Strawberry Cream Roulade

Strawberry cream roulade - what a treat.

Strawberry cream roulade – what a treat.

This past weekend my family got together to celebrate a very special lady: my mom. It was a gorgeous, warm sunny day that reminded me of all the great things there are to look forward to in the coming summer months. Like strawberries! This roulade cake that I made for the occasion was the perfect way to kick off strawberry season. I’ve made a few chocolate desserts in recent months but for Mother’s Day I wanted to make something light, fresh, and not at all fussy. This strawberry cream roulade looks super impressive but it was actually way easier to make than I imagined. I love the simplicity of this recipe – flour, eggs, sugar, strawberries, cream. That’s pretty much it. So wholesome. The cake turned out beautifully and it was no trouble at all to roll, which was obviously the part I was most nervous about. I found some sweet, juicy strawberries at the grocery store (not exactly local, but it is only mid-May) and this dessert really let them shine. Light, airy vanilla-scented cake, berry-stained cream filling, and clouds of whipped cream to finish. The whole family enjoyed this one, and according to my mom (who got dibbs on the leftovers, of course), it was even better the next day.

Strawberry Cream Roulade

Ingredients

Cake

  • Unsalted butter, for pan
  • 8 eggs, room temperature, separated
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup cake flour (not self-rising)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • Pinch salt

Filling and frosting

  • 3 cups whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar, plus more for work towel
  • 4 cups strawberries, washed, dried, and hulls removed

Directions 

  1. Make the cake

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and line a rimmed jelly roll pan (15”x10”x1”) with parchment paper. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together cake flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, beat egg yolks and sugar together until light in colour, 1-2 minutes. Stir in ½ teaspoon vanilla. Add flour mixture; stir until well combined.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Gently fold egg whites into flour mixture. Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly with a spatula. Bake until cake springs back when touched, about 20 minutes.

Fresh out of the oven. This cake smelled so good.

Fresh out of the oven. This cake smelled so good.

Lay a clean kitchen towel flat on a work surface with one of the short ends facing you. Generously sprinkle the towel with confectioners’ sugar. While the cake is still warm, carefully flip it onto the towel, remove baking sheet, and peel off parchment paper. Using the dish towel, roll the cake away from you; allow the cake to cool in rolled position.

  1. Make the filling/frosting

Set aside 6 strawberries for garnish. Finely chop the remaining strawberries. Place heavy cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment; beat on medium speed. Slowly add remaining teaspoon vanilla and 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar. Continue beating until soft peaks form. Set half of the whipped cream aside. Gently fold chopped strawberries into the remaining half.

 

Finely chop or thinly slice the strawberries. If the pieces are too large, it will be more difficult to roll the cake.

Finely chop or thinly slice the strawberries. If the pieces are too large, it will be more difficult to roll the cake.

  1. Assemble the cake

Unroll the cake. Evenly spread the strawberry whipped-cream mixture over surface of the cake and re-roll. Trim the ends if needed. Transfer the cake to a serving plate and evenly spread the top and sides of cake with reserved whipped cream. Cut reserved whole strawberries in half lengthwise and place on top of the cake for garnish.

Spread the filling over the cake and carefully roll.

Spread the filling over the cake and carefully roll.

 

Pretty pink swirl. Love it.

Pretty pink swirl. Love it.

Mocha ‘Forest’ Cake

Mocha forest cake for a cottage-themed birthday party!

Mocha forest cake for a cottage-themed birthday party!

A couple weeks ago I joined my sister and her fiancé at their cottage to celebrate my sister’s birthday. I was delighted when I was asked to supply the cake. I jump at any opportunity to make a cake because more than any other dessert, a cake screams “We are celebrating something special!” Plus it gives me a chance to work on my decorating skills, where there is definite room for improvement.

