Floating Citronella Candles

Floating Citronella Candles 17Spending time outdoors in the summer is always an opportunity for a good time, but dealing with the bugs that also want to spend some quality time with you is less good. And you can get giant buckets of citronella candles and citronella torches and all that stuff, but they lack a bit of elegance. So for this upcoming shindig I’ve got going on, I thought I’d add a little something fancy to my bug repellent and float some citronella candles in glass containers filled with water and greenery. I had trouble finding floating citronella candles, however, so I decided to make my own, and here’s how I did it. Floating Citronella Candles 13

The most important thing you need is citronella essential oil. Now, a lot of people find the scent to be a little off-putting, so I decided to add in some clove oil as well to mellow it out. Cloves are also a very good bug repellent.

Floating Citronella Candles 4And you need some wax. I picked soy wax for this project, because it has a lower melting point and tends to throw scent a little better than paraffin or beeswax (which of course has its own scent). Floating Citronella Candles 6

You also need some wee containers. I have these miniature tart tins that I picked up from Value Village a million years ago. I have never used them for tarts but they’re handy for lots of other things.

Floating Citronella Candles 1If you don’t happen to have miniature tart tins, a set of silicone muffin cups (or a silicone tray of any sort with small depressions in it) will also work quite well. Floating Citronella Candles 7

You’ll also need some wicks, which you can purchase, or you can make your own, which is what I did.

Floating Citronella Candles 8Chuck your wax into the top of a double boiler and set that to melting over medium-low heat. Remember that if you use flaked wax, as I did here, that the melted volume will be about half what the solid volume is. Add minimum 3 drops citronella essential oil per cup of wax, and use half the amount of any additional scent. Once it’s all melted, let it cool for a little bit before pouring it. Floating Citronella Candles 5
While that was melting and cooling, I sat down with my wicks and some hot glue.

Floating Citronella Candles 2Because my wicks don’t have those nifty metal bases, I had to attach them to the bottom of the containers I was using. Don’t use too much glue – you actually want this stuff to come off. Floating Citronella Candles 9

I didn’t bother doing this for the silicone ones, but the metal dishes I rubbed with petroleum jelly to ensure that the candle would come out again when it was done.

Floating Citronella Candles 10Then I carefully filled each container. I actually used one of the empty silicone muffin cups as a scoop and it worked really well. Floating Citronella Candles 11

I used straws and pens to hold up the wicks that were determined to droop.

Floating Citronella Candles 12Then I forced myself not to touch them for like AN HOUR. We had Gren’s sister Bakhita staying with us for the weekend and neither dog would come near me because I stank of citronella. Floating Citronella Candles 14

Once they were solid and cool I carefully popped them out of their containers. For the metal ones I wiggled them loose on the sides first, then turned them upside down and gave them a whack with a small hammer, and then it was easy to pull them out by the wicks.

Floating Citronella Candles 15I’m storing them until the shindig but here you can see a sample of my “vision” for how I’m going to set them up. Floating Citronella Candles 16

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Aromatic Fire Starters

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These easy peasy lemon squeezy fire starters are a perfect stocking stuffer for anyone who loves to curl up in front of a nice wood fire on a cold evening. They’re great for avid campers or armchair bookworms alike, and don’t contain any of the scary chemicals you find in a lot of commercial fire starters. And you can make them as cutesy as you like. So I’m going full cutesy.

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Now, the whole point of a fire starter is that it keeps burning long enough to get the larger pieces of wood in your fire going. For that, it’s handy to have some sort of wick/candle thing going on. So we’re going to start by making our own wicks. Now that I know how to do this I’m never buying pre-made wicks from the store ever again. All you need is water, borax, salt, and cotton string. I’m going to guess that most of you have those on hand. You can pick up borax from the cleaning aisle of your grocery store. It’s a very handy item.

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Anyone else find it super meta that the Borax girl is holding a box with a picture of herself on it, holding a box with a picture of herself on it … ?

Dissolve 4 tablespoons borax and 2 tablespoons salt in 1 1/2 cups warm water. Or dissolve it as much as you can. Mine didn’t dissolve all the way.

