also need some evaporated milk, eggs, sugar and a few spices.

Oh, and make sure you don't throw away those pumpkin seeds! They make a fantastic little snack or garnish for your pie! 

Pumpkin Pie 

The following recipe is for a full 9" pie. I'd recommend halving the recipe if you plan on making a tart like I did. I made the full recipe, and got the large rectangular tart above, 2 smaller individual heart tartlettes, and a 4" round that was approx 2 inches deep.

2 ½ tsp pumpkin pie spice (recipe to follow) 

or the 5 following spices (but not both) 

1 ¾ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp allspice
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp ground ginger

½ tsp salt
1 ¼ cup granulated sugar

2 eggs
1 ½ cups (325g)  canned pumpkin (fresh pumpkin recipe to follow)
1 large can (370ml - approx 2 ½ small UK cans) undiluted evaporated milk
1 unbaked pie crust

1. Preheat oven to 425ºF (230ºC). In a large bowl mix the spices, salt and sugar together. Add in the eggs, pumpkin and evaporated milk and beat until well mixed.

2. Pour the mixture into a 9-inch unbaked pie crust and at 425ºF (230ºC) for 15 minutes*, then reduce the heat to 350ºF (175ºC) and continue to bake for about 40* minutes until the edges are slightly puffed and a knife inserted into pie mixture comes out clean. Cool and serve with whipped cream.

*Because my tart wasn't as deep as a regular pie, I baked mine for 10 minutes at 425ºF (230ºC), and then baked for a further 25-30 minutes at 350ºF (175ºC). 

Pumpkin Puree 

1 medium pumpkin - sugar pumpkins work well for this

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF (175ºC). Cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out the "guts" and seeds (save the seeds to roast later - see recipe below). Place the pumpkin halves onto a baking sheet with the skin sides up and roast them in the oven for 40-50 minutes, or until the flesh is soft and tender.

2. Let the pumpkin cool for 10 minutes and then scoop out the pumpkin flesh into a large bowl. Using an immersion hand blender, puree the pumpkin until it's nice and smooth.

3. Line a large strainer/colander with a clean fabric kitchen/tea towel, and place the whole thing in the since or in another bowl. Pour the pumpkin puree into the towel lined strainer and let it sit for 10 minutes to cool. Once the pumpkin is cool enough to handle, gather the corners of the towel so the pumpkin sits in a little sack. Start twisting the towel so that the water from the pumpkin begins to come out from the bottom of the towel. A LOT OF WATER WILL COME OUT. Keep on twisting the towel and squeezing the pumpkin until most of the water has been removed from the pumpkin. The pumpkin should be more of a solid pack consistency which is a bit hard to describe, but it should have the same consistency as normal canned pumpkin - see my photo below.

**The pumpkin I used was a 5lb (2.25kg) pumpkin before I removed the insides. After roasting and pureeing the flesh I managed to squeeze out exactly 3 cups (750ml) of liquid from the pumpkin, which then left me with exactly 1 ½ cups  (325g) of fresh pumpkin puree - just enough for the pie! 

Pumpkin Pie Spice 

In North America they sell pre-mixed jars of pumpkin spice. Pumpkin spice is basically just a pre-made blend of the individual spices that are called for in a pumpkin pie. I make my own using the recipe below. I use it in a lot of different recipes, and it's far easier than getting out a half dozen spice jars each time.

You'll need:

An old empty spice jar, or other small container
3 Tbsp + 2 tsp Cinnamon
2 ¾ tsp Ground Nutmeg
2 ¾ tsp Ground Ginger
1 ½ tsp Ground Cloves

In a small bowl, whisk all of the spices together and transfer the blend into your old spice jar. Make sure you label your jar as "Pumpkin Spice" to avoid getting it mixed up with the other spices! That's it. Simple! (Note: I don't use All Spice in my Pumpkin Pie Spice, but I did use it in my pie). 

Candied Pumpkin Seeds 

1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
3 Tbsp caster sugar (divided in half)
pinch of salt
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
2 Tbsp melted butter

1. Preheat your oven to 300ºF (155ºC). Wash the pumpkin seeds in a strainer or colander so they're clean and free of any "pumpkin guts". Pat them dry using a paper towel and spread them on a greased pan. Place them in the oven for about 45 mins, stirring every 10-15 mins. They should be crisp and a very light golden colour when done.

