Archive for Baking

Under Construction: Beau’s 2nd Birthday Party (The Details)

Planning events is one of my favorite pastimes. Being able to craft a party that utilizes a beloved theme AND makes someone feel super-dee-duper special is so much fun!

My son turned 2 in June, so beginning in January, I started brainstorming theme ideas for his party. He’s not much of a napper, so I start way in advance since I get very limited time each day to design.

The funny thing? I chose a Construction/Tool theme before he was all that interested in it, and through the planning process, he became more and more fascinated with diggers and dozers and dump trucks. By the time his party rolled around, he was obsessed, so it all worked out. ;)

Let me also say this: Having a Silhouette Cameo made planning this party SO much easier. When I did Beau’s Woodland Party last year, I cut everything by hand. Oy.

LOVE my Cameo…it allowed me to cut out the heading and the pieces I needed to create some excavators. I used Sticky Doos from Hobby Lobby to give the machines some depth, and tore pieces of brown paper by hand to give the ‘dirt’ a jagged look.

Next, I created favors for each of Beau’s little friends. My mom, ever the incredible seamstress, used tea towels to make each child their own tool belt with two pockets.

I cut various construction vehicle from vinyl to create stencils for painting.

And the birthday boy helped remove the vinyl once the paint was dry.

I designed hang tags for some baggies I had leftover from a pegboard project and filled each baggie with chocolate rocks I found on Amazon.

Each tool belt was stuffed with a mini machine and a baggie of chocolate rocks.

Treats for our pals, ready to go!

Since we live out in the country, I knew I wanted to mark our driveway with a sign of some sort. I used my Silhouette to cut out vinyl letters to mask off black foamcore board.

Then, I learned the hard way (with a piece not shown here), that foamcore board does NOT like spray paint. Must be the solvents or something in the paint, but it makes the board bubble up and the paper backing peels away from the foam. SUCH a mess.

So, cue Plan B…acrylic paint. I tried a brush, but hated being able to see the brushstrokes. So I switched to a brayer I haven’t used since my college days of linoleum block printing.

Because the paper soaked up the paint, it took several coats, but it worked pretty well. Once the paint dried, I peeled off the vinyl letters and cut a black strip around the outside edge to mimic a true traffic sign.

One project I do each year is an age shirt. Let me tell you, truck fabric is NOT easy to find! We ended up with this psychedelic construction vehicles print.

But, once the vehicles were isolated, they looked pretty cute on a plain, brown tee. I purchased orange and yellow tin buckets to hold snacks and forks. I happened to have some construction stickers laying around to decorate the tins. I found hard hats at the party store and added the CAT logo in black vinyl.

 

To keep stress low as the party approaches, I always make as much of the food in advance as possible. I knew I wanted to make dipped pretzel rods, so I was excited to read they could be done up to a week in advance. So, I dipped, sprinkled, and packed away our pretzel treats.

Sugar cookies are always a big hit, too. My parents sent me this set of tool cookie cutters they found on Ebay.

I like to use this cookie recipe, as it holds a cutter shape really well and isn’t too sweet (the icing covers that!). I made royal icing in gray, brown, and yellow and got to work outlining and flooding all the cookies.

Cake decorating is a lot of fun to me, too. I had seen this tutorial about making striped cakes, and I knew it would be perfect for our construction zone theme.

Because the recipe makes two cakes, I was able to practice and perfect my angles. And my mess-making skills.

When it came time to decorate the cake, I pulled inspiration from multiple sources. I have a copy of the book What’s New, Cupcake? and it gave me the idea to create ‘trees’ from Tootsie Rolls and sprinkles.

And of course, Oreo cookie dirt! I made Beau his own little cake mound out of scraps and trimmings.

I used fondant to make miniature traffic cones, then added dyed coconut grass and chocolate rocks to round out the landscaping.

Of course, there was a dump truck, hauling a load of rocks from the quarry.

A little construction zone tape put the finishing touches on the cake display.