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Now cut a length of cotton string (butcher’s twine, anything like that). I decided seeing as I had the solution going I’d make a lot of wicks ahead of time for future use.

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Submerge the string in the solution and leave it overnight. Mine started to grow a few crystals as the supersaturated solution cooled. SCIENCE. The next day, hang the wet string to dry completely.

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Now all you need to do is melt some paraffin wax, which you can find in the canning aisle of the grocery or hardware store. You *could* use beeswax for this project but I think it’s a little pricey for something you’re going to chuck in a fire.

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Melt the wax in a double boiler or heatproof bowl suspended over simmering water.

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Dip your borax string in the wax two or three times and let it harden between dippings.  Tada. You have made wicks.

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Keep that melted wax going – make sure to check your water periodically to make sure it doesn’t boil away, because that happens and it’s not very good for your pot.

Line a muffin tin with cupcake cups. I picked owls because they’re all woodsy and stuff. And hella cute.

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And I’ve been saving my dryer lint for like forever. It’s full of dog hair, which is also flammable. Yay.

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So I put some dryer lint in the bottom of each cup, together with half a cinnamon stick, a sprig of fresh rosemary, and a dried bay leaf.

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Then I stuck the wick in and added a bit of melted wax, just to get the wick positioned where I wanted it. The wick doesn’t have to be centred in this thing – this is not a candle – it just needs to be sticking up and out of the cup.

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Then I added in enough wax to mostly fill the cup. Don’t worry about submerging all the tidbits inside. They add visual interest.

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Let the wax set for several hours. Once it starts to develop a skin on top like this you can start moving things around in the cups if you can’t leave well enough alone or if the wicks fall down.

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Set the finished fire starters on your mantle in a pretty bowl.

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Or hand them out in matching gift bags to the pyromaniacs in your life.

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Fudgy Rocky Road Squares

Ooey, gooey, crispy and crunchy, these easy-peasy squares came out of Martha Stewart’s Every Day Food magazine, to which I am an ardent subscriber.

They don’t require a whole lot of baking, and if you’re feeling super lazy you could get away with not baking at all, so that’s always a bonus.  All you need are five ingredients: graham crackers (whole), almonds, marshmallow fluff, chocolate chips, and condensed milk.  Simple.Preheat your oven to 375°F.

Line the bottom of a 9″ x 13″ baking dish with graham crackers.  Break them if you have to in order to get them to fit.  Bake them until the crackers are lightly toasted and fragrant, probably about 8 minutes.

While that’s going on, coarsely chop up 1 1/2 cups almonds.  Sprinkle the almonds evenly over the toasted graham while it’s still warm.

Dollop on about 1 cup marshmallow fluff in large spoonfuls.  Allow it to soften and spread by itself.

In a double boiler or heatproof bowl set over simmering water, combine 1 12oz bag chocolate chips and 1 14oz can condensed milk. I’m pretty sure you need to use chocolate chips here instead of baking chocolate simply because of the unique physical properties of chocolate chips. 

Cook, stirring once in a while, until the chocolate is all melted and everything is smooth.

Work quickly, before the chocolate has a chance to thicken, and pour it over the marshmallow fluff.

Use a thin-bladed knife to swirl the marshmallow and the chocolate together. 

Refrigerate until set, about an hour, then cut into squares and serve. 

Keep them wrapped up tight in the refrigerator when you’re not chowing down.

Fix This Recipe! (Gooey Caramel Pecan Squares)

When I’m arriving at an interview for my research, I like to bring the participant a little something that I made as a thanks for their time.  It’s kind of a rule for me.  I made the following recipe for a family I interviewed a couple of weekends ago and I was disappointed at how it turned out — I’d appreciate your views on what you think went wrong and how we could make this a super awesome dessert.  In light of this being Groundhog Day, I would say this recipe saw its shadow and needs a do-over.

