bubbles and a birthday party

Today is a VERY important day.  Sara turns 29.  Seriously.  It’s her champagne birthday – - 29 on the 29th!  A few of us ladies decided to get together and throw her a birthday bash! … It’s become a bit of a tradition… every year Sara and several dozen of her closest friends get together and celebrate… her.  It’s awesome.

There are a few of things you should know about Sara.

1.  She loves her friends and has probably one of the biggest hearts out there.  Which explains why so many of us can’t wait to celebrate with her (and yes… platonic Jeff showed up to celebrate too)

2.  She loves cake… actually all things baked and yummy and buttery and moist and delicious.

And finally,

3.  She enjoys a bubble or two.

Therefore, in honour and love of my beautiful, wonderful friend, I wanted to bake her something extra special.  I wanted to make a cupcake that would be forever known as the Sara Cupcake.

The Sara Cupcake is pretty simple… a chocolate cupcake recipe as a base… only sparkling wine is added to it incorporating a Sara-like punch.  I didn’t go cheap on the amount of bubbly I added either… I wanted to make sure that you could taste the champagne.  However… once I sampled the baked cupcakes, I realized that I hadn’t added salt to the recipe (thank you Jenna for confirming that) – - easy to fix… since you can’t have a cupcake without buttercream… make it a super salty frosting.

A salty buttercream and a bubbly cupcake – - it screams Sara.

I also had to bake her an actual cake… those of you who have been reading this blog for a while might actually remember my post from a year ago today… Sara hearts (no, actually loves is the better word) loblaws cake.  Yep.  White supermarket cake, with thick buttercream/lard frosting… she loves it.  I used to buy her one.  I have since learned to make a better, tastier version of it and now bake it for her.  I will actually only bake this for Sara and/or young children… the sugar in the frosting kinda hurts my teeth.  But… there is nothing wrong with enjoying it once a year.  AND the cake is pretty good too… I know, you can sigh along with me… who would have thought that a cake inspired by a grocery store would be described as “pretty good”… but… it is :0) (I bet it would be ever better with a scoop of ice cream on the side… memories of summer birthday pool parties anyone?)

So here goes… my tribute to Sara.

The Sara Cupcake

chocolate – champagne cupcake

ingredients:

1 c. all-purpose flour, sifted

3 tbsp. dark unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 c. white sugar

3/4 c. sparkling wine / champagne

3 tbsp sunflower oil

1 1/2 tsp distilled white vinegar

Preheat your oven to 350 F.  Line your muffin pan with cupcake liners and set aside (this recipe makes 8 large cupcakes… probably 10 smaller ones).

In a large bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and sugar together.  Make a well in the centre.

In a pitcher (I used a large mason jar) combine the champagne, the oil and the vinegar.

Pour over the dry ingredients (into the well in the centre).  Grab your wooden spoon and quickly stir together until combined.  My batter was think and a little gooey – - if it seems too thick – - stir in a splash more of champagne.  It’ll do the trick.

Grab your mini scooper and spoon into the paper liners – - if you don’t have enough batter to make the complete dozen cupcakes (as was the case with me), then simply half fill the empty muffin holes with water – - that will prevent your pan from burning.

Bake for 20 minutes – but feel free to check on them after 15.  You want the tops to bounce back when touched, or for a toothpick to come out clean when inserted in the centre.

Remove from the pan and allow to cool completely on a wire rack.  They should look something like this…

baked cupcake

Once they had completely cooled, I grabbed my serrated knife and cut off the tops… that way all of the cupcakes were level.  Easier to pipe the frosting onto.

cupcakes getting ready to be frosted

At this point you should make your buttercream.  This recipe is a doubled version of the hummingbird bakery’s vanilla frosting… I did switch up a couple of things – - in order to suit my needs (making it salty)…

salted buttercream

ingredients:

4 c. icing sugar, sifted

1/2 c. salted butter, room temperature

3 tbsp heavy cream

2 pinches of salt

In the bowl of your stand mixer, use your paddle attachment to beat together the icing sugar and butter.  Do this at a low speed to start – - otherwise, you’ll have a whole lot of sugar flying around your kitchen!