I knew I wanted some sort of edible “boulder,” so I made chocolate popcorn balls using this recipe. I made them late the night before the party and wrapped them tightly in cling wrap so the popcorn would stay crisp and not get soggy.

To set off the area in the kitchen where the food would be set up, I hung a black curtain over the windows. Then I created a banner from cut letters and shapes attached to satin ribbons.

As for party ‘entertainment’, what’s better than a bunch of rocks and dirt to dig through?!

I set up our pop up tent and draped a tarp over the top for shade. Orange safety netting, marker flags, and painted signs rounded out the construction zone look.

Stay tuned for pictures from Party Day so you can see all these details in action!

Cake Pops!

I love cute party treats and cake pops are one of the items I’ve been trying to perfect.

Ever since Bakerella starting showcasing the cute little goodies on her blog, I’ve been attempting to learn the ins-and-outs of the entire process. Believe me, there is more of a learning curve than one might think!

Below are some of the examples of the pops I’ve made in the past year. Not only did I love making these for my friends, I also enjoyed stretching my mind to come up with creative ways to display them.

It’s a Boy! pops for my friends Heather and Alex. I made these to share at our Bible study group before baby Owen arrived. I was able to score a green picket fence display rack from Hobby Lobby for free! The styrofoam base works perfectly for displaying cake pops.

I also made some cake balls (minus the stick), just to give that a try. YUM!

This set of cake pops was created for my friend Mandy’s birthday party. She invited all her friends over to dreadlock her hair, and I knew the occasion called for chocolate and sprinkles!

Mandy is an amazing writer, so I wrapped a plastic container with fabric covered with words. I added a green stripey ribbon and a cork-board M.

To help the cake pops stand upright in the container, I filled it with dark chocolate and white chocolate chips.

These cake pops were made for my SIL’s baby shower. A baby girl, could you guess?! :) It was fun playing around with different combinations of sprinkles and decorations. Again, the display was from Hobby Lobby (free), with a coat of pink paint and a sparkly tulle bow.

I failed to get a shot of the last batch of cake pops I made. They were for a wedding shower, and I made round ones and also tried my hand at shaped ones. Hearts. Not as easy as I anticipated.

I only took the best-looking pops to the shower. These were the “defects” left behind to be consumed by my family. ;)

This photo shows a couple of the things that I need more practice to perfect…funky-shaped hearts and cracked candy coating (and there are so many variables that can cause cracked coating, argh!)

But, considering that Bakerella herself only ever shows 5-10 pops at a time, I’m sure even she has at least a few duds in every batch of 48. :)

 

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#81: Day of the Dead Chocolate Cinnamon Cupcakes

In September 2009, I started a cupcake adventure. (At this rate, I may never finish! And, I’m not sure I even want to, so, ha!) If you haven’t read about it yet, you can do so here.

***

Would you look at that? Yummy! I can still smell the cinnamon/chocolate combo!

I made the icing first…butter and powdered sugar.

Milk, Mexican vanilla, and cinnamon were then added to round out the icing, which was set aside until later.

The base of the batter was (used guessed it), butter and sugar.

Four eggs were separated and the yolks were added to the cake batter.

More Mexican vanilla…this time in the batter.

Then, Mexican chocolate was added. This was something I’d never purchased before, so it was exciting to try something new.

Mexican chocolate comes in disks like this:

The chocolate was then melted (I used the microwave) and added to the batter.

Dry ingredients were added next…

And the whites I saved earlier were beaten until they formed stiff peaks.

So fluffy!!

The beaten eggs were then mixed into the batter.

And baked! These cupcake papers were a birthday gift from a friend. She found them at IKEA and they are designed in such a way that you don’t need a muffin tin…just a cookie sheet. Very cool!

They made cupcakes bigger than regular sized, but not quite “jumbo” sized.

Next, the icing I had set aside earlier was added to the top.

YUMMY!!!

If this recipe (or any other from the Abbi/Gail Adventure) intrigues you, I highly recommend getting Gail’s book. Your local library may even have it. This recipe is on page 138!