2. In a small bowl, combine 1½ Tbsp sugar together with the salt and pumpkin pie spice - set aside. In a non-stick pan, melt the butter and the remaining 1½ Tbsp sugar together over medium high heat for a minute or two until the sugar and butter are melted together - make sure the heat isn't too high so it doesn't burn! Dump in your pumpkin seeds, and stir so they're all coated with the butter & sugar mixture. Once they're all coated, sprinkle the remaining sugar & spice mixture over the pumpkin seeds, and continue to stir them in the hot pan until the sugar has melted and coated all of the seeds. This should only take a minute or two. Spread them back on your greased pan that you used for roasting them, and allow to cook before eating.

There ya go! Homemade pumpkin pie! Easy to make, and you don't need to go out and find canned pumpkin if you don't want to.

Oh, and if you can't find a fresh pumpkin you can make the same pumpkin pie recipe using
butternut squash instead, although you may need 2 or 3 to get enough squash puree.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Recipe Testing Chocolate & Vanilla Whoopie Pies

I recently I came across a really intriguing blog that detailed the daily adventures of a women who decided to follow her dream of writing a cook book.  Vanessa Kimbell quit her job in May 2010, and gave herself a year to write a recipe book and get it on to bookstore shelves.  And it's a book with a very cool concept.  Well, 2 actually.   

Vanessa's book "Prepped" is designed to save time by allowing you to prepare one "base" recipe that you can then go on to use in 2 or more different recipes. For example - you could choose to make a base recipe and use one half for dinner that night, and then take the other half of the recipe and make something completely different to bring to a friend's dinner party the next night. I thought that was pretty cool.  But the other thing that's even cooler is that Vanessa was looking for bloggers to help test her recipes!  I'm sure we've all tried making a recipe from a book before and it just didn't turn out quite right.  I've been hearing a lot of complaints lately about a certain best selling cake book where the recipes were not tested properly and therefore don't turn out as expected.  Well, you won't have to worry about a recipe not turning out with this book, because all of the recipes have been tested over and over by both Vanessa and a selection of eager bloggers who provide feedback on each recipe they test. 

I was lucky enough to test the recipe for Vanessa's Chocolate and Vanilla Whoopie Pies (that's her picture above!).  I'd never made whoopie pies before, so I was really looking forward to trying them.  When I first took a look at the recipe, something really stood out to me - the filling was very simple and made with double cream - not your typical whoopie pie filling which is usually made with shortening, cream cheese or marshmallow fluff.  When I spoke with Vanessa (she's super nice by the way - I feel like I could talk to her for hours!) she told me that she thought the traditional fillings were way to sweet, so she created her own.  I had never tried double cream before so Vanessa was kind enough to educate me in the differences between whipping cream (which is what I usually use) and double cream.  In North America the cream with the highest fat content is whipping cream at 36%, while here in the UK the cream with highest fat content is clotted cream with a whopping 85% fat!  Double cream has a 48% fat content, which as Vanessa explained to me is a dryer cream than whipped cream so it will hold it's shape better and won't run or melt.  It's almost like the stabilized whipped cream we would use back home, but without the gelatin stabilizer.  

As it was my first time making whoopie pies, I was really impressed with how easy they were to make.  I tested the "base" whoopie pie recipe, which is designed to work with different fillings that you can make by infusing the cream with various natural flavourings such as orange, lavender or cardamon.  I'd never heard of using cardamon or lavender in a recipe like this before, but I think it's far more common in the UK and parts of Europe than it is back home in North America.

