a visit with jenna

Oh what an awesomely fun weekend I had!

I decided to extend my already long weekend and spend 4 days in Halifax / Prospect Village … hanging, laughing and baking with the wonderful, talented and lovely Jenna Durling, aka little red kitsch’n.

After spending 3 weeks together last summer, we decided to do it again.  The only low point … that I had to leave on Sunday morning and couldn’t stay longer.

I have to say … I have a grand ol’ time when I’m cooking & baking with Jenna!  We spend most of the time talking food – ideas … flavours … techniques … what would work … what wouldn’t … what is too “styled” … what we would like to eat … when we would like to eat it …

 And it’s GREAT. 

Plus … Jenna is so inspiring.  She was whipping up her clam chowder while I was chopping up all the vegetables to go into her quinoa salad.  She was enhancing her already insanely delicious wild rice salad (one of the best salads I’ve ever had), while I was making a big batch of lemon curd … and the cupcakes …vanilla, chocolate, carrot and red velvet …

Oh.  Another thing I heart about being in a kitchen with Jenna … we use at least one of my recipes each week at the market.  True.  Over the summer … those peanut butter cookie dough double chocolate brownies … mine.  Those cranberry-lemon-lime-white chocolate mousse squares my idea too. 

This time round I was asked to come up with a cupcake flavour and we made my coconut, toffee oreo cookie bars (recipe to follow … but my co-workers have called them “heaven in a bite”

 Oh yeah … plus I made two hello kitty cakes.  For realz.  One was for Peter from the Fish Shop (he sponsored me for my ride the rideau) … he didn’t ask for anything in particular … but I thought he would find the cake hilarious.  He did.  And he enjoyed eating it as well :0)  And the second ended up being bought by Graham (Gateway Meat Mongers) … he pretty much loved the cake the moment he saw me arrive with it … at 6 am :0)With the pressure of the 5th cupcake flavour on my mind… I decided to go old school.  A classic.  A cupcake that always reminds me of my grandmother (although she never made it as a cupcake).  I actually have her hand-written recipe card on my fridge … a small token to make me smile and remind me of her.

I decided to go ahead with the queen elizabeth cupcake.  Except … with a twist.

You see … usually queen elizabeth cakes are covered with a brown sugar / coconut / cream mixture.  I’ll admit it … it’s delicious.

But not very handy when baking for the market.  We like to pipe the cupcakes on the spot … and spooning the mixture on top of each mini cupcake didn’t really appeal to either Jenna nor I.

So we decided that a sweet cream cheese frosting would still compliment the spicy cake.

And since it’s a queen elizabeth cake … we decided to colour the frosting with a little teal food colouring … more regal looking … don’t you think?

The result … an adorable little cupcake topped with some sprinkles.  And it tasted pretty awesome- a little spicy since I added cinnamon and nutmeg to my grandmother’s original recipe.

It turns out that I still had these cupcakes on my mind when I got home on Sunday afternoon.  Since I already had the dates in my pantry, I figured it’d be nice to make another batch.  Only this time … I figured I could twist the recipe up again: I decided to incorporate the brown sugar and the coconut into the cake batter.

spicy queen elizabeth cupcakes


1 c. dates, chopped

1 tsp baking soda

1 c. water

1/4 c. butter, room temperature

1/2 c. brown sugar

1/2 c. white sugar

1 egg

1 tbsp vanilla

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1 1/2 c. flour

1 c. flaked coconut, toasted

1 batch teal coloured, cream cheese frosting

Preheat your oven to 350 F.  This batter will make a 9-inch round cake, or 5 dozen mini cupcakes, or 2 dozen regular cupcakes.  Line your cupcake pans with liners.  Set aside.

In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the water and chopped dates to a boil – you want them to boil down and thicken (and the water to evaporate).  Stir so that they don’t stick to the bottom (lower the heat if you need too).  Then add the baking soda.  It’ll bubble.  Awesome.

Remove from heat and allow the mixture to cool (I never let it get to room temperature … but I do let it cool about 10 minutes).

In the bowl of your stand-mixer, beat together the butter and sugar.  You want it to become pretty fluffy … so this should take about 5 minutes.  Add the egg, continue to beat at medium speed.  Then add the vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt. 

Add the date mixture to the batter, increase the speed to medium and beat until everything is incorporated.