 

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#50: Creme Brulee

In September 2009, I started a cupcake adventure. (At this rate, I may never finish! And, I’m not sure I even want to, so, ha!) If you haven’t read about it yet, you can do so here.

***

Doesn’t that just look yummy?! You can almost taste that sweet caramel on top, can’t you? Mmm!

These cupcakes start with dry ingredients mixed together and set aside while the butter and sugar get creamed together.

Egg yolks are added and whites are saved for later.

That makes the base of our batter.

Milk comes next…

and alternates with dry ingredients…

…to form a more complete batter:

Then the real excitement begins! Grab a tube of caramel ice cream syrup.

And add it to the batter.

Nom nom!!

Remember those eggs whites we set aside earlier? They are going to come into play now.

Whip it…whip it good!

Until the whites form stiff (but not dry) peaks like so:

Fold the beaten egg whites gently into the batter.

Portion out your batter into cupcake papers and while those are baking, mix together the ingredients for the frosting.

Over low heat, melt together the frosting ingredients.

It’ll start to get frothy as it warms up.

We want to slowly bring the mixture to a boil, stirring non-stop, for one minute.

We allow that concoction to cool a bit, add vanilla, and beat until it’s thick enough to spread.

Now that these beauties are done baking, it’s time to top them off!

I wouldn’t necessarily call this “frosting”…probably more like a glaze. It took several tries to figure out how much to put on top of each cupcake. Too little and they didn’t get adequately covered (and a cupcake frosting shortage is a shame!); too much and it dripped over the edges.

But there were some, like this one, that were p-e-r-f-e-c-t!

Here they are, packed and ready to go…off to the home of a hungry family!

If this recipe (or any other from the Abbi/Gail Adventure) intrigues you, I highly recommend getting Gail’s book. Your local library may even have it. This Creme Brulée recipe is on page 93!

 

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Mum’s the Word

If you want to make some impressive-looking cookies without slaving away in the kitchen all day, here’s an idea for you!

First, you’ll need the cookies themselves. Cut your cookie dough using either a circle-shaped or flower-shaped cutter and bake according to the directions.

Next, grab a bag of miniature marshmallows and some colored sugar. Place the sugar (I used orange, yellow, and hot pink) in shallow bowls. Grab a scissors and cut each mini marshmallow diagonally, allowing the cut side to land in the bowl of sugar.

The sticky side that is exposed from the cutting will get covered in sugar (though you may have to dab each one in the sugar a little bit to make sure they get as covered as possible.

Each marshmallow half becomes a ‘petal’ and how many you need will depend on the size of your cookies.

Next, frost your cookies one at a time. I used royal icing for these particular ones and did the outline/flooding method.

Once you have a cookie covered in icing, start sticking on the marshmallow petals. I like to begin around the outside edge and work my way towards the middle, but you might find a different method you like better. Feel free to experiment! This is supposed to be fun! :)

Repeat the process, one cookie at a time, until your batch is complete. Arrange on a pretty platter and prepare to awe your friends!

Another idea for decorating cookies, is to use nuts. I had some extra sugar cookies, but no more marshmallows, so I scoured my cupboards to see what I could find. The result: slivered almonds and candy-coated sunflower seeds (from a local bulk candy shop).

For these cookies, I covered the tops in a dark chocolate ganache instead of icing. I then placed the almond “petals” around the outer edge and filled in the center space with the seeds.

Decorating cookies couldn’t be easier! People will tell you how beautiful they are and you will know how simple they really are to put together! ;)

I See London, I See France…

A friend emailed me a photo of some cookies entitled “When Men Bake”…ha!

I printed the picture and used it as inspiration to create some memorable cookies for a friend’s bachelorette party/personal shower.

I called up one of the other bridesmaids, and we spent an evening chopping the tops off of heart-shaped cookies, piping and flooding designs with royal icing, and giggling. A LOT.

The photos don’t do them justice, but you can see we worked very hard to make some unique undies.

My favorites were the “sets” that we displayed on this white platter. Too cute!

