Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Due Date Cupcakes

Here it is! And there it goes.... our due date *sigh*

They say only about 5% of babies are actually born on their due date. I wasn't exactly expecting ours to be one of them (I really prayed she'd be a bit early), but it would have been a shame to let this day go by unmarked, birth or no birth. I have made it through nine months of pregnancy, after all. It feels like an achievement.

So I rolled out of bed this morning (another achievement these days, considering my size) and thought "cupcakes? yes, cupcakes!" Isn't that what everyone thinks on their due date?

It was a good way to pass the day, focussed not on what isn't happening, but on making pretty cakes.... and then eating them, of course. Ayla and I are both happy now. Let's hope she's happy enough to be born tomorrow.

This white cake recipe from the Martha Stewart Baking Handbook is my go-to recipe any time I want a perfectly light and fluffy cake. It calls for vanilla extract, but it's so versatile you can add any flavour to it to change it up a bit. This time I added both vanilla and almond extracts. I've used this recipe so many times that the book actually opens to it of its own accord every time I pull it off the shelf.

Vanilla Almond Cupcakes with Raspberry filling:
adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook

3 cups cake flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temp.
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
1 cup milk
8 large egg whites, room temp.

Raspberry Jam
Buttercream frosting of your choice

Preheat the oven to 350F and line 2 muffin cup pans with paper liners.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form and then gradually add 1/4 cup of sugar and continue whisking until you've got stiff, glossy peaks. Set the egg whites aside and clean the electric mixer bowl.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In the clean bowl of the electric mixer, beat the butter and 2 cups of sugar with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides as necessary. Beat in the vanilla and almond extract.

With mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the milk (beginning and ending with the flour). Beat until just combined.

With a spatula, fold 1/3 of the whipped egg whites into the butter-flour mixture until just combined. Fold in the remaining egg whites just until no lumps remain.

Fill muffin cups two-thirds full and bake, rotating pans half-way through, until cakes are just turning golden, about 20-24 minutes. A toothpick inserted in the centre of each should come out clean.

Remove cupcakes from pans immediately and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

Fill a piping bag fitted with a #10 tip with raspberry jam. Insert the tip deep into the top of the cupcake and squeeze the jam into the centre. Stop squeezing before you lift the tip out of the cupcake.

Frost the cupcakes with your choice of buttercream.

For these cupcakes I used a simple butter/icing sugar/vanilla extract frosting that my mom used to use for our birthday cakes as kids (it's like the super sweet icing that most cupcake shops tend to use) and I thought would be appropriate for the occasion and I was feeling nostalgic. Normally, I won't use anything other than a swiss meringue buttercream frosting on a cupcake (or in a macaron, for that matter) because it's so smooth and light - like whipped cream - and I'm not usually a fan of the super sweet icky stuff found in the shops. The Swiss Meringue Buttercream is a recipe I'll share on another day since it's time consuming and a little trickier than the birthday-cake buttercream.

Birthday Cake Buttercream
Childhood favourite for birthday cakes by my mom

2 cups butter, room temp.
4 cups icing sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract (or other flavour of your choice)

In the bowl of an electric mixer beat the butter until smooth. Add icing sugar 1/2 cup at a time until fully combined and the mixture is pale and fluffy and has increased in volume. Beat in vanilla.

My rose piping skills could use some work, but for these cupcakes I used a #104 petal tip and did the best I could.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

39 Weeks and Nested

Well, it's official: I am finished my nesting!
Last weekend Husband and I bustled around our home, finishing off the last of the organizing and cleaning this place from top to bottom. It involved some Ikea furniture assembly - we desperately needed book shelves to store all the books that have been sitting in boxes since we cleared out the nursery. I'm so relieved we got that done and I love the way our living room looks now. It makes me want to just sit and read. Guess I should take advantage of the quiet time around here while it lasts.

Husband the handyman.

When I finally plunked myself down (I'm not so graceful these days in my sitting) at the end of our frenzy, thoroughly exhausted, I had a sense of completion and an even deeper sense of "home". Sure, there are a few little things that are left unfinished, but they're aesthetic and they can wait for now.

Since then, I've felt a strong urge to be at home and just rest. Even the little squirt seems to have quieted down. I think she knows it's almost time. Now we conserve our energy. There are just 5 days left until her due date!

With no projects and no plans standing between us and meeting our little girl, it all feels a little more real. I had my first moment of nervousness about being a mom. Just a little "oh my gosh, I'm going to be holding a precious little life in my hands soon" moment. And then mostly I was just excited.

