A 3rd Birthday for Baby

I guess I shouldnt call her a baby anymore as she just turned three, but I can’t help it! I still see remnants of her baby fat and chubby cheeks and yet she’s old enough to ask for a Belle-themed birthday party!  It’s bittersweet for sure.

I figured since this was her first real birthday party, we could have some of her close friends over and have a small, intimate party.  The challenge with daycare and commuting is that my schedule never overlaps other parents so while my daughter talks about her friends, I never have occasion to have my path cross with any of her friends parents.  Birthday parties are really a good way to remedy that.

I don’t know where my daughter got an idea for a Belle birthday party, but she wanted it.  I’m not a big fan of character parties so I was trying to think of the best way to accomplish this theme without having Disney paraphernalia everywhere.  I settled on a subtle Belle theme using yellow, gold and white with cupcakes alluding to the movie.

I found this cute cupcake idea on pinterst.  Unfortunately, the Wilton roses that were recommended for this cupcake had reviews that all agreed they tasted terrible.  I was talking to my mom on the phone about this one day and she decided she wanted to make icing roses for the cupcakes and FedEx then to me! Amazing!  I made a simple lemon cupcake recipe with a the buttercream frosting I have blogged about before.

For decorations, I stuck to a simple color scheme of white and gold throughout.  I think it turned out very nice and the kids had a great time!  In my next post I’ll talk about the craft all the kiddies got to make.  Until then, a very happy birthday to my littlest munchkin!

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Scone Trial

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My previous post touched on my breakfast ritual with my daughters.  Luckily, one of the coffee shops in town brings a taste of the city to its patrons, having pastries from Balthazar’s delivered to their shop on a daily basis.  A particular favorite of mine is the cranberry scone.  These are the perfect combination of buttery, slightly sweet from the cranberry and sprinkle of sugar crystals on top, and surprisingly, there is no orange zest as you typically find with any baked good containing cranberries.

Well, I wasn’t lucky enough to find the recipe for these online, so I turned to the Ina Garten as a base recipe to start from.  One good thing about making these, I finally used my stand mixer, that has been sitting on my counter accumulating dust for years.  This wonderful piece of machinery made everything incredibly easy.  My daughters were fascinated with seeing the stand mixer work as well as how easy it was to operate.

While this recipe was good, it wasn’t of the same quality of Balthazar’s.  I think that in order to get there, it needs more butter, just a small twist of sugar, and I did omit the orange zest as well.  I did love that the egg wash with the sugar crystals really made these scones look amazingly delicious.  My youngest daughter ate a whole scone for herself once these came out of the oven.  It was quite amazing because they were each almost the size of her face!  While not what I was aiming for, they were still quite delicious!

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Bakery Blues

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One of my main sorrows in leaving the city is the lack of a good sit-down bakery to enjoy delicious baked goods for breakfast (I’m not talking about cupcakes).  Ever since our first daughter was born, we made a ritual of going out to breakfast on the week-ends.  I would bring my daughter to one of the various coffee/ bakery shops around us and we would enjoy some quality mommy-daughter time.  It was always such a pleasant way to begin the week-end.  In moving to the suburbs, I had a hard time finding the perfect breakfast spot that had the ambiance and the the quality of baked goods.  One of our favorite places to frequent in Brooklyn was a wonderful little bakery called Blue Sky Bakery.  They make the most delicious muffins.  All of them are fresh-made daily and incorporate seasonal ingredients, such as fresh pumpkin or apple in the fall, peaches in the summer, and so on.  On any given day, they have at least 10 varieties to choose from.  My daughter loved to eat all of the fruit out of my muffins and we thoroughly enjoyed the varieties offered each day.

I wondered if I could find the recipe for these muffins, as the shop only had two base recipes, one bran and one non-bran, with different fruit mixtures for variety.  I was in luck and thank you Google for helping me find it!  These are seriously the best bran muffins I have had and I was so excited to find the recipe out there.  I found out that it was published in a cookbook “Table of Contents“.  You can use any combination of fruit in these muffins and they are always amazing.  I made these as my two year old sat on the kitchen counter watching me create these wonders and when they were done, she dug in, eating all the fruit out of the center, just like her sister used to do.  It’s like they’re related!  You should try these muffins out.  Not too sweet, very easy and fast, extremely delicious!

Blue Sky Bakery Bran Muffin (makes 2 dozen)

  • 2 and 2/3 c buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 c vegetable oil
  • 3 c. wheat bran
  • 2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tbsp baking soda
  • 1/2 c. dark brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 tsp granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cup fruit (I used raspberries and peaches)

Preheat oven to 425 and coat muffin tin with butter or cooking spray.