Who knew cookies could be naughty? ;)

Practice = Perfect

Though I love to decorate cakes, I can admit that there are a few things I still need to practice. The following cake (made for Easter) reminded me that I still have plenty to learn. Well, not so much “learn” as just improve!

Writing is one. It’s difficult to figure out how much space you’ll need to pen your message on a cake. Sometimes the icing consistency throws you for a loop. Sometimes you just work too fast and things get sloppy. I’ve run into all of these obstacles. Another big area where I’d like to continue to improve? “Fonts”…meaning: I can print on a cake and I can do your run-of-the-mill cursive, but that’s about it. I’d like to spend more time perfecting some other typestyles.

Looking at this photo now (two years after I made this cake), I wish I’d spent more time smoothing the icing. It’s not bad, but there’s still room for improvement.

I’d also seen this cool diagonal design in a magazine and wanted to try it. However, in my excitement, I didn’t plan it out as well as I could have, and the bottom row of diamonds ended up getting a little wonky. If I had done my due diligence, I would’ve used toothpicks to space out the markings evenly.

But as they say, “live and learn.” I think it’s important for all artists to document their work and reassess their growth from time to time. We can learn so much by looking back.

Surely all of us at least have a photo that makes us wonder WHAT we were thinking in choosing a particular hairstyle. :)

How about you? Do you have old photos that teach you lessons about life?

#96: Strudel Cups

Seventeen years ago, THIS was how we celebrated my sister “Sonny’s” (Allison’s) birthday:

Well, today she’s the big 1-8, and I would be remiss if I did not give her a

birthday shout out!

Since she’s living in Nebraska for the next month (though SOON to become an Okie transplant, like moi!), and I can’t be there to celebrate her today, I’m doing the next best thing (cyberly speaking): PHOTOS of cupcakes!

The following cupcakes are from my “Abbi-Gail Adventure.” Yeah, remember that? It’s been awhile. These are recipe #96, Strudel Cups:

The ingredients for Strudel Cups are pretty basic: (that’s melted butter in the bowl)

Phyllo dough is a funny thing. It’s pretty much like edible tissue paper. Very strange. I’d never worked with it before, and that was my first impression of it while it was raw…it’s Kleenex-like.

First, you cut the phyllo dough into fourths, cram a piece of it into a sprayed muffin tin, and brush a layer of melted butter on it.

And repeat.

And repeat.

And repeat several more times, in several more muffin cups.

Add some lemon juice to your chopped apples,

…some cinnamon,

…some sugar,

…some chopped walnuts,

some ground almonds and golden raisins, and give it all a good stir!

Fill each muffin cup with a heapin’ helpin’ of the strudel filling.

And bake until golden.

Once these were baked, I removed them (carefully!) from the tins and placed each one on a bright red muffin paper to give them a little pizzazz! Easy, though, not many of us would consider this truly a “cupcake.”

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SEESTER!! I LOVE YOU!!!

When I see you again, we shall bake! :)

Woodland Birthday: Part 2

The day of Beau’s first birthday, I woke up excited and nervous. Sort of the same way I felt on the morning of my wedding. Is that weird? I’m sure some would say it is.

I’d also like to mention how much of a thrill I get out of planning a party on a limited budget. It forces me to get more creative! Maybe that’s why it reminded me of my wedding…I did the same thing with that event: achieved the biggest WOW possible for just a fraction of what other brides spend.

At any rate, I had been planning Beau’s woodland party for months and wanted everything to be perfect!

I’m SO GLAD I thought to book the amazing Abi Martin as the party-day photographer. There is no way I would have been able to corral my kiddo, play the part of hostess with the mostest, AND capture all the details and precious moments of the party. Abi is not only a talented photographer, she is also incredibly fashionable, VERY personable, and a dear friend to my family. Abi, thank you for capturing our day. I am speechless over these photos.