I haven't been photo-documenting the growth of my bump, but I thought it would be neat to at least have a record of how big I got overall. Every day I tell my bellybutton "you can't possibly stretch any further" and every day this little one inside me says "just a little more space, please". It's an ongoing battle we face. Hopefully this is as big as I get!

39 weeks pregnant. 5 days until the due date!

In my nesting frenzy I also decided it would be a good idea to look into cloth diapering. I made a trip to Diaper-eez for a demonstration and to ask a hundred questions ("so what do you do with the poo, anyway?"), watched several videos on YouTube and, to Husband's dismay, I got hooked on the idea and signed up for a diaper service. Am I crazy? Maybe.

When the cloths arrived from the service I gave Husband a demonstration on a little stuffed elephant like I had seen in the videos I watched. Piece of cake - he'll be fine...

The plan is to use the service for the first couple months when we're the most stretched for energy and time. Then I'll take over the washing myself, eventually. That way we can test out the system without buying all the accessories first. If we like it, then we'll stick with it. And look how cute the little covers are! I'm a sucker for cute and tiny baby things.

Rolled cloth diapers & wipes, diaper cream (cloth friendly), baby powder, dirty diaper travel bag, and look at the cute little covers! I'm set.

Snappis - an accessory I would never have dreamed of needing until I got into all this diaper stuff.

It mostly appeals to me because of the cost saving factor (the cost is all up front when you buy the covers, inserts, storage pails, etc. and then all that can last for more than one baby if you do it right), and because I've heard that kids in cloth diapers tend to potty train earlier than disposable diapered kids. The disposable diapers draw so much moisture away from the skin that babies can't even feel that they're wet, which is a drawback when you begin to teach them to recognize when they need to go. 

I also like the idea of putting less waste into landfills. And something I didn't know before looking into all this is that technically throwing dirty diapers into the garbage or compost isn't allowed anyway. No human waste is supposed to make it to the landfill, it's not safe. You're supposed to clear the waste into the toilet before you throw away a diaper anyway! So, knowing that, the way I see it is signing up for a diaper service could be even easier than disposable diapers. With the service, they do all the dirty work. I just have to throw the cloths into a bin and they pick them up each week and take care of the rest.

This is all good in theory, but let's see how well we do in practice, hmmm? Do any of you have experience with cloth diapers? I'm expecting it to be a little more challenging than the disposable route, but am I underestimating what's involved?

Bet you didn't know you were going to be reading about diapers when you clicked this link! Thanks for sticking around.


Friday, March 9, 2012

Waiting, waiting... a mother of an update!

So it's definitely been a long time since I posted here. I'm fickle about my enthusiasm for blogging. But since it's been a couple months since I've seen anyone from the market, I thought an update might interest you.

For those of you who aren't from Toronto or don't already know that I used to be at the St. Lawrence every Saturday, the backstory is that I closed down Lemon Tree for maternity leave in January.

Well, I'm still pregnant.

photo credit Rachel Baker-Hall bakerandhall.com

But don't let that little bump fool you. I'm even more pregnant than that now. That was taken back in February. This baby still has another week (and a few days) before she's expected. But as soon as March 20th rolls around, my little girl better prove to be punctual. I've already issued the eviction notice. No more growing in there!

You must be wondering "what the heck have you been doing since January if that baby's not here yet?!" Good question. I've been busy! As soon as I packed up all my baking equipment and cleared out my market supplies, Husband and I got to work on the nursery. Walls painted, furniture refinished, lots of little projects to keep me occupied.

The before pics:

And now:

Whew! That was a long process. There are still a few little things I'm putting together that will hopefully be complete before she arrives. A shelf above the change table and some more pictures on the wall. Namely this one that I made, but I'd like to add her name above the bunnies and maybe her birthday when we know what it is.

What else have I been doing? Yes, there's more! Good friends of ours are also pregnant (and in fact having their little girl as I write this!), but they didn't want to have a baby shower. A few of us decided that was unacceptable so we threw them a little party anyway just to tell them we love them. I designed the cake for the occasion. I decided there had to be ruffles.

 And a sketchy shot of the surprise inside.

Of course, my amazing friends and family threw me an incredible baby shower! I felt so loved.

Gorgeous table! Those bird houses are now in the nursery. Thanks Rachel!

So much love and work went into these treats

Customized refreshments

My beautiful older sister put hours into helping to organize this!

My adorable nephew (wouldn't have been a baby shower without kids there, I say!) 
Rachel's super-baby. Seriously, this kid is almost always happy! I'm hanging around them often to encourage ours to be as calm!