My sister has a mild chocolate addiction so I knew a chocolate cake was an absolute must. I turned to a tried-and-true recipe that makes a moist, rich, super chocolaty cake. This recipe makes enough batter for a three-layer 8” cake. I love the combination of chocolate and coffee (who doesn’t?), so I decided to use an espresso-flavoured whipped cream frosting. I left the frosting a bit uneven for a rustic, cottage-inspired look. Just kidding. I’m just not very good at frosting a cake smoothly. I also wanted to play into our beautiful, natural surroundings with the cake decorations. I found a great idea on Pinterest for some piped chocolate trees which turned out to be just perfect! I made these ahead of time, packed them between layers of parchment paper to survive the 2-hour car ride, and put them on the cake once we had arrived at the cottage.

Chocolate trees piped onto parchment paper

Chocolate trees piped onto parchment paper

This cake turned out to be a real winner. And I can tell you from experience, it’s even better with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. Go on…try it.

Mocha ‘Forest’ Cake

Chocolate cake with espresso whipped cream frosting and chocolate trees

Ingredients

Chocolate Cake

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup cocoa powder
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs (at room temperature)
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water

Espresso Whipped Cream Frosting

  • 3 cups heavy whipping cream
  • ¼ – ½ cup icing sugar (depending on how sweet you like it)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1½ tablespoons instant espresso powder dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

Chocolate Trees

  • 8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
Directions

1. Make the cake

Preheat the oven to 350°F and position the oven racks in the lower and upper thirds. Lightly grease three 8-inch round baking pans and line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper.

Whisk together the sugars, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Add the eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla. Beat on medium speed of a mixer for 2 minutes. In a small bowl, pour the boiling water over the cocoa powder and mix gently until the cocoa is dissolved. Add the cocoa mixture to the batter and stir until smooth. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Lightly tap the sides of each pan to remove any air bubbles.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean. Cool for at least 10 minutes, then remove the cakes from the pans and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

2. Make the frosting

Place the cream, icing sugar, and vanilla in a chilled bowl. Whip on medium speed until soft peaks form. Add the espresso. Continue to whip on medium speed until stiff peaks form.

3. Assemble the cake

Once the cakes have cooled completely at room temperature, pop them in the fridge for 15-30 minutes. Chilling the cake makes it easier to level and frost. Level the cakes and turn one over onto a serving plate. Remove the parchment paper. Top with about ½ cup frosting and spread all the way to the edges. Repeat with the second layer. Turn the third cake over onto the frosting, cut side down. Peel off the parchment paper. Use the remaining frosting on the top and sides of the cake.

4. Make the chocolate trees

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Place the chocolate chips in the top section of a double boiler (or a bowl over a pot) and set aside. Pour an inch or two of water in the lower portion of the double boiler and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Turn off the heat and set the chocolate over the steaming water. Let the chocolate melt for 3 minutes, then stir gently until all the chocolate has melted and is smooth. Remove the chocolate from the heat and allow to cool until it is firm enough that it can be piped through a narrow tip.

Spoon the chocolate into a pastry bag fitted with a plain round tip. Pipe the melted chocolate into the tree shape on the parchment-lined baking sheets. Chill the trees in the refrigerator until they are hard. Once they are hard, carefully peel them off the parchment paper, pipe some chocolate onto the back of the trees, and place them on the cake. Use any excess chocolate to drizzle on the top of the cake. If you don’t plan to use the trees immediately, store them in the refrigerator in an airtight container, layered between sheets of parchment paper.

A new year dawning bright

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Another year gone and a new year dawning bright –  this takes on a special significance when your birthday happens to fall on New Year’s Day. As I kiss my twenties goodbye, I can’t help but reflect on where I’ve been and where I’m going. My twenties were good to me. Really good: I earned two degrees, got my first real job, bought a house, got married, and shared countless laughs with family and friends, both old and new. Now that I think about it, it’s actually a lot for this next decade to live up to. I’ve never really been one for New Year’s resolutions – any promises I make to myself to eat better or declutter my space usually end in immediate failure with a nice big slice of birthday cake and a bunch of crumpled gift wrapping on January 1st. Not that I’m complaining. So instead of traditional resolutions, maybe just a solid set of general guidelines to keep the good times rolling into my thirties.

