wedding cakes and employee appreciation go hand-in-hand

Carrot cake.  I heart it.  Always have, and always will… but I’m actually not very successful when I attempt to bake it.  Seriously.  A few months ago I offered to make carrot muffins and lemon poppy seed muffins.  Mini ones.  Adorable ones — had they turned out!  I used a cake recipe which I “adapted to a muffin” recipe by using muffin pans rather than cake pans… it should have worked, rightNOPE!  Horrible mess.  I took the pans out of the oven, let out an annoyed sigh and proceeded to dump the entire batch in the garage bin.  Yes… it was that bad — and I promise I wasn’t just being a drama queen (a pet peeve of mine is wasting food, or ingredients by throwing any of these things out… so it has to be bad to be dumped).

Attempt 2 of the evening.  I grated more carrots.  I pulled out a new recipe and threw everything together… crossing my fingers it would turn out.  Again — YACK.  At this point though, I had 3 dozen mini carrot muffins to deliver the following morning; so I just had to make it work.  Thank you cream cheese frosting, you are the greatest invention of all time.

I’ve pretty much stayed away from any carrot cake recipe since then.  That is… until Tuesday night.

I was just asked to bake a carrot cake for a friend’s wedding; which means… I need to practice.  I must find a recipe that holds well, isn’t dry and tastes great.

This is attempt Number 1 (perhaps I won’t have to make very many other attempts?!)… which was enjoyed at our annual end of the parliamentary session employee appreciation party (yep… my day job involves the House of Commons, a staff of 50+ people and many hours of watching/listening to Members of Parliament speak… you may roll your eyes and sigh now if you’d like, I won’t be offended).

I offered to make a cake.  One of the editors who has been enjoying some of my other baked goods mentioned his love of carrot cake — and I took that as an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone : practice the recipe and show appreciation for my co-workers.  DONE.

I pulled out the hummingbird bakery cookbook, opened it up to their carrot cake recipe and… there you have it.  A beautiful, moist, golden, carrot cake.  For reals.  I didn’t have to throw anything away, I didn’t have to sigh in frustration… I simply combined all the ingredients, poured them in the cake pans and waited (while waiting, the paddle attachment was licked clean — the batter is that good).  The smell that emanated from my oven was simply mouth-watering delicious.

carrot cake

ingredients:

1 ½ c. packed dark brown sugar

3 eggs

1 ¼ c. sunflower oil

¼ tsp vanilla extract

2 1/3 c. flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground ginger

½ tsp salt

10 oz (about 3 large) carrots, peeled and grated

2/3 c. walnuts, chopped

Pre-heat your oven to 325 F.  Spray two 9-inch rounds (or a rectangular slab) with non-stick spray.  Set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, using the paddle attachment, beat together the sugar, eggs, oil, and vanilla.  You want everything to be really well incorporated, increase the speed to medium.

Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and salt.

As the mixer is beating the wet batter, slowly incorporate the dry ingredients until very well mixed.

Dump the carrots and walnuts into the batter, grab a wooden spoon, stir and evenly disperse the additional ingredients.

Pour the batter into the pans, and bake for 35 – 40 minutes – – until golden brown and the cake bounces back when touched.  Allow to cool slightly (about 20 minutes) in the pans on a wire rack before turning them out and cooling completely.

Time for the frosting.  I made a double batch of  the hummingbird bakery’s cream cheese frosting… only I added vanilla to the recipe (the original doesn’t call for it; I think it lends well to balance the sweetness of the powdered sugar and sourness of the cream cheese).

double batch of cream cheese frosting

ingredients

4 2/3 c. powdered sugar

½ c. salted butter, room temperature

8 oz (1 block) cream cheese, room temperature

2 tsp vanilla extract

Grab your stand mixer and paddle attachment again!  Beat the sugar and butter together (at medium-low speed) until they come together.  Add the cream cheese (all at once, but cut into pieces) and beat until everything is completely incorporated.  Toss in the vanilla.  At this point, increase the speed of the mixer (medium-high) and continue beating.   You want a light and fluffy frosting – – so let it run for about 5 minutes.  Prefect!