Mix buttermilk, eggs and oil in a medium bowl.

In seperate bowl combine wheat bran, flour, baking powder, baking soda, brown sugar and salt.

Pour wet mixture into dry one and mix until just combined.

Place about 2 tbsp of batter in each muffin tin (the batter will expand to fill about 1/2 the cup).  Place a generous layer of fruit  (about 2 heaping teaspoons) into each cup.  Measure 2 tsp of the sugar in a small bowl, taking pinches with your fingers, sprinkle the sugar over the fruit.  Divide remaining batter evenly among the muffin cups.  Place remaining 2 tspn of sugar into bowl and pinch and sprinkle the sugar over the top!

Bake for 5 minutes.  Rotate muffin tins front to bake to ensure even cooking and bake for another 11-13 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean or with just a few moist crumbs sticking to it.  Do NOT overbake.

Cook on wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove muffins from tin.

 

Holiday Cheer to Share

It’s the most wonderful time of the year again!  I love the holidays and the festive nature.  Seeing all the decorations, hearing the wood crackle as you build a fire, smelling the aromas of cinnamon and gingerbread, these are all things I associate with the holidays.  I can’t believe the year has flown by so quickly and we are here once again!

This year I (finally) started thinking of holiday gifts far enough in advance to plan for something other than a gift card for my children’s teachers.  I trolled ideas on pinterest and thought of what gifts both my girls could help make.  I settled on homemade hot chocoate mix with individualized marshmallows.  I saw a pin of marshmallows decorated using food coloring pens that I thought would be fun for the girls to make. 

I ordered some small metal tins on Amazon,  found some circular holiday stickers for the lids,  and used a 2.5″ circular punch to make an instructon label to fix to the back. This is the result. 

The girls had a great time decorating the marshmallows and helping me make the cocoa mix.  I ended up pre-mixing sugar with Ghiradelli cocoa powder and then packaging them into the tins, with the help of my eldest.  I got small 4″ clear cookie bags for the marshallows and found a great 6″ striped holiday cookie bag for the overall package.  I hope the teachers and care providers like these handmade gifts!

What are you making for the holidays?

The Second is 2!

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So it’s happened.  My baby turned two.  When did this happen?  I can hardly believe that time has flown so quickly!  I don’t know if it’s because I’m so tired these days or if life is just too full of things to do, but having to even consider planning a birthday party for my daughter seemed beyond me at this point.  Planning playdates for two children seems to so difficult and this seems to be one of my shortcoming as a parent.  I look for the easy playdate where friends have more than one kid so that all the children can keep each other occupied.  Is that terrible of me?  Don’t lie, I’m sure I’m not the only one!

I am glad to say that my second daughter is quite gregarious and will run around to almost everyone after she has acclimated and flirt outrageously with them.  For this I am very grateful that she finds her happiness instead of having to have someone define it for her.

Well, I may not have planned a big party for her, but I did get my act together enough to make her cupcakes to bring to school as well as have a small gathering with family to celebrate.  For her cupcakes, I opted to make a lemon cupcake with a lemon buttercream frosting.  I have made these before for my first daughter’s first birthday, noted here.  However, instead of mini-cupcakes, I opted for large ones.  The recipe will make about 16 large cupcakes.  I used the buttercream frosting here and added half a lemon with half a lemon’s zest.  It turned out quite nice, if I do say so myself!  I also opted to use a pre-made candy flower by Wilton’s, which I got from Michael’s.

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When my eldest daughter learned that I was going to be making cupcakes she insisted on helping.  It was quite hilarious how she helped me with the icing.  For every cupcake iced and flower she placed, she would then help herself to a small taste of icing.  And with each taste, she would exclaim “I love helping you make cupcakes mommy!  Mmmm!!!”  What a comedian!  Although, I must say, she was surprisingly exact in measuring the perfect amount of batter needed for cupcakes.  I may have to employ her services in the future.  Haha!

Anyways, the cupcakes were quite delicious and my youngest daughter was quite enthusiastic about the blowing out of the candles.  She actually blew the candle out too quickly the first time, requiring us to re-light them before we finished singing happy birthday.  And, she was singing happy birthday to herself for about 3 weeks straight. What a great age this is, toddlers are like little comedians!  Happy birthday my wonderful, funny, intelligent and daring girl!