Beau’s birthday banner was one item I was able to create WAY in advance. It’s hard to tell, but I added glitter glue around each letter. I also attached each circle to the ribbon using tiny brads. That way, the skunk and the number could be changed out for future parties, or I could even sell it to someone with a different name! :)

Remember my sketch from Tuesday’s post? Messy though it was, it helped me pull off this spread:

I LOVED deciding which snacks we should include for this theme. These chocolate nests were one of the first things I thought of. Because one of our guests has a peanut allergy, I substituted butterscotch chips for the peanut butter called for in the recipe.

I framed 12 photos, one favorite from each month of Beau’s life, and interspersed them among the decor.

Stanley the Gnome helped hold down the fort.

I found this cool jar at a Hobby Lobby outlet store here in town and filled it with rocks, moss, and a doe and her fawn.

Here’s a shot of the goody bag contents: one finger puppet, one bird whistle, two colored pencils, two magnets, all contained in a burlap bag.

And since I believe in EVERYONE getting a party favor, I made acorn cookies for the adult guests.

Another shot of the food table, this time, with my cake topper included as the centerpiece. You’ll notice the cake stand is perched on top of  a log. FREE! from my in-laws’ woodpile! :)

Me and my birthday boy. He’d just woken up from his morning nap, so he looks a little stunned. But, MAN, if he isn’t just the cutest thing I’ve ever seen! :)

The cupcakes below are exactly what I envisioned as I was planning out the food table. I’d never covered cupcakes in fondant before, but the technique worked perfectly for creating smooth mushroom tops. The white polka dots were made out of royal icing that I blopped out and dried several weeks in advance. The risers were borrowed from my friend Mikie and covered in green Canson paper that I cut to look like grass. The cool thing? Mikie used these same risers (sans grass) last summer at the baby shower she co-hosted for Beau and me.

For those who aren’t huge fans of fondant, we also had a handful of buttercream-topped cupcakes with paper toppers I made.

To balance out the sweetness, I made sure to include some good ol’ Chex mix!

Another easy (read: inexpensive) centerpiece I made was a 14″ tall cylinder vase full of acorns (picked up off the ground at my in-laws’ house!) and topped with a friendly gray squirrel.

“Trail Mix” is a necessary component of any woodland party, wouldn’t you say? I made Fawna’s version using peanuts, sunflower seeds, raisins, mini marshmallows, and Reese’s Pieces. Sweet AND salty. Mmm.

Here’s the cake topper from Tuesday’s post. Doesn’t he look right at home on top of that two-layer chocolate cake? :)

 

Whenever I host a party, I’m always looking for new ideas for cute displays. I used B’s party as an opportunity to try another technique I’d seen: creating paper cones to hold snacks.

Interesting side-note: this “grass” is actually the bottle drying rack we received as a shower gift when Beau was born! I just added a thin hunk of styrofoam to the base so I could insert the sticks that held up the cones.

I also made my little birthday boy a shirt, using scraps of fabric that my mom and mother-in-law already had in their attics. I’d only made two other shirts before, and the design for them was much easier. I was curious to see how easy it was to create a character using multiple pieces and interfacing. It worked well! And now that the shirt has been through the wash a few times, the canvas I used for the beard and eyebrows is beginning to fray a bit around the edges, making it that much more beardly. :)

Seeing as how it’s been over 100 degrees every day for the past month (or since time began, it seems!), I made sure to have icy-cold drinks. I had a simple ice-water-with-lemon combo in a huge cookie jar I’ve had for years and I made cherry limeade punch in a cool drink dispenser I borrowed from my friend Natalie.

I received many compliments on the punch. And it couldn’t have been easier to make! I used this recipe, with a slight alteration. I started with a double batch, following the recipe as written. Then, because it was a bit tart for our liking (and I needed to make sure we had plenty), I added an additional two bottles (2-liters each) of Sprite. Perfect!

Beau’s little pals were so cute in their swim suits. Check out this guy: such a poser! :)

One of my artsy-mom friends has the cutest kiddos! We were so glad they could come to our party!

We had a puddle pool available and B and his little friends had the best time filling up cups, containers, and squirty fish.