Once your cake has cooled completely, cover the bottom cake with a layer of frosting.  Don’t be stingy – but don’t make it too thick either (in my humble opinion).  Top that cake with the 2nd cake – – so pretty I think :0)

Now grab the remainder of the frosting and go crazy!  Really, place it in the centre of the top cake, and use either a spatula, or knife to spread it evenly on top and along the sides of the cake.

 

Side note:  I heart that I finally got a lazy susan @ Ikea and am able to turn the cake as I spread the frosting… isn’t it pretty?  Thank you Ikea :0) … and yes, this is exactly the sort of thing I get really excited about!

 

Once your cake is frosted, grab some whole walnuts and decorate the sides.  I get to thank my mother for the walnuts – – aren’t they amazing?  Nice and big?  And so tasty!  A treat for me (and everyone who had a slice of cake) from a recent flight to Tel Aviv… they helped complete my cake.  Thanks mom.

oh – – and the team?  They loved the cake!  It was the first thing that went (and believe me, we had plenty of little treats) … I think I might even have an order for another one next week (and I think I’ve found my wedding cake recipe)!!!!

p.s. to all the middle-aged men who passed me on the street this morning and told me my cake looked good… thanks! you made me smile and giggle.  perfect way to start an overcast day :0)

not all stand-mixers are created equal

I have to say… this was probably my favourite WhalesboneFriday yet!  Why might you ask?? … well, scroll on down and I’ll tell you all about it!

First off… and most importantly… it was short shorts night @ the WBOH.  I forgot mine.  But Jenna and Kshonze represented… check out those gams! … and I don’t mean Jenna’s ;0)

But back to my actual shift…

It started off as usual… I got there, chit chatted with the crew (Charlotte was away, so I got to hang with Jenna and Kshonze), ate a little of the family meal (with Gerry, Richard and Krause), and then headed downstairs to complete my tasks. 

Jenna decided to keep me in a dessert state of mind (mucho gracias!).

On my task list:

1.  Organize all the sundae toppings — this included the brownies and pecan skor bars that needed to be broken up and then frozen… I have an ever so slight problem with this task…  You see… Jenna’s brownie is the best ever (seriously)… and so I always want to break up a piece or two for me…rich, dark, gooey brownie pieces on my hands.  BLISS.

2.  Make a double batch of maraschino cherries — so bright and pretty… and I now know that the secret lies in lemon zest… oh how I heart making these!

3.  Next, make a double batch of marshmallow fluff

this was a MESSY job for a couple of reasons.

1)  the circuit blew and I had to move the induction cook top to another spot in the prep kitchen.  Not a big deal… except… in order to prevent another fuse from going out, I was working in the dark ;0) 

My simple syrup went from softball stage to hardball stage before I noticed… and yet… I tried to make it work (thank you Tim Gunn).

2) then it was time to use the stand-mixer… talk about an impressive machine!  I mean… just check out the size of that whisk!!!  It’s HUGE!!!! 

And, the machine itself is made with a “safety gate“… the idea is to keep your hands from getting caught in the [paddle attachment / whisk / dough hook] while the machine is on.  My problem was that the recipe called for the simple syrup to be “slowly drizzled” into the egg-white mixture… I ended up whisking a bit, turning the machine, adding syrup, turning it on… repeat several times over.  No constant drizzle.  Sigh.

3) corn syrup is used in the making of the simple syrup.  Corn syrup is sticky and messy.  And it gets very hot. 

Note to self:  don’t try to wipe up a hot corn syrup mess with your fingers… they will get burned!

But check out how awesome it looks?  My spatula was covered in a thick, gooey, ridiculously sweet layer of fluff… I stuffed it in a piping bag and set it in the fridge to set a little bit.  It’ll be perfect for a sundae.  Triple sigh.

 

With those tasks completed, Jenna brought me another little goodie to keep my hands busy… LOBSTER KNUCKLES!  She quickly demonstrated to me how to pierce them with a knife, grab a chopstick and push the meat out… super simple, super fun!  I actually would be more than happy to do this again… there is something rewarding in getting all the lobster meat out of the shell… serious fun times.