Once it has started to come together, add your salt and slowly add the heavy cream.  Increase the speed of the mixer and allow it to beat everything together.  Let it run for at least 5 minutes.  You want a thick, creamy texture.  The longer you allow the frosting to be beaten, the lighter and fluffier it will become… and since the mixer is doing all the work, your hand won’t get tired ;0)

Once it gets as thick and fluffy as you want it to be – - grab a large spoon and fill up a piping bag (use a large star tip).  Slowly pipe each cupcake – start on the outside and just move your wrist very gently in a circular motion until the entire top surface is covered… they should look like this… (yes Emily… I did this myself!  Isn’t it pretty?!!!)

frosted cupcakes… so pretty

I decided to top them with some sprinkles (add a little fun to the cupcakes) and then it was time to go!

I also want to show you how well my piping skills have improved (brown butter piping no longer intimidates me!  or cupcakes!  bring it on!)… I decorated Sara’s loblaws cake with the left over buttercream (which I turned bright pink – - several drops of red food colouring will do the trick).

bright pink piping on the cake… awesome eh?

It was then time to pack everything up and hit the party… candles were blown out and cake and cupcakes were enjoyed by all…

Sara blowing out the candles… yes, she wore a crown ;0)

And don’t the cupcakes look yummy?!

chocolate – champagne cupcake with salty buttercream frosting

As always – - a special night for a special girl.  I know I’m lucky to have her as a friend.  HAPPY BIRTHDAY SARA!

heck ya we dance on tables!

Friday night at the Whalesbone was a pretty big deal.  It was Jenna’s last Friday night as the sous-chef.  I showed up prepared.  Jenna and I talk desserts a lot.  Seriously.  We both have insane sweet tooth’s… so we talk chocolate, butter, sugar, flavour combos… salty/sweet treats… if you can bake it, we will talk about it.

We have spent a lot of time talking about popcorn.  Why you might ask?  Well… how amazing is it to find a dessert that is normally savory and add that hint of sweetness?!  Pretty darn amazing! Our popcorn obsession has brought us to share a batch of my chocolate toffee popcorn and copious fistfuls of Jenna’s killer cracker jack popcorn.

It also means that Jenna and I have been talking recipes.  Jenna discovered a recipe in her death by chocolate book:  chocolate caramel popcorn crunch.  Yeah… that sounds pretty incredible eh?  Especially when you check out the recipe and see that not only is it a layer of caramel covered popcorn BUT that the popcorn is then covered in a layer of chocolate brown butter ganache!!!!  A-MAZ-ING!  Nutty, chocolaty, caramel sweetness.  Since Jenna hasn’t had a chance to make it yet… I figured I would take a shot at it… I’m pretty stoked that it turned out so well… crunchy goodness… and so sweet your teeth hurt.  Solid treat in my estimation.

chocolate caramel popcorn crunch

So yes… I brought in the treat.  Then it was time to get to work.

Friday night was INSANE at the Whalesbone!!! (I think soon I’ll just be calling it The Bone or maybe The Whale?… thoughts anyone?)

My tasks were all over the place – - in both the savory and sweet departments.

#1. I was given a whole lotta mixed greens and romaine lettuce to clean and put away.  You might think that this would be a dull task.  But it’s not!    I got to play with the new salad spinner… not exciting say you?  Well check it out..  It’s HUGE. And it spins a whole lotta lettuce at once.  I heart it.

massively huge spinner… so cool

And isn’t the romaine lettuce just absolutely incredible?  Crisp and green… fresh from the garden.  It smells of summer and tastes of all good things that come from nature.  Seriously addictive stuff (yes, I heart sweets, but I also really heart veggies… especially in season, fresh veggies… bliss in my tummy).

clean romaine :0)

#2. I was then tasked with making some of the cream cheese filling for cheesecake bites.  Super simple recipe:  simple syrup (sugar and a little water) with a vanilla bean pod (seeds also) thrown in for flavour and beauty (I heart the smell of a vanilla bean… I honestly walked around the restaurant with one under my nose breathing it in… a-maz-ing).  Once that soft ball stage hit, the syrup was then drizzled into already whipped cream cheese; continuing to whip until everything is combined and comes together.  I then threw it in the freezer to quickly flash freeze it.  It was beautiful.  AND if you go into the Whalesbone this week – - I bet you’ll get to eat some of it.  You should go (not only for that reason… but it doesn’t hurt)

#3. Next task involved lobster knuckles.  Yep.  I got to work with those babies again.  SWEET!  First off… I heart the task because anytime I get to be that close to such prime product I get excited.  Secondly… I am SO MUCH FASTER at this task the 2nd time round.  No joke!  I was given a pretty large bucket (with almost 90 knuckles) and I finished in 90 minutes! I am so pleased!!!!  Claps for Lynne!