This is closer to how pregnant I look. 
My beautiful mom who also put all her love into helping organize this shower. 

Me & my mother-in-law

Brooke  & Rachel (Rachel the creative genius with the super-baby)

Me & Sarah (Sarah makes me cake - hers is the only chocolate cake I love more than mine)

Opening gifts was SO much fun! I'll never get tired of tiny baby things. Flip flops!? LOVE 
Pink pink & pink! Hope we actually ARE having a girl or else I feel sorry for our little boy who will be dressed all in pink.

Have to have a Sofie

And little sunglasses! See, I'll never get tired of it!

Well that was just about three months worth of updates! But if you were curious about what I've been up to, consider yourself filled in.

I miss all of you at the Market and it's nice to hear you've been asking after me. I wish I had a baby to show you pictures of, but we'll just all have to be patient. And don't worry: my mother-in-law will be among the first on the scene when this little girl arrives and she'll have the first of the first photos to show you at the market shortly after.

Can't wait!


Thursday, May 12, 2011

Living Colour

Since I started Lemon Tree a couple years ago, I've always maintained the policy that everything I bake should be from the most natural sources possible and of the best quality so that the finished product is nothing but delicious. I avoid artificial flavours and prepare most of the macaron fillings from scratch so that I know exactly what is going into them. The cakes I make have never seen the inside of a "mix" box and I use copious amounts of vanilla bean and extract in almost everything because I can't get enough of it myself. 

Friday, May 6, 2011

Mother's Day and a Landmark

Remember about three or four weeks ago when I was just back from vacation (*sigh* vacation) and I mentioned I had hit the ground running? Well, little did I know it was a marathon I was running and I haven't stopped yet. 

This week - week four of said marathon - I hit a pretty big mark on the patisserie bake-o-meter (I just made that up, but now I kind of actually want a bake-o-meter in the patisserie).

Friday, April 29, 2011

Royal Macarons

Just like a fairy tale - Kate and Wills leave Westminster Abbey in a carriage towards Buckingham Palace
I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones. There are bakers out there who are waking up and heading off to work at 4am to prepare breads, pastries, tarts, and cakes for those who rise early for the first taste of a crisp croissant or the smell of freshly baked sourdough.

I am not one of those bakers.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Not A Typical Easter.

 I have to admit that for the last week or two I have not been thinking about Easter. I haven't been stocking up on foil-wrapped chocolate eggs; I haven't been gluing cotton ball bunny tails on any crafty-type easter projects; I haven't even been staying up to date with my favourite blogs where I know the easter-inspired baking will keep me entertained for hours. Strangely enough, even church has not been preparing me for the festivities - not a palm frond was to be found at last week's Sunday service. How does one celebrate Palm Sunday without palm fronds?? So far this has not been a typical Easter. Sunday is yet to come.

I have, however, been spending every waking hour in the patisserie, baking and turning out cakes, macarons, cupcakes and all sorts of confections. Last week it was a wedding. This week it was the grand opening of Petite& Sweet in Toronto and macarons are always in demand there. And to adorn the sweets tables, a couple of gorgeous meringue towers were put together as well.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Vacation and Market Menu


 The following images may incite feelings of jealousy and wistfulness. The content of this post may not be suitable for those under the influence of winter and should be avoided if the reader has no access to sunshine within the next 2 hours. Should you notice symptoms of desperate longing for warm weather after reading, click here for the cure. Continue reading at your own risk.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Market Menu - 25 March

As usual, you can find Lemon Tree on the lower level of the St. Lawrence Market this weekend! The macaron flavours are always changing and this Saturday you can choose from:

Salted Caramel
Vanilla Bean
Chocolate Mint
(cinnamon vanilla bean)
Roasted Pistachio

Petit Fours
(see the previous post for the recipe)

See you at the market.


Estabar and Chocolate Flourless Cake

A couple years ago, when Husband and I were newly weds and traveling through Australia, we stayed for a time in a city called Newcastle, just a couple hours north of Sydney. I had visited Newcastle first in 2007 when I stayed with my college roommate, Rachel, who had married an Australian and left Canadian winters behind forever. Smart girl.

The small city with it's laid-back Novocastrians worked it's magic on me when I first visited and so Husband and I were eager to "get away from it all" and find our newly-wed life in a warmer clime. We packed our bags, said our goodbyes and left it all behind indefinitely.

It was a great decision and it looks even better as I sit here in our sixth month of Toronto winter.