After swimming, it was time for cake! And, boy, did Beau like it when we all sang “Happy Birthday to You.”

He started with a small nibble of fondant, before realizing that the entire cake in front of him was not only destructible, but tasty, too!

And he wasted NO time tearing it up!

The last picture is one my sister Sonny captured. It’s so fun to see the pure joy on his face!

Oh, what messy fun it is to turn one!! :) I love you, baby boy. It’s an honor to be your mama. Mwah!

Woodland Birthday: Part 1

In my last post, I mentioned how much I LOVE planning parties. So, you can imagine my excitement when 2011 started and I realized my baby would be turning one year old.

In June.

Nevertheless, I began brainstorming early because, as any artist-mom knows, there isn’t a lot of free time for being creative (unless coming up with an idea for dinner counts).

The first thing I did was choose a theme. I had seen enough buzz on Facebook to know that many of my fellow moms were doing zoo, farm, or jungle themes for their babies’ first birthdays. I wanted something a more unique for B’s first birthday party, but I liked the idea of an animal-based theme. So, after plenty of lost sleep (WHY does my brain go 100 MPH when I’m trying to fall asleep at night?!), I landed on “woodland” as my focus.

I scoured the web for ideas and began constructing my inspiration board. I found photos of things I knew I wanted to include and also made a list of buzzwords I felt related well to the theme:

I knew I wanted to make favor bags for all of B’s little friends, so I began by contacting a friend of mine who had used burlap for her wedding (table runners, etc). She had scraps that she was more than happy to part with, so my mom sewed little square bags to contain the favors (picture coming in Thursday’s post).

Then, I began ordering a few specific items off Amazon, including these warbling bird whistles (probably more familiar to us parents than our kiddos!) The whistles came in four colors and we made sure no siblings received the same color.  I included a note with the whistle so people would know to “just add water.”

I found a picture of woodland critters online that I thought were darling, so I used the image as a template and re-drew them in Illustrator so I could use them throughout the party. I made these magnets using flat gemstones. Each guest got two magnets in their goody bag, and, again, no siblings received the same ones.

I also managed to find some really awesome colored pencils that were made from twigs! Each guest got two pencils apiece.

One of my favorite items in the goody bags were some woodland finger puppets. I found the instructions for sale on Etsy and ordered both sets of woodland animals (10 in all). My mom made two of each critter and I’m kicking myself now for not getting a photo of all of them together! Each child received one puppet. The leftovers (below) will be going in a time capsule for Beau to play with when he’s older.

Next, I began to focus on the food table (isn’t that everyone’s favorite part of a party?) I knew I wanted to make some signs describing the food, and though I’d made table tents in the past, I had always wondered if they could have a more 3D aspect.

They CAN! After messing around with some scrap paper, I felt confident that my little woodland signs could be more like pop-ups than flat pieces of paper! Most people probably wouldn’t notice the difference, but to me, this experiment was a big success!

Naturally, I wanted to have a great cake for Beau’s first birthday! What sort of baker would I be if my own son didn’t have a cool smash cake to destroy?! Since I have limited experience with fondant, I enlisted the help of my friend Anya, who is a fondant figures GENIUS! She came over to my house and gave me a lesson in figure-making. Since the party details didn’t include the eager beaver, I decided he would be perfect for the cake topper.

I did learn how to cover the cake board on my own, and added some chocolate-covered chow mein noodles as a dam…they also served to hold up the beaver’s tail since our 100-degree weather and high humidity kept making it want to break off! (ACK!)

And, of course, no party of mine would be complete without some sort of schematic. HA!

Since the party was going to be held at my in-laws’ house, I transported all my decor the night before and planned how I wanted the table to be set. Naturally, in my rush to get out the door, I had left my camera at home. So…I drew a sketch that would embarrass my art school professors. :)

But, it got the job done and made the day-of prep MUCH easier. It also gave me a spot to write down what else I needed to grab from my house…something that would not have been possible with a photo.

Come back Thursday and see how all the elements came together! I couldn’t have imagined the party would go so well!