 

 

You might still be wondering why this was my favourite shift @ the WBOH to date… well it’s pretty simple… I had visitors!  First Sara and Tanya — oysters, beer and then sundaes. 

Sara’s sundae was pretty classic:  vanilla ice cream / butterscotch sauce / peanut butter balls / cookie dough / cheesecake bites (with rhubarb)… so pretty.  So yummy in her tummy.

Tanya had chatted with me while I was dipping some peppermint patties (part of the sundae topping organization task) and so she kept that in mind when filling out her sundae card:  vanilla ice cream / chocolate ganache / cookie dough / peppermint patties / peanut butter balls… full of chocolate decadence.

 

I was pretty stoked already about serving Sara and Tanya their sundaes… but even better… three other friends were sitting next to them at the bar — Kailey, Trevor and Nicki –wine and sundaes.   Another triple order!  SWEETNESS! 

Fun order eh?

Yeah… I’m pretty lucky to have people who show up and support me and my adventures at the Whalesbone… that was the cherry ontop of my sundae!

brunch is a wonderful thing

My favourite meal of all is brunch. I absolutely, without a doubt heart brunch. Finding a really great brunch place is always a mission of mine. I’ve found my new spot… and it’s not just because they perfectly poach their eggs (and I mean… I ended up with 3 eggs on my plate, every one of them was perfect), it’s because the entire atmosphere lends itself to a chillaxing meal between friends. The food is front and centre… but the ambience certainly doesn’t dissapoint.

You might be wondering which restaurant I’m gushing over. Domus Café. Brunch has been re-invented by sous-chef Adam. We worked together at the Whalesbone one Friday night, and over a pint we discussed… food… well, more specifically, brunch.  I lamented about how so many places offer a beautiful brunch menu, and yet, they don’t properly execute the dish… something as simple as a poorly poached egg can completely ruin a meal.  Adam boasted that he could poach an egg.  I decided to take him up on it.

Last Sunday I sat down with a friend and was faced with the major decision… what to order? Seriously. The menu is a-maz-ing!

Should I pick:

the wild morel mushroom & scrambled egg crostini?

or

the domus house smoked trout “rosti”?

or

the grampy taylors sour cream hotcakes?

Savoury? Sweet? Sigh… what to do!? I heart being at a restaurant and feeling this way… nothing is better than wanting to order more than just one thing — a sure sign that this was going to be an incredible meal.

side note:  I also keep craning my head and staring at what other diners were enjoying… it didn’t make it any easier to choose, since everything looked mouth watering delicious.

We both ordered after some recommendations from the waiter (thank you for assisting us!) and then settled into the fresh bread accompanied by a blueberry infused oil. Isn’t it just pretty? Add some coarse sea salt ontop of the dipped bread and you’re golden.

Then… a suprise from the kitchen. Adam sent out a little amuse bouche (well… more like an appetizer)… isn’t it gorgeous?!  A perfectly poached quail egg, seared fois gras, and rhubarb compote piled atop a sour cream pancake.  Notice how the yolk just gushed out and soaked the fois gras and the pancake? It was rich, and decadent.  And amazing.  Yes… it was sigh worthy.

I ended up picking the domus house smoked trout “rosti” / poached free range egg / crème fraiche / chutney / terre a terre greens … it was a feast for the eyes as much as it was for my mouth (and tummy). The chutney added a sharp contrast to the smokiness of the trout, and underneath everything were nice rosti of potatoes… perfect to soak up the runny egg yolk. Sigh. This is what brunch is all about.

See… empty plate.

And then a visit from the Chef himself…. I was able to congratulate Adam and his crew for probably the best brunch I’ve ever enjoyed.  The Domus Café crew  most definitely know how to pull off brunch — poached eggs and all.  It didn’t hurt any that the entire meal was finished off with complimentary, homemade (in-house) raspberry sorbet with candied nuts.  Yeah… perfect ending to a perfect meal.

In case you haven’t guessed… I’m strongly encouraging everyone to enjoy a Domus Café brunch in the very near future ;0)