I pulled this out of Esther Brody’s The 250 Best Brownies Bars & Squares, which has also yielded the no-bake peanut butter crunchy squares and the extreme comfort brownies.  So I figured this would be another excellent concoction.  I followed the recipe exactly, with the exception of adding salt, which I never do anyway.  And I doubled the recipe, of course.  Something, however, went horribly, horribly wrong …

Preheat your oven to 425°F and line an 8″ square cake pan with foil, then spray the foil with cooking spray or grease with butter.  I used spray.

For the Base:

In a bowl, mix together 1 cup all-purpose flour and 1/4 cup granulated sugar.

Using your handy-dandy pastry blender (or two knives), cut 6 tablespoons cold butter into the mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs.

One tablespoon at a time, sprinkle 3 tablespoons ice water over the mixture, mixing lightly after each addition.  The dough should be just moist enough to hold together at this point.

I found I had to add more water in order to get the dough to stick together, probably about double the amount.

Press the dough evenly into your prepared pan.

Bake it in your oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown, then place on a rack to cool completely.  When I pulled mine out of the oven it was bubbling with butter and not golden at all.  I think I would perhaps use less butter.  Suggestions?

For the Filling:

In a saucepan over high heat, melt together 3 tablespoons butter, 1/3 cup light corn syrup, 1 1/3 cups packed brown sugar, 1/2 cup whipping cream, and 1 teaspoon white vinegar.  Bring the goo to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla until the bubbling stops (bet you didn’t know it would bubble when you added vanilla, did you?)

Pour the filling over the cooled base (I let the filling cool a bit first, as it was rather molten).

Sprinkle the top with 3/4 cup toasted pecans and set aside to cool.

For the Topping:

In a double boiler or bowl set over a pot of simmering water, melt 3 oz semi-sweet chocolate and stir until smooth.  Let cool very slightly and then drizzle over the pecans.  Chill until the chocolate is set.

Using the foil as a handle, transfer your chilled squares to a cutting board and cut into squares.  My problem here?  The darned caramel didn’t set.  It got thicker, sure, but still remained steadfastly liquid.  What did I do wrong?

The bottom was pretty rubbery, too, which made eating this sweet confection impossible without a jackhammer, but it is definitely worth trying again, because while it didn’t work out the way I had anticipated, at least it wasn’t floor pizza.

Teacup Candles

This is a cute waste-not idea from Martha Stewart, but it’s been done by many others as well.  Teacups are ideal for this particular trick as they are already designed to withstand high temperatures, but you can use canning jars and other heat-safe containers as well.For my DIY Christmas I spent a lot of time scrounging second-hand stores for things I could use, and one day my mother happened upon a large quantity of beeswax sheets just there for the picking.

And yes, I picked.  I also picked up some old teacups and had some that were missing their saucers donated by my parents.

I had to buy some wicking from Michaels, and I found these handy wicks that were pre-waxed and already had the sustainer attached to the bottom.All I had to do was stand them upright in the cup and I was set.  Easy-peasy.

So you take your old candles, or your beeswax, or whatever, and you chuck it in a double boiler.  I used the equivalent of two sheets of beeswax for each cup.  Just tear ’em up and let them melt!Be patient.  It takes a little while.Make sure it’s completely melted before removing from heat.Now, very carefully, pour the hot wax into the cup. Leave that to sit a while. See that little blip of wax on the side of the cup?  Fuhgeddabowdit.  You can just chip it off once it’s set.If you return your waxy bowl to the still-hot pot you can wipe out the excess wax with a paper towel.This will mean you can experiment with other colours of wax as well.Once your candles are set and cooled you can trim the wicks to an appropriate length and give ’em all away!

Devil (‘s Food Cake) Made Me Do It

I have designated certain days in my life as chocolate cake days.  You know, those days where things tend to go wrong, and you end up with FLOOR PIZZAThat kind of day.  Normally I turn to the convenient comfort of cake-in-a-box (similar to garlic-in-a-jar but probably not quite as good for you), but recently I’ve been more interested in the process of making one from scratch, and doing it was way easier than I expected.  You, my lovely readers, get the benefit of my experience here.

