Saturday, August 27, 2011

Healthy Habits

It's no doubt that being a baker has it's benefits - delicious goodies for the taking just about every day at my house. This, unfortunately, can be a downfall as well, particularly in raising children with healthy habits. My children are privy to all the treats that come out of my oven which is great because what kid doesn't love that! But I am constantly stressing out over how much is too much and trying to making sure they have a balanced diet.
Since I doubt I am going to stop baking anytime soon, a way to help encourage healthier eating is through the utilization of fruits and vegetables and wholesome grains in my baking. Most fruits and vegetables are great additions to breads and cakes. Whole grains and other healthy additives such as whole wheat flour, flax, oatmeal, and wheat germ provide nutrients that are essential to a healthy diet.
Recently, we have been starting to see the negative aspects of sugar. This has brought about the use of alternative, more natural forms such as stevia which is great to use in baking rather than using sucrose-based sweeteners.
My husband and I recently returned from a trip to Montreal, Canada where I had to pick up a large jar of their maple syrup. This stuff is seriously good - smooth on the tongue and bright-flavored. It's the best maple syrup we'd tasted. Upon visiting a maple syrup museum one evening, it dawned on me to use maple syrup in place of sugar to obtain a more complex flavor in my end product. As a bonus, maple syrup is undoubtedly better for you than sugar. It's got less calories than honey and contains an abundance of minerals. Some of these minerals are calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, manganese, and zinc. Manganese is important in energy production as well as key antioxidant production. One ounce of maple syrup contains 22% of the FDA daily recommended allowance of manganese. Zinc is a beneficial antioxidant and is important in heart health. Proper zinc levels also promote a healthy immune system, especially in children. One teaspoon of maple syrup contains about 17 calories, 4.5 g of carbohydrates and 0 g of fat.

This week I'd like to share with you a carrot loaf recipe that is a healthier version of a traditional carrot cake. It's moist and has a deep, complex flavor. It uses maple syrup as a sweetener. It makes me feel really good that my kids can enjoy a yummy home-baked treat while getting essential nutrients, vegetables and whole grains at the same time. And trust me, you won't miss the sugar.

Healthier Carrot Loaf

3/4 c maple syrup
1/2 c vegetable oil
1/2 t vanilla
1 lg egg
1/2 c wheat flour
1/2 c all purpose flour
1/4 c flax meal
1t baking soda
1 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t ground nutmeg
1/4 t ground cloves
1/4 t ground ginger
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 c grated carrots
1/2 c raisins (optional)
1/2 c walnuts (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350 F. Whisk the syrup, oil and vanilla until well combined. Add your egg and mix until incorporated. In a separate bowl, sift together the flours, flax meal, cinnamon, baking soda, salt and spices. Add half of the flour mixture to the wet ingredients. Mix until just combined and then add the grated carrots and mix. Add the remaining dry ingredients and fold it into the batter until they are just incorporated. Do not overmix the batter. Bake in a greased loaf pan for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the loaf comes out clean. Let the loaf sit on a cooling rack for about 10 minutes. Then remove from the pan and serve. Enjoy!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Butter, Butter, Butter.... Cream Cheese!

Ok, so I've lost you on the title of this post... It's actually a little shout out to my kids and hubbie... And though there is no cream cheese in this week's baking, butter certainly plays a part.
Since I started baking, I've devoted hours upon hours... no, make that days upon days studying recipes, techniques, flavor pairings, and the like. Nearly every free moment I get is directed toward some sort of education about pastry arts and baking.
So on weeks when I don't have much planned by way of baking, I try to create something that is new and different and that requires a technique that I'm looking to perfect. Last week I decided to plunge into caramels - butterscotch, in particular. It was timely since I was visiting a friend,who happens to love butterscotch, to celebrate her birthday. Recently I've been into creating cakes and cupcakes with different flavor combinations so I made chocolate cupcakes with butterscotch buttercream and a butterscotch drizzle over the top.
Making the butterscotch was fun... and dangerous - no parent wants their children playing or running around near a pot of boiling sugar.. So I managed to keep the kids at bay for what seemed like an eternity of waiting for the sugar to caramelize. Finally it did and the result, after adding some cream and of course, butter was a decadent, syrupy, glistening butterscotch.

The butterscotch buttercream paired nicely with the chocolatey cupcake base and the drizzle on the top was the crowning glory! I was glad for the sake of my own health and waistline that I was delivering them to my friend and her family. As any baker will tell you, the only setback to this job is having a plate full of fresh, pretty homemade goodies sitting on your kitchen counter beckoning you to eat them.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Ocean & Belly Cakes

You've heard of maxing out credit cards... maybe maxing out the space on your hard drive with all those digital pics you're always snapping...maxing out your vacation day allotment at work (what are you waiting for - get going on that trip you've always wanted to take!)... but have you ever heard of maxing out your fridge? Well I'm here to tell you that it can be done. I officially maxed out my refrigerator this week with two celebration cakes for events occuring on the same day. They were both 10" rounds, 3 layers high decorated with fondant. We were eating leftovers and conjuring up meals that used up whatever I could in our fridge just to make space... It was challenging. I may be a baker but coming up with delicious, interesting meal ideas doesn't come naturally to me...
So this week, I made two celebration cakes - one birthday cake for a 7-year old friend of my daughter's and one baby shower cake for a dear friend of mine whom I have known since high school.. This friend, whom I'd never thought would have children, is now nearing the birth of her first child. It's awesome news... and cause for celebration with this adorable "baby belly" cake.. I'd seen some pictures of these cakes on and knew I had to make one! This particular cake was chocolate with a strawberry filling frosted in vanilla buttercream. They were accompanied by baby block cookies.

The birthday cake was for a girl who is a friend of my daughter's from ballet class. Her mother ordered an ocean-themed vanilla cake filled and frosted with chocolate buttercream. Additionally, they requested dolphin cookies as favors. We were so bummed we couldn't attend the party, but I hope she had a wonderful day and that the cake lived up to their expectations! :-) Happy Birthday, Ava!

I've mentioned before that preparing a celebration cake is not easy. It involves patience, creativity, lots of time and the ability to think outside the box. The best way to become good at this is practice, practice, practice. As I do more and more of these cakes, I feel more capable and confident and understand the different elements involved on a much greater level. I hope the two parties enjoyed the cakes as much as I enjoyed putting them together. :-)

As you could imagine, I had quite a bit of leftovers - both cake and frosting. I made cake pops with them. Flipping through Bakerella's Cake Pops book, my daughter selected the chicks. They were perfect - not too difficult to throw together, given all the time I'd spent in the kitchen this week. I didn't have yellow coating chocolate so we covered them in the next best color - pink!