Reduce the speed of the mixer and slowly add the flour until everything is just barely blended.  Turn off the mixer and fold in the toasted flaked coconut with a spatula.Spoon the mixture into a piping bag – this allows you to fill the mini cupcake liners mush faster and easier than if you have to spoon them into each paper liner individually.  If you are making regular sized cupcakes, use an ice cream scoop, and if a 9-inch pan, simply pour the batter directly into your pan (previously sprayed with non-stick pam).

Baking time will obviously depend on what you are making.  Mini cupcakes should be done in 13 minutes.  Regular in 17 minutes, and a cake can take anywhere from 25 to 32 minutes.  You want the top of the cake to bounce back when you gently press on it.  It’s a pretty moist cake, so don’t worry if it seems a little under-done.  No one likes a dry cupcake (or cake).

If making cupcakes, remove the pans from the oven and immediately take the cupcakes out of the pan and cool on a wire rack.  If you baked a cake, allow it to sit in the pan for 10 minutes and then run a metal spatula around the sides and turn it over onto a wire rack to cool.

Cool completely.Spoon your frosting into a piping bag and pipe a little on each cupcake.  I like the look of the star tip … but it would look good with a large round tip as well! 

The best way to describe these cupcakes … “they taste like a hug from your grandmother feels …” Comfort baking at its best (and yes… you can quote me on that).


sprinkles are my new favourite thing

Remember when you were a kid and the best thing in the whole wide world was a cupcake, with heaps of frosting and then topped a million sprinkles? 

Well… Jenna remembers, and at her table in the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market, she reminds all of us exactly what we loved as kids, and want as adults … a tasty, moist cupcake, covered in creamy, smooth cream cheese frosting and then decorated with sprinkles.  Lots and lots of sprinkles.


Maybe I should backtrack eh?

Remember Jenna from the Whalesbone?  Well … she gave up life in the city and moved back to the East Coast … Prospect Village to be exact … to a charming 200 year old home (her grandparents place): she set up a commercial kitchen, and started her own business – little red kitsch’n – prepared take-home food (savoury and sweet), with some catering on the side.

That’s where I come in.  As soon as she told me her plans I offered to join her down east; spending my summer vacation lending a hand in her kitchen: baking, learning tricks of the trade … and just having some fun.  A much needed break from my everyday.

It’s been awesome.

In less than a week, we’ve catered an event, gone to an arcade fire concert, spent two full days cooking and baking (taking breaks jumping in the ocean), spent the weekend at the market (well… I spent Saturday, Jenna did both days), been to a pig roast, I’ve been biking towards (but haven’t quite made it yetPeggy’s Cove … gone for hikes, gone rock jumping … so far, so good!

This is the view from Jenna’s backyard.  For reals.  Who wouldn’t love to vacation at a place like this?  And I get to bake?  Holy mother of pearl!!! DREAM vacation.

But let’s get back to last weekend.

I spent Friday baking cupcakes – hundreds of mini and regular sized cupcakes:  chocolate, vanilla, red velvet (the most overrated cupcake in my opinion), rhubarb (yum) and carrot.

I prepped a whole lot of rhubarb.  I am so impressed with my knife skills.

While I did that, Jenna finished off her pulled pork with pineapple bbq sauce (addictively delicious), made some mashed potato salad (I could have eaten an entire tub of that), traditional slaw, baked beans, fennel radish slaw (my idea), salted cod fish cakes, quinoa salad,  and a roasted red pepper tomato salad (I made that too actually).

Yeah.  That girl works her little butt off.

And look at how good her table looks?

Saturday was a super fun day – we pumped out the cupcakes (Jenna pipes and decorates them as she displays them… we were both frantically piping and sprinkling at several points in the day) and sold a huge amount of them …

The best part of the entire experience … it’s when people buy one mini cupcake, eat it, and come back for another one.  That … that’s the best compliment a baker can get.

My recommendation for BEST IN SHOW would have been the rhubarb cupcake with strawberry cream cheese frosting.



Although … my twist would have been to fill it with lemon curd first.  But … that’s just me.  We can see I still enjoyed eating it.

I can’t wait for this week’s baking extravaganza.  Jenna and I spend most of out time discussing what we’re going to make.

Just you wait.  You’ll all wish you were at the Halifax Seaport Market on Saturday and Sunday tasting our baked goods too!