As a tester, I followed the directions exactly as written so that I could provide feedback on the instructions, method and the most important part - the whoopie pies themselves!  I had a few minor bits of feedback for the whoopie pies, but the main one was that I would have preferred them to be a touch sweeter.  Coming from North America, I grew up eating really sweet things and if you're a regular reader of my blog it's probably no surprise that I have a major sweet tooth.  I've mentioned before that we North Americans like our sweet stuff.  We eat waffles with fruit and whipped cream for breakfast while people in the UK  would eat this for dessert and prefer a more savoury breakfast consisting of baked beans, sausages, mushrooms, and eggs.  I've found that a lot of Brit's don't like overly sweet things, so I think these whoopie pies are perhaps more suited to UK taste buds, but they are definitely delicious none the less.  I really liked the lightness of the filling in these.  The double cream was totally different that anything I'd tried before.  It was light and airy without being too sweet and heavy.  I can definitely see me bringing these to a summer BBQ party, and they're sure to be a hit with kids.   

If you're interested in trying Vanessa's Chocolate and Vanilla Whoopie Pies the original recipe I tested is below (I've added a few notes in grey).  As I mentioned before - I did feed back a few comments and suggestions about the whoopie pies, so the final recipe that appears in her book "Prepped" may be a bit different to the one below.  Guess we'll just have to wait and see once the book is released in April. 

 Chocolate & Vanilla Whoopie Pies (I ran out of natural light, hence the dark photos)

Chocolate and Vanilla Whoopie Pies 

Makes 16
Preparation 20 minutes
Cooking 10 minutes  

Whoopie Pie
120g (1/2 cup + 1Tbsp) of butter
200g (just under a cup, so round up to a full cup) of caster sugar
2 medium eggs
280grams of SR (2 1/4 cups Self Raising) flour
4 large heaped tbsp of cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
250ml (1 cup) of buttermilk 

1 Level teaspoon of vanilla paste
3 tablespoons of icing sugar
300 ml (8.5oz) of double cream 

1. Preheat heat the oven to Gas 4/ 350 F/ 180C 
2. Grease two baking trays. 
3. In a bowl combine the dry ingredients. 
4. In a separate bowl beat the sugar and butter until pale and fluffy and then add the eggs.  Add the dry ingredients and the Buttermilk and combine the ingredients.  You should be left with a relatively stiff mixture ready to spoon onto the baking tray in round bite size blobs.   To get 16 pies you will need 32 of these. 
5. Bake in the oven for 10 – 12 minutes (I baked mine for 10). They are a cross between a biscuit and a sponge (cookie and a cake), however there is a fine line between biscuit and burnt because of the high sugar content, so don’t leave them in too long.  I found a much better bite to them if I left them in the oven to cool, but if you haven’t time transfer cool on a wire rack. 
6. Add in the teaspoon of vanilla paste and icing sugar to the cream and whip. Make sure the cream is a nice thick consistency before sandwiching a dollop between the chocolate cakes.   I added in a few drops of mint extract to  half of mine, and added in some finely chopped dark chocolate a a touch of green food colouring to make some of my filling mint chocolate chip.  Both were good! There you have a taste of America  - 16 chocolate and vanilla Whoopie Pies. 

Vanessa Kimbell's recipe book Prepped will be available to purchase in stores in April 2011.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Golden Pages & Designer Macarons

In the world of recipe books, there's  some that just belong on the shelf.  C'mon - I'm sure we all have a few.  Then there's some that belong in the kitchen.  You know, the ones that get used ALL the time.  And then there are the ones that belong centre stage on the coffee table for all eyes to see. They're the kind of books that you could sit with for hours and just read every single recipe and imagine exactly what each of them tastes like.  The kind of book where you just lose yourself in page after page of gorgeous pictures, and fantasize that one day when you make that recipe it will turn out EXACTLY as it looked on the pages of the book. 

These books don't come around very often, but when Laduree finally released their famous recipe book Sucre in English I'll admit I got SUPER excited! Sucre got glowing reviews on the Amazon France site, and if French women thought it was good (because we all know French women are able to whip up a perfect pastry at a moments notice!) I knew it was going to be amazing.

I purchased my copy from Amazon and was pleasantly surprised when it arrived at my office nearly 5 days ahead of schedule.  When I opened up the package I was greeted with a familiar looking box - or so it seemed!  Laduree's Sucre comes packaged in a replica of their famous macaron box, and it looked so similar that I actually had people stop by my desk thinking I had a rather large box of macarons!

Sucre The Recipes can be purchased in English via Amazon US here and Amazon UK here.  Unfortunately it's not available in English yet on Amazon Canada.