#4. Individually wrap and freeze salmon.  A thing of beauty.  It’s so pink, and thick… Charlotte threw on some dill and salt and pepper… check it out!  Doesn’t it make you want to just go in and ask for salmon sashimi?!  It’s so fresh and thick and beautiful.

salmon

#5. In my spare time I rolled peanut butter balls.  Lots of them.  Lots of mini peanut butter balls.  But once you dip those babies in chocolate – - a sundae topping is born.

beginning of a peanut butter cup… stage 1

To read all of this you wouldn’t think that it wasn’t such a wild, eventful evening would you?

Well the party was happening upstairs!  Everyone seemed to be celebrating their birthdays… I got to create my own little sundae toppings over and over again…

Imagine… it’s your birthday and you got this as your sundae

vanilla ice cream / butterscotch / marshmallow fluff / fresh cherries, strawberries, slivers of apple / graham cracker crumble

Yum eh?!

Also, my friend Tanya (gongshow gardener) brought in her little brother, Frank.  Frank has just returned to Canada after spending two years in Ireland and he ordered a sundae.  His request was pretty simple:

vanilla ice cream / strawberry coulis / brownie bites / fresh fruit

I asked Tanya what he would like – - as a little something extra.  mini doughnuts made the list.  So I decided to take matters in my own hands.

vanilla ice cream / strawberry sorbet / strawberry coulis / brownie bites / whipped cream / mini doughnuts / fresh fruit

Then platonic Jeff showed up… and brought some friends along – - Connie and Jamie.  Platonic Jeff has some pretty awesome friends.  First off… they heart my blog, they heart bubbly AND they heart lemon meringue pie (as in MY lemon meringue pie since Jeff has brought one of my pies along to their house before).  So… I made them a sundae inspired by a pie idea I have…

vanilla ice cream / passionfruit curd / chocolate ganache / graham cracker crumbs

Solid.  They liked it so much they started dancing on the harvest table at the front of the restaurant.  For reals!  Check out the picture…  The crowd was embracing the music on the record player and decided to kick up their heels…

these are not actors… they really were dancing on tables… I swear :0)

It was a great night.  Seriously.  I think it was the perfect way for Jenna to end her last Friday night shift… with table-top dancing, lots of drinks being passed around… and some chocolate caramel popcorn crunch as a midnight snack.

I’ll miss you Jenna!  But I’m super excited for your next adventures… and I can’t wait to blog about those too!

rhubarb and passionfruit… sigh worthy

You’ll notice that I’ve been going on and on about the rhubarb / passionfruit combo since Chloé made her rhubarb passionfruit fool.  It was moan worthy… even the following day.  I’ve also been using the combo in creating sundaes at the Whalesbone – - Jenna’s passionfruit coulis is absolutely a-maz-ing… I snuck a look at her recipe and saw her secret ingredient – - LIME! Lime juice and lime zest are the perfect punch to the passionfruit; those two flavours go hand in hand.

But back to my obsession… I really love the combo but I honestly just wanted to make the fool recipe that Chloé had made for us at Oz Café.  It was tart and bright and light and decadent all at once… in a word, it was PERFECTION.  And it was exactly what I wanted to make my papa for father’s day.

In order to make the fool I needed a few things:

Chloé needed to pass along her recipe.  Which she did (GROS MERCI).  So recipe – - check.

Then I needed some rhubarb.  Thankfully, my boss decided to give me fresh stalks from his garden.  Ingredient #1 – - check.

Time for the passionfruit.  Charlotte came through on that one… 1 container of passionfruit purée – - check.

As for the heavy cream – - a quick look in my fridge and I had that one taken care of all on my own! – - check.

All that was left to do was to make a curd, reduce some rhubarb, whip up some cream… et violà my fool was born!

whipped cream / passionfruit curd / rhubarb compot

You’ll notice that there are 4 steps to this recipe – BUT each step is simple and straightforward: worth the time and energy to make everything yourself.  I promise… this recipe will blow your mind.  Totally and utterly moan and sigh worthy!

