Chocolate-Covered Pretzel Peanut Toffee

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Happy New Year! I hope you all had a great holiday. Ours was pretty quiet, which was good because all three of us got sick, one after the other – always a great way to spend one’s vacation. We have this week left to try to get as many things crossed off our to-do list as possible. We’re not holding our breath that they’ll all get done, but we’ll do our best.

In the meantime, here’s a quick little toffee recipe to help you combat those mid-winter blahs. I doubled the recipe, which I would not recommend, because the toffee sets so quickly it’s hard to get both batches flattened out on the pans fast enough.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and put it aside for a bit.

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In a heavy saucepan, combine 1/2 cup butter, 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon corn syrup, and 2 tablespoons water.

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Attach a candy thermometer to the side and heat that over medium until it reads 300°F. Try to avoid stirring as much as possible, and if you do, don’t use a metal spoon – wood or silicone will prevent premature crystallization.

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Next to the pot, place a little container of 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and another of 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. You’ll need to have those handy at short notice later on.

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While you’re keeping an eye on the sugar, crush up about 1 1/2 cups pretzel twists.I also had some salted peanuts on hand so I crushed and dumped those in as well – probably about 3/4 cup salted peanuts.

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And gather up 1 cup chocolate chips. I mixed mine with some dark chocolate for flavour.

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When your sugar has caramelized and gotten to the hard crack stage (that’s 300°F), remove it from the heat and quickly stir in the baking soda and vanilla. Try to resist screaming as it fizzes up and gets all terrifying. I promise that will pass.

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EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

Toss in the pretzels and peanuts and stir the toffee quickly.

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Then tip it out onto your parchment sheet and flatten it down as much as you can before it starts to set.

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Sprinkle the chocolate evenly over the top of the toffee and let it stand for a few minutes while the chocolate melts.

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Then smooth out the melted chocolate with a spatula.

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Sprinkle the top of the chocolate with fleur de sel and let harden in the refrigerator for about an hour.

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Once it’s hardened, break it up into chunks and eat it all by yourself! share it with your friends and family.

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PB & J Gooballs

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These are a great little snack when you’re on the go and need some protein. Or when you are pacing around your house with a small baby and have only one hand to get sustenance. Also good for children as a wee treat when they come home from school (although if you’re going to feed these to children under 1 year of age, replace the honey with maple syrup or something else, because botulism ain’t a joke). They were called “snack bites” on the website where I got the original idea but I think GOO BALLS is a way better term. So gooballs they will be. These ones taste like a peanut butter and jam sandwich, but you can pretty much customize these however you would like.

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Your basic ingredients are as follows: 1 cup oats, 1/2 cup peanut butter (or sun butter, or whatever), and 1/4 cup honey. The rest is up to you.

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I added in a few tablespoons ground flax, for health reasons.

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And a handful of Reese peanut butter chips, for non-health reasons.

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And some freeze-dried raspberries, because I had them on hand and they’re tasty as heck. Any dried fruit will do, provided you cut it up pretty small.

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Assemble all your dry ingredients. I crumbled the raspberries in my hand so they were smaller.

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Tip in the wet ingredients.

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Stir!

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Chill that for about 30 minutes, then take it out and roll a couple tablespoons’ worth of it into a ball. Repeat until you run out.

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Store these suckers in the fridge to keep them firm and less sticky. ENJOY!

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Slow Cooker Dip Trio – Dessert!

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Basically, it’s cream cheese glazing for cinnamon buns, in a slow cooker. This is definitely a fun dip to make for parties, and there’s plenty to go around. We also served cut up fruit and there was a ton of sauce still left at the end. If you have a large slow cooker, follow the instructions in the original recipe from Chelsea’s Messy Apron for making the fondue in a separate container within the slow cooker. If you have a wee one, you can just plop all the ingredients straight in (as we did) and go from there.

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Start by grabbing a bowl and using it and an electric mixer to beat together 1 8oz package plain cream cheese (room temperature) and 1/2 cup butter (also room temperature) until mixed and fluffy.

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Tip in 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract and beat that up too.

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Then slowly add in 2 cups icing sugar and beat it (carefully) until fully combined.

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Dump that whole thing in your slow cooker and leave it on low, stirring occasionally, for 1 1/2 – 2 hours.

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When you’re ready to serve it, you probably want some cinnamon buns to go with it. If you don’t have any pastries handy, but want some, grab some of those rolls of pre-fab biscuits.  The Pie did not know that the rolls kind of exploded when you opened them, and even though I warned him in advance he was still startled by it, so exercise caution. Preheat your oven to 400°F and spray a muffin tin or two with cooking spray.

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Grab one of the biscuits from the tube and flatten it into an oval.

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Dip it first in melted butter, then in a mixture of cinnamon and granulated sugar.

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Plop.

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Roll the oval into a tube.