Laduree has done a fabulous job transferring the opulence of their tea salons into this recipe book.  With it's mouth watering pastry pictures, velvety pistachio green cover and gold gilded pages, this book is a little work of art.  There are oodles of recipes in it.  Everything from Vanilla Eclairs and Strawberry Napoleons to Raspberry and Rose Sundae's and of course - their famous macarons!

Strawberry Marscapone Tart

I can't wait to start making delicious pastries from this book, although I will warn you that some of the ingredients are rather hard to find.  Things like chestnut puree, almond & pistachio pastes or rose syrup.  But, there are definitely lots of recipes that can be made with ingredients are can be found at your local grocery store.

A sampling of some recipes that caught my eye:

Chestnut Barquettes
Rose Cream Puffs
Pistachio Salambos
Roasted Pineapple Tart
All Chocolate Tart
Upside Down Apple Tarts
Chocolate Mousse
Pistachio Sour Cherry Verrines
Lemon Cake
Cherry Calfoutis

The list goes on and on!!

There are even several recipes included for their infamous macarons, but my past history of macaron making has been a bit hit and miss.  Sometimes they turn out beautifully, and sometimes they don't.  I have no idea why.  So for now, I'll try my hand at making a few other Paris pastries from the book and stick to buying my macarons from Laduree.  Speaking of which - each year Laduree partners with one (sometimes more) famous fashion brands to design and release a limited edition macaron box.  This year Laduree has partnered up with famed fashion designer John Galliano, and I must say the box is absolutely gorgeous.  Last week I popped into the Harrods branch of Laduree and picked one up.  I couldn't help but rush down there the day after they were released so I could get a hold of one.  In case you don't know - I'm a bit obsessed with collecting Laduree Macaron boxes.  The limited edition John Galliano box is available in Laduree stores now.

My selection of macarons below:  Coconut, Salted Caramel, Dark Chocolate, Pistachio, Black Current & Violet (amazing btw) and Praline.

Golden Pages! 

Keep checking back to see what I make from this amazing book!

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

A Little Bit Salty, A Little Bit Sweet

I always get asked the same question over and over again - "what do you with all your baking?"  Well, I usually bake on Saturdays so my husband and I have something for dessert that night.  Anything we don't eat either goes to friends on Sundays, or my co-workers on Mondays. But not this week.  Not with these Salted Caramel Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Bars! 

Why?  Because my husband wouldn't let me give them away that's why!  They were THAT good! Seriously. 

There's nothing better than the sweet and slightly salty taste of these delicious little bars.  With a graham cracker base, dulce de leche cheesecake middle and a gooey caramel glaze with a light sprinkling of fleur de sel, these bars will satisfy any craving you throw at it.  Even the kind where you want to eat everything in sight because you've had a really crap day and nothing you do seems to make it any better. These will!  Ok - I can't make any guarantees, but if you have enough will power not to eat the whole pan and decide to share them instead, you can definitely make some new friends that will help cheer you up! 

These cheesecake bars couldn't be easier to make. And as they say here in the UK "they're a doddle." (I had to hear that a few times before I understood what the heck people were talking about. I didn't know if it was good thing or a bad thing!) 

Salted Caramel Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Bars

Adapted from Bon Appetit


2 1/4 cups graham cracker or digestive biscuit crumbs (from about 17 whole graham crackers)
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
10 tablespoons (142g) butter, melted


3 8-ounce packages Philadelphia-brand cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup (225g) sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup dulce de leche
2 teaspoons vanilla extract 


2/3 cup dulce de leche
2-3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
10 caramel chews
Fleur de sel*

1. Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C). Coat 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan coated with nonstick spray. Mix graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and cinnamon in medium bowl. Add melted butter; stir until coated. Transfer crumb mixture to pan. Press evenly onto bottom of pan. Bake until crust is light golden, about 10 minutes. Cool completely on rack.

2. Blend the cream cheese and sugar together until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute.  Add the eggs 1 at a time, blending for 3 to 5 seconds each time until incorporated.  Add in the dulce de leche and vanilla and blend until just mixed - about 10 seconds. Spread the batter evenly over the cooled crust and bake until the cheesecake mixture is just set in center and the edges are puffed and slightly cracked, about 38 minutes. Transfer to rack and cool completely.