Chloé’s Fool

ingredients:

1 batch passionfruit curd

1 batch rhubarb compot

1 batch whipped cream

note: I was torn between using Chloé’s passionfruit curd recipe or using Jenna’s.  At the end of the day, I didn’t have a lime… or cornstarch… so I picked Chloé’s version.  But I feel both would work and I’ll be using Jenna’s recipe next week when I make a cheesecake (don’t worry… I’ll be blogging about that too!) :0)

Step 1:  passionfruit curd

ingredients:

4 eggs

2 egg yolks

150 g white sugar

1 1/2 c. passionfruit purée (Chloé recommends 8 passionfruit, pulp… I had the purée so I used that instead)

125 g cold butter, cubed (I used… 1/2 c. of butter… it was a lot of butter… so next time I’ll use 1/4 c. butter instead)

If you have a bain marie (I actually had a real bain marie!!! merci Marielle!) place enough water in the bottom pot and bring to a simmer.  Place all your ingredients, except the butter, in the upper pot and start to whisk.

If you don’t have a bain marie, grab a medium pot and bring an inch or so of water to a simmer.  Place a large metal bowl with all the ingredients (except the butter) on top (make sure that the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the simmering water) .

Keep your stove-top at about medium / medium-high heat.  Don’t over heat your saucepan, and don’t let the water completely evaporate.

Grab your whisk and start whisking… for about 10 minutes.  Yes… your wrist will likely get tired, mine did… switch hands.  Whisk, whisk, whisk until you see the curd start to come together.  It thickens up, going from a loose yellow sauce type thing to a thick, creamy, yellow type thing.  It should be thick enough that when you stick a wooden spoon into the mixture, it leaves a layer on the back of the spoon.

passionfruit curd

At that point, remove the curd from the heat (don’t forget to turn off your stove) and whisk in the cubes of butter – - a little at a time.  You want to allow the cube to melt and be incorporated before adding any more.  The result is a decadently creamy curd.  Gorgeous.

Step 2:  rhubarb compot

note: you’ll notice that I don’t have exact measurements for this recipe… I really just guesstimated.  Apologies for not being more precise.

ingredients:

many stalks of rhubarb, diced (like a big bunch of rhubarb)

1/2 c. of sugar (approx… I added some and then added some more while it was simmering away)

zest and juice of 1 lemon (remember to discard those seeds!)

In a medium saucepan over medium – high heat, combine your rhubarb, some of the sugar, lemon juice and zest, add a little bit of water if needed, and just get everything combined.  Keep an eye on it… but really, you simply want the rhubarb to break-down and all the water to evaporate.  Taste test it and see if you want to add a bit more sugar to cut the tartness… this is really all about personal tastes.  You’ll know when it’s ready…

rhubarb compot

Allow both the curd and the rhubarb to cool to room temperature before moving onto the next stage.

Step 3: whipped cream

note: Again… this is estimated.  Chloé’s recipe simply stated that she whipped BEAUCOUP (a lot) of heavy cream

ingredients:

750 mL heavy cream

1/4 c (approx) white sugar (use as much or as little as you like)

In the bowl of your stand mixer (or a large glass /metal bowl)  use your whisk attachment (or handheld mixer) to gently froth the cream.  At that point, whisk in the sugar.  Increase the speed to max and just let the electric mixer to all the work for you – - until you end up with a nice, thick, white whipped cream.  You want it to be stiff enough that it holds onto the whisk attachment, but not so stiff that it is no longer glossy (over beaten cream isn’t pretty).

whipped cream

Step 4:  Finishing the fool

Now for my favourite part of Chloé’s recipe… I’m going to use her words exactly – - because they made me smile.

“J’ai bien mélangé le curd et mal mélangé le rhubarbe ( pour que ca fasse des streaks)”

translation:  Completely fold in the curd, and then “poorly mix in” the rhubrab – - you want the red streaks through out the cream/ curd mixture.

mal mélangé

That’s it.  You’re done.  A perfect dessert on it’s own… or serve with some sort of cookie for an added crunch.  It was certainly enjoyed on father’s day… My papa emitted little sighs of pleasure (yep… I guess I do take after himand my brother Louis ate his bowl… and a second helping!  Whoot Whoot!

finished rhubarb passionfruit fool

Afterward:  I brought some back to Ottawa and shared the fool with some friends… Chloé loved it and see my bff Téana… she gave me 2 thumbs up!

happy little eater of fool