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Then roll the tube into a spiral. Give it a squeeze in the hopes that it will stay together.

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Plop the spiral into your muffin tin. For the record, the Pie made all the ugly ones.

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Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the rolls are golden and no longer gooey.

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Serve them hot with your fondue and a couple forks.

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And some napkins!

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Mocha Latte Fudge

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This recipe from Real Simple is not your typical fudge, but it’s relatively easy to concoct and would make a nice gift to your favourite coffeephile. You don’t even need a candy thermometer to make it, which is handy for those of you who aren’t familiar with making candy.

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Do keep a close eye on it, however, as I burnt the bottom of one of my pots quite badly the first time I made it.

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Start by lining an 8″ square pan with parchment paper and spraying it with cooking spray. I had neither a square pan nor cooking spray at the time so I used this 6″ x 10″ pan and I buttered it instead. You do you.

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Set that aside for a spell and grab a large pot. Dump in 1/2-lb butter, 2 cups brown sugar, and 1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk.

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Stir that frequently over medium-low heat until it’s all melted and starts to boil.

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Then tip in 1/2 cup chocolate chips and 1 tablespoon espresso powder. Once that’s mixed in, stop stirring and leave the whole thing to boil (but not burn!) for 8 minutes.

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Remove the pan from the heat and stir in 1 tablespoon vanilla. Remember, it’s gonna fizz.

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Let the mixture cool for 10 minutes; then grab an electric mixer and beat the crap out of it for about 5 minutes, until it looks and feels like almost-melted peanut butter.

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Spill that into the prepared pan and smooth it down. Shove it in the fridge for 4 hours, until it’s all firm. Run a knife around the outside edge and use the parchment to pull the whole thing out of the pan. Cut it into cubes.

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EAT. (Store leftovers sealed in the fridge. PAH. Like there will be leftovers.)

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Strawberry Macaroons

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I made these yesterday, but you know I’m not one to plan ahead and, like, blog these in advance so you could maybe make them yourself on that special day. They’re still a cute thing to make though, even if it’s not Valentine’s Day.

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My big brother Krystopf came over to help me paint what’s going to be the baby’s room (which hopefully I’ll get finished within the next week or so), and we fed him dinner for Valentine’s Day as his family is currently away on the other side of the country.

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These are based on my original macaroon recipe, which is always a crowd-pleaser. Start by bringing some stuff to room temperature: here I have 3 large eggs sitting in a bowl of warm water, and about 12 frozen strawberries, defrosting in the morning sun.

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While you’re waiting, preheat your oven to 325°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

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Blend up the thawed strawberries into a glorious red purée.

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Separate the eggs, and save the yolks for something else (for me they’re going in a meatloaf later on).

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Tip the whites into a bowl together with a teaspoon or two coconut extract.

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Give them a whirl until they’re foamy and then add in 1/2 cup granulated sugar. Whiz that up until it’s white and thick-looking.

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Tip in 5 cups shredded coconut (I used unsweetened, but you can use sweetened) and your strawberry goo.

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Fold that together until fully combined.

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I decided to try to mould the cookies, which I’ve never done before, so I grabbed a heart-shaped cookie cutter and used a teaspoon to fill and pack the coconut down.

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Some careful wiggling and pressing down with the spoon freed up each one quite nicely.

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I kept going until I had 21 coconut cookies and an empty bowl.

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Shove those cookies into the oven for about 15 minutes, rotating halfway through, until the bottoms are browned and the cookies are solid. Let cool completely.

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While they’re cooling, grab some dark chocolate and huck it into a double-boiler to melt. Let that cool as well.

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Then tip the cooled chocolate into a bag with the corner nipped off and squeeze it out on your cooled cookies. Let that set.

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Serve to your attendant gentlemen!

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Coconut Cream Bars: REDUX

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The problem with this blog is that people I work with READ it. And then they EXPECT me to bring them baked goods. And then when I DO, they demand MORE. So sometimes I have to make things AGAIN. So these I’ve made before, and they were awesome. And I brought some to work. And one of the ladies I work with send me a calendar invitation for her birthday (which was MONTHS away) with instructions for me to make these for her (again). And so that’s what I did. I tweaked the recipe a little bit to add some more flavour, and I think I like them better than the originals. Conveniently they’re also Papa John’s favourite and his birthday is coming up …

Line a 9″ x 13″ pan with waxed paper and spray it as well. Set that aside. In a large bowl, dump in 20oz shredded unsweetened coconut, and 14oz sweetened condensed milk. I like to stand there and stare while the milk ever-so-slowly comes out of the can.

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Now here’s where I changed things up a little bit. I have some genuine Caribbean coconut extract that I added in for more flavour (I tipped in about 2 teaspoons) and then I decided to add a hint of orange by pouring in about 2 tablespoons Cointreau. I recommend doing it just for the subtlety of the flavour over the straight sugar taste you got before with the original recipe.