3.  Once the cheesecake bar is cooled, pour 2/3 cup dulce de leche sauce and a the 3 tablespoons of whipping cream in a glass measuring cup.  Microwave at 10 second intervals stirring between each interval.  Do this until the mixture is smooth and combined.  Next, take about 10 caramel chews and heat them in the microwave for 15-20 seconds until just melted.  Quickly dump the melted caramel chews into the dulce de leche mixture and stir continuously until combined. The consistency should be pourable, but not too liquid.  You want the caramel topping to be soft and gooey, but not too runny that is pours down the side of your bar once you cut it.  Cover and chill until ready to serve.  

4. Lastly - (and this is the best part!) when you're ready to serve the bars sprinkle the caramel glaze lightly with some fleur de sel.  

*Fleur de sel is a light and flaky sea salt, with a less salty and bitter taste than regular table or sea salt.  

The sweetness of the caramel along with the tang from the cream cheese and the saltiness from the fleur de sel make this bar a little slice of heaven. But don't take my word for it.  Go make your own! 

Monday, 8 November 2010

Cupcakes for Bonfire Night

So I'm conscious that I often blog about the differences between baking in North America and the UK, and now that we're entering the holiday season I can tell you right now I'm going to do it even more.  After growing up in Canada, and experiencing over 25 Thanksgivings, Halloweens, Christimas' and other holidays I can't help but compare my Canadian heritage & holiday traditions with my newly found UK ones.  I'll elaborate more on the differences in the coming weeks when I start to do my Christmas baking, but for now I'm still getting over Halloween.  As I've mentioned before, Halloween is considered to be a fairly recent "holiday" here in the UK, and trick or treating and pumpkin carving are increasing in popularity every year.  Back when I was much younger I remember someone telling me that Halloween was a North American holiday and that they celebrated something called Guy Fawkes Day (aka Bonfire Night) in the UK, and instead of trick or treating they held bonfires across the country.  To be honest, I thought that going to a bonfire instead of trick or treating sounded a bit lame.  But c'mon - when your 12 years old a lot of things sound a bit lame.  Even if it really is super cool, and you just don't want to admit it. 

For those of you who don't know the story behind Bonfire Night (which is probably most people living outside the UK), it all comes down to a foiled attempt by a man called Guy Fawkes who tried to overthrow the King of England by blowing up the London Houses of Parliament way back on November 5th 1605. (I'd suggest watching the movie V for Vendetta, to learn more about Guy Fawkes and the Gun Powder Plot).  Shortly after the incident the public began to make their own "Guys" using old clothes, crumpled paper and straw.  The Guy was then thrown on top of a bonfire to burn, and fireworks were set off while the public celebrated the foiled gun powder plot.   

 Photo courtesy of Brockham Bonfire

Fast forward 405 years and Bonfire Night is still going strong.  It's also quickly becoming one of my favourite UK traditions.  The first year I moved here my husband and I had no idea what Bonfire Night was, so we just stayed at home like an old married couple wondering why all the fireworks were going off.  Last year we were fortunate enough to be informed about Bonfire Night, and which bonfires were the best ones to go to.  It turned out the the bonfire with the largest and most expensive fireworks show in all of the UK was pretty close to where we live.  We had no idea what to expect, except that we should dress warmly and arrive super early in order to get one of the coveted 200 parking lot spaces.  Each year the Brockham Bonfire attracts close to 25,000 people, so 200 parking spaces to share amongst the crowd is a little insufficient.  But hey, that's part of the charm of the whole event.  It takes place in a tiny little village green that's not much bigger than a skating rink.  Well that night were absolutely amazed with what we saw and vowed to go back again the next year. 