Seeing as I had recently made an angel’s food cake, it was only fitting that I make a devil’s food cake as well.  You may not know this but traditionally the angel’s food and devil’s food were made concurrently, as the angel’s food used all the whites of the eggs and the devil’s food used all of the yolks.  Modern devil’s food cakes are much lighter affairs these days and generally use whole eggs (and less of them), but I think they would be a nice accompaniment to each other even without the egg symbiosis.  I still have the yolks from the other cake, but I’m going to make them into a masterful pudding sometime soon.

I got this recipe from David Lebovitz, and this is his American-in-Paris masterpiece.  I picked it because of his pictures of the icing on the cake.  I’m such a sucker for chocolate frosting, especially a ganache.  I also thought this recipe had an interesting improvement of putting coffee into the mix.  Coffee and chocolate are always a good combination.  His recipe calls for unsalted butter and salt, but I just use salted butter and I rarely add salt to anything.

Okie dokey (never really sure how to spell that).

Put your oven rack in the centre of the oven and preheat it to 350°F.

Butter up two 9″ x 2″ cake pans and place pretty circles of parchment paper (not to be mistaken with waxed paper, that would be a bad idea) in the bottom of each.  I used a compass because I have a good attention to detail (the Pie called me a nerd for doing so but HE’s the one who wrote a remote sensing exam today).  Put those pans somewhere and work on the other stuff.

Sift together 9 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 1/2 cups cake flour (I used all-purpose because that’s what I had), 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/4 teaspoon baking powder in a bowl and set that sucker aside for a spell.

In yer mixer, beat together 1/2 cup butter (or a stick, or 4 ounces) and 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar until creamy and fluffy and stuff.

Add 2 eggs, one at a time.  Don’t forget to scrape down the sides of the bowl on occasion.

Mix 1/2 cup strong coffee and 1/2 cup milk together in a measuring cup (or some other form of vessel).

Add half your dry mixture to the creamy butter goodness in the mixer and stir.  Don’t forget to keep scraping down the sides of the bowl.

Add in the milky coffee and stir that up.

Finally, add the second half of the dry mixture to your bowl and mix that up as well.

Divide your batter between the two buttered and papered pans, smooth it flat, and bake for 25 minutes.

You can tell it’s done when you stick a toothpick in the centre and it comes out clean.  I found that mine took an extra five minutes.  Make sure the cake is completely cool before you think about icing it.  When removing from the pan, run a spatula around the edge to loosen the sucker. Due to time constraints, I actually made up the cake part the day before, then wrapped it tightly in plastic over night, and made the frosting the next day.

While it’s cooling (or sitting politely in plastic wrap) you can make your lovely ganache frosting.

In a double boiler or a bowl set over (but not touching) a pot of barely simmering water, melt 10 oz good quality chocolate (your preference for the type) in 1/2 cup cream.  Just so you know, an ounce of chocolate is one of those squares in the boxes of baking chocolate.

Be very careful removing the top of your double boiler, as escaping steam can burn.

Remove from heat and cut in 3/4 cup butter.  Whisk until butter is thoroughly melted and mixed in and the mixture is smooth and velvety.  Let your ganache cool until it’s spreadable, which could take up to an hour (your cake will take probably this long to cool anyway).  Be sure to give the cooled ganache a good whisk to fluff it up a little.

Pop your cooled cakes out of the pans and remove the paper. 

Put one half of the cake on the plate of your choice.

I made another modification here.  I took the leftover frozen glaze from the previous angel’s food cake and decided to put it on this one as well.  It seemed fitting.  All I did was defrost the glaze and whisk it up a little.  It was slightly lumpy after its time in the freezer but it tasted the same.

Smooth a generous amount of your cooled ganache over the top of the first cake. 

Plop the second cake on top of that frosted layer and go nuts covering the whole thing with luscious ganache (or, in my case, glaze it first, then go nuts). 

The cake was very moist and I didn’t do a crumb coat, so you’ll notice a few crumbs here and there in the frosting. 

I also decided to jazz it up a little by drizzling melted 2 oz white chocolate over it.

As with most cakes, you should eat it the day it’s made but it’s pretty good the next day as well.  And the day after that, and the day after that.  Just keep it wrapped up.  Om nom indeed.