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I was actually amazed at how thick the coconut extract was – it was more of a syrup.

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Anyway, stir that up, together with 2 cups icing sugar, until you have a lovely gooey coconutty paste.

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Smooth that into your baking pan and level the top. Freeze that for a couple hours.

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When you’re nearly ready to go, melt up about 24oz chocolate of your choice – I used half dark, half milk in this batch. It’s also useful to do the chocolate in a couple of batches, adding more unmelted stuff to the mix as you run out.

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Let that cool a bit, and slice up your coconut goo into squares.

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Then start dipping! Remember that the cooler your chocolate is, the faster it will set, so act accordingly. Sprinkle the tops of each bar with more bits of coconut before the chocolate sets – for decoration.

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My chocolate was cooler (because it’s February and this is Canada) than last time so it set a little messier and less smooth than the previous version, but they’re still super tasty!

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Our New Food Dehydrator

Papa John and Mrs. Nice got us a beautiful giant Excalibur food dehydrator for Christmas this year, and we were so excited to use it that we could barely wait before we were fully unpacked to crack it open and start it up. It was super easy to put together and came with not one but TWO instruction booklets, which are also really easy to use. And having one gave me an excuse to pick up a new mandoline slicer and apple corer so I can make apple chips whenever I want. Which is right now.

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The corer, which I picked up from Amazon, was deceptively easy to use, and cleans really easily.

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The mandoline is also easy, and super sharp. And also from Amazon.

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For the first go-round in the dehydrator we stuck with plain apples, sliced about 1/8″ thick.

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I kind of wanted to play ring toss with these things.

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Instead I spread them evenly over one of the many dehydrator trays.

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I’m actually now keeping a small spray bottle filled with lemon juice in the fridge for spraying on fruit to prevent oxidation. You can also get some kind of bisulfide something-or-other but I haven’t quite gotten around to getting that yet.

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Then you shove it in the dehydrator …

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… put the door on …

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… and set it for however many hours you need. For apples it’s about 7 hours at 135°F.

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The machine turns off on its own which is awesome. So I came down the next day to these piles of tart and delicious gorgeousness.

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All you need to do is pack them loosely in an airtight container for a couple days so that the remaining moisture evenly distributes itself throughout the batch. Then you can do whatever you want with them.

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So the next day I tried bananas.

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These also were sliced about 1/8″ thick.

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And they take about 6 hours. They’re still in there now or I would give you an update.

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Next experiment? PINEAPPLE!

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Age of Decadence Birthday Cupcakes

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Yesterday was my brand new  minion’s respected co-worker’s birthday, and I wanted to celebrate her first month on the job (and a milestone birthday she wasn’t really looking forward to) with her favourite treat: a dark, rich chocolate cake. Cake’s a bit hard to transport around the office, however, so I went with the cupcake version instead, and I made someone else do all the hard work for me in choosing the best recipe. I picked Sally’s Baking Addiction’s tried and tested Death by Chocolate Cupcakes and doubled the recipe (as I am wont to do). An entire bar of this lovely dark chocolate went into the process and I think it was entirely worth it.

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Like all good cupcakes, you start with butter and chocolate, and melting things. In the bowl of a double boiler (or in your microwave, but I no longer own one of those), melt together 1 cup unsalted butter and 4 ounces chocolate (the recipe calls for semi-sweet but I say use whatever is your favourite).

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Once that’s all smooth and sassy, set it aside to cool a little bit. Line two muffin tins with cupcake liners and preheat your oven to 350°F.

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In a smallish bowl, whisk together 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder and 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour with 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Leave that alone and do the next thing.

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In a largish bowl, crack 4 large room temperature eggs,  then tip in 1 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup packed brown sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla. Whisk-y, whisk-y, whisk-y.

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I kind of miss whiskey …

Pour the melted butter and chocolate into the egg/sugar stuff and mix until smooth.

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Grab yourself 1 cup buttermilk (if you don’t have buttermilk, tip 2 teaspoons white vinegar or lemon juice into a cup and top it up with milk. Give it a stir and leave it about five minutes until it’s curdled and thick. It’s not *quite* the same, though, and the Pie likes having buttermilk for pancakes, so I am using the real deal).  Alternate pouring some buttermilk into the chocolatey goo with adding the flour mixture, and stir until just combined. You don’t want to overmix this or the batter will bake up flat.

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And this batter is going to be THICK. Sally says it’s thick like pudding. I think it’s even thicker than that.

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Thick, like dog poo thick. But in a delicious way.

Spoon the batter into your cupcake cups and bake for 18 minutes, rotating halfway through, until a toothpick inserted in the centre cupcake comes out clean.