1. Cherish friendship

The older I get, the more I value the friendships I have nurtured over the years. I love looking back at all the momentous occasions of my life so far and realizing that the friends who stood by me then are the same ones who continue to do so today. These friendships have shaped who I am and make me happy – no matter how busy life may get, I plan to keep my friends close.

2. Embrace change

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not the best when it comes to handling change. I literally cried when I upgraded my iPhone to the newest software, didn’t like it, and found out there was no ‘undo’ button to go back to the old version (I’m fine with it now, by the way). Life moves quickly and is full of surprises – who knows what the years ahead will hold? But I really believe that when one door closes another one opens, and I am slowly learning to approach life with that belief in mind and accept change, both good and bad.

3. Be adventurous

I have absolutely no intention of going skydiving or running with the bulls. That kind of adrenaline rush doesn’t do anything for me except make me sick with terror. But I do want to feel confident that I am living life to the fullest and creating memories that I will look back on fondly. My Lululemon bag (and apparently Eleanor Roosevelt) says to “do one thing a day that scares you.” Since I’m currently not adventurous in the least, that sounds like overkill to me, but I think aiming for once a month is a good place to start. So perhaps this is a resolution of sorts, then: in the coming year, I will say yes to trying new things more often.

Happy New Year from Sweetpea’s Home and all the best in 2014!

I’m looking forward to sharing my adventures (however small) with all of you.

Gingerbread Snowflakes

I have been so busy enjoying the holiday season that I haven’t even had time to post about it, so I’ll try to catch up now. My family’s annual sister baking day was another success (with the exception that we were one sister short). A week before Christmas, my oldest sister and I got together to whip up some festive treats. We’ve attempted some challenging (and time consuming) baking projects in the past, so this year we decided to keep it simple and traditional. Gingerbread was the obvious choice, and since we had to brave a snowstorm in order to make this happen, it was only appropriate that we make gingerbread snowflake cookies!

The dough came together really quickly and then had to be chilled for about an hour, so it was the perfect amount of downtime to throw on a little holiday music and grab a warm drink. Before long we had a heavenly, sweet aroma floating through the kitchen and there was still lots of time for the best part – decorating!

Gingerbread snowflakes - delicious and so much fun to make!

Gingerbread snowflakes – delicious and so much fun to make!

Gingerbread Cookies (adapted from Canadian Living)

Ingredients

  • ⅓ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ⅓ cup fancy molasses
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1½ tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp ground cloves
  • Pinch salt

In large bowl, beat butter with sugar until fluffy; beat in egg and molasses. In separate bowl, whisk together flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and salt; stir into butter mixture until combined to form a thick dough.

Divide the dough into two flattened discs, cover with plastic wrap, and chill about 1 hour.

On a well-floured work surface, roll out dough to ¼ inch thick and cut with cookie cutter. Bake at 350° for 8-10 minutes or until the edges of the cookies are just beginning to firm. Be careful not to overbake as these cookies harden as they cool. Once cookies are cool, decorate as desired.

Royal Icing (adapted from Martha Stewart)

Ingredients

  • 2 large egg whites
  • 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • Food colouring (optional)

Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Add sugar and lemon juice; beat for 1 minute more until thick icing is formed. Tint with food colouring if using and decorate cookies as desired. We piped the icing onto the cookie and then immediately dipped the cookie in coarse sugar. Allow icing to dry completely before transferring cookies to airtight container.