And that's exactly what we did!  This past Saturday (November 6th to be exact) we went back to the Brockham Bonfire and we were not disappointed. We arrived at 4:30 in order to get that all important parking spot (there's no parking on the road, so many people walk for miles along dark single lane back roads to get there). There's not a whole lot to do before the bonfire and fireworks get under way at 7:45, but they do sell food like BBQ'd hamburgers, hot dogs, freshly roast pig, etc. At about 6:30 a procession starts with some of the local people dressing up in traditional costumes.  The people carry flaming torches and pull the giant "Guy" in a wagon throughout the village for nearly an hour while a marching band plays.  As the procession returns to the starting point, even more people join in and everyone is given a flaming torch.  They circle around the bonfire pile and wait for the giant Guy Fawkes to be hoisted up on top of the bonfire.  There's something eerily creepy about hundreds of people approaching you with flaming torches!  It's like your actually in an old fashioned horror movie.  Once the all clear is given, everyone throws their flaming torch onto the bonfire pile and it quickly goes up in flames.  The Guy is stuffed with fire crackers, so once the flames reach the top hundreds of loud pops and bangs start to go off. These firecrackers signal the start of the fireworks, and we witnessed one of the most amazing fire works shows we've ever seen. 


I think the thing that makes bonfire night so special for me, is that back in North America there would be no way in hell hundreds of people would be allowed to parade through town with flaming torches before lighting fire to a 30 foot bonfire pile. The whole Bonfire Night tradition is a very civilized family event.  Everyone joins in, and the same families have been helping to build and put on the bonfire and firework shows for generations.  

So in honor of Bonfire Night I made some special cupcakes to celebrate.  These are super easy, and you only need a few things to make them. 

Bonfire Night Cupcakes

Cupcakes of your choice 
White icing 
Black, red & orange food colouring 
Pretzel Sticks* or chocolate sticks 
Pop Rocks 

1. Start out by dividing your white icing into 3 bowls.  Tint one bowl grey, one red, and the last one orange.  Cover the top of your cupcake in grey icing (it doesn't have to be smooth) this will be the "ashes" on your cupcake. 

2. Gently combine the orange and red icing into one bowl so that it's slightly swirled together. Make sure not to mix the icing together too much - you don't want the colours to totally blend together.  Spoon the red & orange icing mixture onto the center of your cupcake, making sure to build the icing up into a little peak. These are the bonfire flames. Now sprinkle on some red & orange pop rocks over top of the icing flame, and you're almost done. 

3. Finally, take some pretzel sticks and lay each one over the icing flame to create a bonfire pyramid.  That's it!  You're done.  Told you they were easy!  Not only are these a really great tradition to make on Bonfire Night, but the addition of pop rocks even makes the cupcakes sound like they're really popping and burning! 

*Note: They don't normally sell pretzel sticks in the UK, but I've been able to find them in the local Polish shops (along with Cheetos brand cheezies - oh yeah!). If you can't find pretzel sticks, don't worry.  There's lots of other things you can use to look like sticks or logs such as Twiglets, Mikados, Matchmakers, etc.  

These cupcakes are really cute, and are perfect for kids to make each year as a Bonfire Night treat. Since I've only lived in the UK for just 2.5 years I'm not aware of any other traditional Bonfire Night treats, but I'm sure there are lots.  Do you have any favourites?

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Happy Bonfire Night!

Bonfire Cupcake tutorial to follow soon!

Cupcake Camp London

After months of anticipation Cupcake Camp London finally arrived last Sunday, which also happened to be Halloween.  As I'm sure you're all aware, I helped to sponsor the event, and shared a table with Cupcake Kelly from an American Cupcake in London.  I'll admit, that although I was a sponsor, I underestimated just how popular Cupcake Camp London was going to be.  It seemed like almost every day a new judge or special guest was being added, and more and more cupcakes were being donated. As a result I began to feel under a bit of pressure to show up to Cupcake Camp with loads of amazing cupcakes.  For some reason I hadn't given a lot of thought to the cupcake flavours I was going to bake, and as a result found myself testing out new recipes the day before.  I don't recommend you do this by the way.  In the end I settled on making 4 different cupcakes:    

Blood Velvet Cupcake

Cookies & Cream: Moist chocolate cake with  an Oreo cream cheese filling and Oreo crumb buttercream 
Apple Spice: Apple spice cake topped with cinnamon cream cheese icing 
Blood Velvet: Red velvet cake topped with cream cheese icing and "blood" drops 
Pink Champagne: Pink champagne cupcakes filled with white chocolate ganache, topped with strawberry champagne buttercream

Apple Spice Cupcakes with mini fondant apples

After baking nearly 100 cupcakes, I stood back, looked at them and thought - how on earth am I going to get 100 cupcakes, 3 cake stands, posters, fragile gumpaste decorations, and all my other supplies down to the venue in Camden using only the train and tube?  Let me tell you - it wasn't easy!  Luckily I had a strong husband to help!  But seriously, I don't recommend anyone try and lug 100 cupcakes + supplies 25 miles using only public transportation.  The only saving grace was that we were travelling on a Sunday, and not in week day rush hour traffic like I had done before for Iron Cupcake London. 