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Set those aside to cool completely and get started on your icing. Actually, before you do that, break up another couple ounces of that lovely dark chocolate and set them to melt in your double boiler. Once it’s all liquid, set it aside to cool almost to room temperature.

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Beat up about 1 cup room temperature unsalted butter in the bowl of your mixer until it’s pale and fluffy. Sift together (to avoid lumps) 5 1/2 cups icing sugar and 1 1/3 cups unsweetened cocoa powder in a separate bowl.

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Add 2 teaspoons vanilla extract to the fluffy butter and then tip in some of your icing sugar mix. Drizzle in, alternating with the icing sugar mix, 1 cup heavy cream.  Because I don’t remember where I put my mixer shield, this happened of course.

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This one’s for you, Eli.

And because none of my aprons fit me anymore, this happened as well. Baby bellies are cooking hazards, it seems.

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The Pie thought it necessary to remind me that I don’t own very many maternity clothes and should probably take better care of the ones I’ve got. I may have said a few bad words to him in reply.

But when you’re done you’ll get this lovely soft icing that’s pretty much exactly halfway between a ganâche and a buttercream. It’s very delightful. Use that and a wide tip to ice your cooled cupcakes.

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Age of Decadence Cupcakes 20And because age is just a number, I made little number signs out of that melted chocolate (poured on waxed paper and allowed to cool) and shoved them in the top.

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As I was making these, I remarked to the Pie that my youngest teammate, who is 23, was going to ask why there were “hashtags” all over the cupcakes, and he laughed. Then the next morning, the first thing she did when she walked into the room was go, “what’s with all the hashtags?” I so called it. Kids these days … 🙂

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Creamsicle Pops

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These pictures are terrible. But the results are amazing, I promise. I have quite a bit leftover of that creamsicle pudding I made a few days ago. To be honest, I find it a little oversweet for my tastes at the moment. So I thought I’d tone it down a bit by swirling it with unsweetened cream in a frozen treat. I know that it’s January, but I’m trying to clean out my fridge before we move and I have a TON of whipping cream leftover from the holidays. And I have these super cute popsicle moulds that I haven’t had a chance to use yet.

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Now, if you didn’t know already, the best way to whip cream quickly is to start by chucking your bowl and whisk in the freezer for a while.

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Then it’s a simple matter to whip up that cream.

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Then I kind of alternated globs of pudding and cream in the moulds. I wasn’t too concerned about neat and tidy layers. I was more going for a swirl in any case.

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In fact I’m also terrible at measuring globs so some are bigger than others.

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But you do get a bit of colour contrast. Remember you can do this with juice and yogurt and other kinds of pudding and all sorts of fun stuff.

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Then I chucked them in the freezer. And when they were done they tasted amazing.

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I’m going to pull one out in the morning when the sun is up and add in a beautiful finished shot below, I promise. Stay tuned!

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Made for Love, with Love

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On Friday, my beautiful amazing baby sister-in-law Mags married the Dutchman, AKA The Nicest Man Alive and the whole day was absolutely delightful. You may remember that last year I made some cupcakes for Mags’ birthday. Well she liked them so much she’s been talking about them ever since and asked me to make them for her wedding – I was more than happy to oblige. We all knew that the results wouldn’t be picture perfect but when things taste absolutely amazing nobody really cares. And these were a big hit.

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I leave the wedding photography to the professionals, but I snapped this one on my phone so you could share in the joy of the day – what a beautiful happy couple!

A few tips if you ever want to take on one of these projects for yourself: preparation is key. Anything that can be made ahead of time should be done to give you plenty of time to spare. That meant that the Pie and I sat down for three hours one night and chocolate-dipped over 120 individual maraschino cherries, but that was fine. It was a good togetherness moment. Our marriage became stronger as a result of our struggle.

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Icings and ganaches can also be made a few days in advance and kept in the fridge. Even the cupcakes can be made up to two or three days beforehand. Just make sure that if this is the case you use a recipe that contains a good amount of fat to keep them moist, like sour cream or butter. When you’re ready to assemble make sure your icings and ganaches are at room temperature and everything is super handy for you to reach when you need it.

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I also made a wee cake topper for Mags and the Dutchman to cut at the reception, and to match the glittery winter theme I added edible pearls for gloss.

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And this cool sparkly snow-like sugar.

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When you’re putting together 120 cupcakes, do things in stages. That means do all the ganache layers first, for example, before working on piping on the icing.

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Then when you’re doing the icing you can just power through and do it all in one fluid movement.

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These plastic carrying containers saved my life this time around. They cost me $6.25 each at the cake store but they are worth their weight in gold. Though they’re not very heavy. So they’re probably worth about $6.25 in gold.

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I sprinkled on some pearls and snow on the cupcakes as well to match the topper.

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And the finished arrangement, using the cupcake stands I made this summer. Apparently as people were leaving they searched for carry-out cases to try to steal as many as they could!

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