These cookies are chewy and delicately spiced - so perfect for the Christmas season

These cookies are chewy and delicately spiced – so perfect for the Christmas season

Pretty please with a cherry on top? Black Forest Cake (or Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte)

Nothing says Happy Birthday like a cake made with love

Nothing says Happy Birthday like a cake made with love

I don’t even have to ask what kind of cake my husband wants for his birthday. The answer is always Black Forest cake. And who can blame him? Layers of chocolate cake, black cherries, and swirls of pillowy whipped cream? Yes, please! In the past I’ve opted for the store-bought variety but this year, with a little extra time on my hands and more baking experience under my belt, I decided to make my own. There are literally hundreds of recipes out there, but most seem to fall under two main camps: the traditional German style or a sweeter North American variation. Since my husband grew up in Central Europe, I knew he would appreciate the traditional variety so I set out to find a recipe that would result in a rich, but not overly sweet, dessert. Unfortunately, a lot of the traditional Black Forest cake recipes seem to require the same amount of time and energy as a multi-day Olympic event. I wasn’t ready for that kind of effort, but I still wanted to come as close as possible to the real deal. I used a basic chocolate cake recipe but followed two main rules that were common among all the recipes claiming to be for ‘authentic’ German Black Forest cake (or Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte): (1) Do NOT use cherry pie filling; and (2) It MUST contain Kirsch.

I sampled the Kirsch before I started baking and I have to be honest – it was awful. I gagged. I was actually scared I would ruin the cherries by soaking them in it. But since it’s not a Black Forest cake without it, I took a leap of faith and just went for it. Miraculously, some kind of liquor-cherry magic happened! The result was amazing. It gave the cherries a great flavour that was able to stand up well to the chocolate cake and the whipped cream made a perfect, light frosting. I decorated the cake with a sprinkle of dark chocolate shavings and a few more cherries on top.

Is this a true Black Forest cake that will please even the most discerning German grandmothers? Probably not. But it’s an easy and delicious take on the classic chocolate-cherry dessert. I’ll definitely be making this one again.

Ingredients

Chocolate Cake

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup lightly packed brown sugar
  • 1¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup cocoa powder
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs (at room temperature)
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water

Cherry Filling

  • 1½ cups canned sour cherries, drained (reserve ¼ cup cherry juice)
  • ¼ cup Kirsch

*If you can’t find Kirsch, or would rather not use alcohol, you can substitute additional cherry juice in its place.

Whipped Cream

  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • ¼ cup icing sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Here's everything you'll need

Here’s everything you’ll need

Preheat the oven to 350°F and position the oven racks in the lower and upper thirds. Lightly grease two 9-inch round baking pans and line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper.

Whisk together the sugars, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Add the eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla. Beat on medium speed of a mixer for 2 minutes. Add the boiling water and stir until the mixture is smooth. Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared pans and smooth the tops. Lightly tap the sides of each pan to remove any air bubbles.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean. Cool for at least 10 minutes, then remove the cakes from the pans and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

While the cake is cooling, combine the cherries with the Kirsch and the reserved cherry juice. Save a few cherries for decorating.

To make the whipped cream, place the cream, icing sugar, and vanilla in a chilled bowl. Whip on medium speed until stiff peaks form. Refrigerate the whipped cream until needed.

To assemble the Black Forest cake, level the cakes and turn one over onto a serving plate. Remove the parchment paper. Using a slotted spoon, remove the cherries from the Kirsch mixture and place on the cake layer. Top with about ¾ cup whipped cream and spread over the cherries. Turn the second cake over onto the cream and cherries, cut side down. Peel off the parchment paper. Use the remaining whipped cream to frost the top and sides of the cake, reserving ½ cup for decorating. Garnish with chocolate shavings, piped whipped cream, and the remaining cherries. Serve immediately or refrigerate until needed.

Cherries soaking in Kirsch and cherry juice

Cherries soaking in Kirsch and cherry juice

Spread the cherries (and cream) between the cake layers

Spread the cherries (and cream) between the cake layers

Frost the entire cake with whipped cream and sprinkle with chocolate shavings

Frost the entire cake with whipped cream and sprinkle with chocolate shavings. Garnish with a few swirls of whipped cream and top each with a cherry.