A Royal Endeavor

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If you saw my last post, you got a peek of the castle cake I made for my daughter for her 5th birthday party.  I’m going to try and describe my step-by-step on how I created this with things I learned while making this.  I used buttercream instead of fondant because I’m not a huge fan of the taste of fondant.

Step 1: The Base

I used (2) layers of 8″ round vanilla cake for the bottom and (2) layers of 6″ round vanilla cake for the top.  I made a double recipe of buttercream frosting, which was able to assemble the whole cake, all layers, and provide a crumb layer for the base.  Recipe below:

Buttercream frosting:

1 Cup butter, softened

4 Cups confectioners sugar, sifted

2 tsp vanilla

4 T milk

Cream all ingredients together.

Make sure before assembly that all cake layers are cooled and the tops are cut so that they are all flat. Between the bottom 8″ round layers and the 6″ top layers, I put a 6″ round cardboard layer wrapped in foil and supported by barbeque skewers so that the weight would not crush the center of the cake.

Step 2: Turrets

I ended up using two types of ice cream cones.  The pointy cones were the tops of the turrets and the tower portion were a combination of the flat sugar cones.  With the pointy cones, I made a royal icing recipe, watered down, and spread it onto the cone.  Then I covered it with rainbow sprinkles and set them on wax paper to set.

I didn’t need anything special for the individual towers.  I simply attached a point cone to a flat cone using frosting first, let it set, then attached that with frosting to the base cone turned upside down.  For the top of the cake, I use a barbeque skewer for the tallest turret that went through the cake and both cones (plus frosting) to provide more stability.

For the top turrets, I wanted to have a hierarchy of the towers so I ended up cutting of the base of two of the flat cones so that you would see the gradual rise of turrets.  I think that the effect turned out quite nice.

Step 3: Assembly

I have never been able to get a really smooth buttercream iced cake.  However, after a lot of research, I found that in order to accomplish this, you ice the whole cake, and then you use a cake scraper, heated with hot water and wiped clean, and run this around the perimeter of the cake.  As you do this, the heat will soften the butter in the icing and give you a perfectly smooth base layer.  It was quite amazing and I will definitely use this method again.

Step 4: Decoration

I basically made this up as I went along.  I cut a graham cracker for the door and then I just iced away.  I thought the top would look more like vines climbing up a tower.  I think though that the main attraction was the turrets so I didn’t want to make it too busy.  I ended up with seven turrets in total since there were seven girls at the party.

This was by far my most ambitious cake challenge yet, especially since I am by no means a professional cake decorator.  I did have a lot of fun though, and I definitely learned a lot.  What was the craziest cake you ever made?

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And Now We Are 5!

I figured that turning five years old was the next big milestone birthday after turning one.  Kindergarten!  Losing teeth!  Summer Camp!  The list goes on and on.  In recognition of this, I wanted to celebrate an extra special birthday for my eldest daughter.  I asked her what theme she wanted and she said she wanted a Queen themed birthday party… not a far cry from the princess party she wanted last year.  And, she wanted a cake, not cupcakes.  Similar to last year, I gave her the choice of inviting six friends to attend to keep it small.

This year her birthday party ended up being the day before Easter, so it was almost a no-brainer to have an Easter Egg Hunt as one of the activities.  After a lot of thought, I ended up deciding on a DIY color-me-mine activity that I’ll post about later. Decorations this year followed a pink, orange, yellow and white theme and I decided to use a combination of tissue paper globes, DIY circle bunting, crepe paper streamers and helium balloons.  Altogether it ended up having a very nice spatial feeling that photos can never quite capture.  However, the main focus for me this year ended up being the cake.

I’m not a big cake decorator.  I have never taken classes.  The only thing I know about making cakes was watching my mom make amazing cakes as a child.  She took classes on cake decorating and learned how to make all sorts of beautiful flowers with icing.  She taught me how to assemble a cake and ice it.  I learned about decorating through watching.  We always had the most amazing cakes as children, all made out of my mom’s imagination.  I remember, as a child, running downstairs in the morning for the days leading up to my or my brothers’ birthdays, to peek into the refrigerator and see what progress my mom made on the wonderful cake she made for each of her children each year.  It was a magical feeling and built up the anticipation for the big day.

So.  Queen party. Cake. Castle cake!  I immediately looked to Pinterest and found some really great ideas.  There are any number of ways to make a cake. I’ll post later about more details on how I constructed this.  Suffice to say, this took me about a week to make since I had such limited time to dedicate to it. However, the effect was wonderful and the delight and joy that I saw on my daughter’s face as well as the faces of her friends was well worth the time and effort.

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Happy birthday my big girl, don’t grow up too fast!