 Made With Pink's Table Display

When we finally got to the event, I still needed to ice my Blood Velvet and Apple Spice cupcakes (the cream cheese frosting is soft & I didn't want the swirls loosing their shape), set up my table and put the decorations on my cupcakes.  To make a long story short, I just barely managed to get everything done in time, before the public started filtering in, but I did it and I think our table looked pretty good!  Daisy Coole (the event organizer) hooked Kelly and I up with a pretty good table location as well - we were the second table in the main room which meant that our cupcakes were among the first that people would see when they entered the venue.

Cupcake Kelly's Table complete with Sundae, Bubble Gum, Orange Velvet & Root Beer Cupcakes

One of my cupcake stand with Cookies & Cream, Apple Spice & Pink Champagne Cupcakes

Cupcake tickets were sold for £1 each, and could be exchanged for 1 cupcake, which meant that a person could come away with 12 delicious cupcakes for only £12. A bargain!

 Cupcake Camp London also sold frosting shots!

The Camp was held at the Stables Market in Camden at a venue called Proud Galleries which was actually an old horse hospital back in the 1800's.  I think that's pretty cool. Unfortunately the lighting inside wasn't great for taking pictures, so I didn't get many good ones.  And because I had to stick near my table to hand out my cupcakes, I wasn't able to get many pictures of  all the amazing cupcakes that the other bakers had donated, but I managed to get a few.   

 Little Work of Art Category

Halloween category

Halloween category

As you can see above, there was a also contest element for Cupcake Camp with several different categories including "Halloween", "Best Taste", "Little Work of Art", "Best Vegan" and "Taste of London".  I had been planning my Halloween entry for weeks after coming across an amazing cupcake book called A Zombie Ate My Cupcake, which had loads of Halloween inspired decorating ideas. I had planned on making the "Bleeding Heart" cupcakes, which was essentially a Red Velvet Cupcake wrapped in red fondant and coated in a slimy red piping gel to look like a real bleeding heart! 

Bleeding Heart picture courtesy of Lily Vanilli

I managed to find some gory paper plates with bloody hand prints on them to serve up my bleeding heart cupcakes, but my plans were foiled when I found out that the author - Lily Vanilli had been added as a last minute judge in the Halloween category.  I didn't want it to look like I'd directly copied all her ideas and presented them to her at Cupcake Camp, so I had to come up with a new idea.  Something artistic, and a bit gruesome!  After a lot of thought, I settled on a Red Velvet cupcake that I covered in cream cheese frosting, and then rolled peach fondant to look like a brain.  But a just brain alone is a little boring.  It needed a something extra so I made a saw blade out of grey gumpaste, and added some shimmer dust to it to give it a metallic look. And of course, I had to add a bit of blood to complete the realistic look! 

I wasn't sure if the Halloween category was going to be judged on looks or taste, so I also included a normal blood velvet cupcake on the plate as well.  In the end, the cupcakes were only based on looks and although my brain cupcake didn't win, I'm still really pleased with the way it turned out.  Eerily realistic!  I'd love to make these again next year, and if people are interested I'll even do a little tutorial to show you how I made them.  They're not hard - I promise! 

Overall, I had a really great time at Cupcake Camp, and look forward to next years event.  A huge congratulations must go out to Daisy Coole who organized the event - I don't know how she did it!    

There was so many cupcakes at Cupcake Camp, I don't know how people chose!

In the end, nearly 2,500 cupcakes were donated and the total money raised for the North London Hospice Society was nearly £4,000!  All you bakers out there should be very proud of yourselves!
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