Stress-Free Holiday Hosting

Hosting a holiday meal can be stressful, especially if it’s your first time. A couple weeks ago, my husband and I hosted our first ever holiday together – a Thanksgiving dinner for my family  – and I have to say, I’m pretty impressed with the way it all turned out.  We stuck to a simple roast turkey and a few basic sides – stuffing, roast vegetables, and a red cabbage salad. This number of dishes was easily manageable even for a couple of rookies. I’m pleased to report that everything turned out great! I don’t have a lot of experience cooking for a crowd  and apparently I’m not a very good judge of portions so there was more than enough food to go around and lots of leftovers (not that I’m complaining – the leftovers made an amazing turkey pot pie later in the week). The decor was simple but really made an impact – a tumble of mini pumpkins and gourds along the table with a few ivory pillar candles. This wasn’t the original plan for all these gourds but I’ll save that for a later post.

A runner of candles, mini pumpkins and gourds along the table

A runner of candles, mini pumpkins and gourds along the table

Row of three sweet little vases

Row of three sweet little vases

So despite a little initial trepidation, it turns out that hosting a holiday meal is no sweat! All it takes is a little planning and organization. Here are a few tips I learned in the process for hosting a memorable, stress-free holiday party:

1.  Don’t be a hero

I think that a simple dish that is well executed and beautifully presented is a much better bet than a challenging, impressive recipe with a high chance of failure. Now is not the time to be experimenting – choose trusted recipes that you’re confident with. This can be difficult if it’s your first time hosting a holiday meal, since there may be family favourites on the menu that you’ve never made before. If you decide to try something new, do a test run before the big day so you can make adjustments to the recipe if need be. This will also help you save time on the day of your party – I always find a recipe is faster to make the second time around. And if someone offers to bring something, let them! It’s one less thing that you’ll have to worry about, and guests love to contribute.

 2.  Get organized

I love any excuse to make a list, so this step is quite possibly my favourite. A few weeks ahead of your event, write out the entire planned menu. And I mean ENTIRE menu, from the main course down to the pickles. Don’t forget to include drinks, appetizers, desserts, and side dishes. Working from your menu, make a shopping list of all the ingredients you’ll need. Also jot down any special kitchen equipment or serving ware you’ll need, so you can be sure to purchase or borrow anything you don’t already have. You don’t want to have to make a last-minute trip to the store on the day of your party when you realize you don’t have a turkey baster (trust me).

3.  Stick to schedule

Choose recipes that can be prepped well in advance and that don’t require a lot of last minute fussing in the kitchen. Study the timing of each recipe – think about what oven and fridge space you’re going to need and plan accordingly. If your fridge looks anything like mine, I recommend cleaning it out a few days before your party to make room for all your groceries and prepped ingredients. Prepare as much as possible ahead of time. A lot of desserts like cakes and pies can be made 1-2 days in advance. Veggies can be washed and chopped the night before and stored in resealable plastic bags in the fridge. On the day of the party, start cooking an hour earlier than you think you need to – this will help you stick to schedule even with unexpected delays or emergencies.

 4.  Set the mood

I think the atmosphere of a party is just as important as the food that’s served. I tend to go the natural route in terms of party décor – flowers, pinecones, seashells, whatever – but this is really a matter of personal taste. Get creative and use things that you already have around your home. It doesn’t have to be expensive! I also love candles – they make even pizza night feel like a special occasion. Just make sure to use unscented candles anywhere near the food.

 5.  Relax and enjoy yourself!

The holidays are about enjoying time with friends and family and creating memories. By the time your guests arrive, most of the hard work should be behind you so pour yourself a drink and join in the festivities. Not everything has to be perfect. Chances are your guests won’t notice if something doesn’t turn out as planned, and even if they do, friends and family are pretty forgiving in my experience.

A charming hostess gift. Love this little guy.

A charming hostess gift. Love this little guy.