Kinda Mushy

The past year has been somewhat of a struggle for me and my beau. We moved to the big city (both being small town folk) with big dreams and even bigger expectations. It’s been a whirlwind of fun and delight, but this whole ‘recession recovery’ thing was a little difficult on the both of us. We graduated with our shiny new diplomas and we were ready to take on a career… well kinda. Cause you see, sometimes you think you’re qualified, and that your quirky sense of humour will get you real far, and sometimes it helps… but for the most part that stupid piece of paper (a.k.a. a resume) is your lifeline and well, mine was pretty dinky (his was too, kinda, but mine was worse) I finally got a job in marketing and he did some film work and even dabbled in the art of poutine creation, but it just wasn’t enough to pay the bills.
What I’m getting at is, the other day my lover landed an amazing gig at a totally cool production company. Words cannot express how proud I am of the guy (also jealous) – he’s a talented, spunky red-head and finally his efforts and character have been acknowledged! Our financial struggles shall be halted in their tracks! We shall overcome them and press through and have money to spend on awesome things like craft supplies, luchador masks, too many DVD’s, tattoos and dinner reservations (oh! And baking stuff!) And this post is for my lover, because he’s pretty special to me and we’ve spent the past 5 years fighting crime together. His favourite treat ever is chocolate macaroons and I really owe him – this is long overdue. I promise to make him macaroons frequently until we’re old and wrinkly.

Maybe you can make these for your special someone – sometimes we call them macaroons, other times they’re fiddle diddles, to a passerby they may look like cow patties, but here’s my no-bake, awesome recipe. I don’t understand how something so simple can make a man so happy:

Makes about 18 macaroons

1/2 cup butter or margarine
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup milk
6 tablespoons cocoa powder (unsweetened)
3 cups quick cooking oats
1 cup shredded coconut
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
(you may also add a 1/2 cup of nuts, if desired!)

Measure butter, milk and sugar into a medium saucepan. Heat on medium, stirring often, until mixture just begins to boil. Remove from stove to hot pad. Add in remaining ingredients and mix until well combined. Using an ice cream scoop (or spoon depending in desired size) drop onto parchment covered tray or baking sheet. Cool completely and store in airtight container – we enjoy this right from the freezer… something about them being cold is just so much awesome-r.

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Tart Time

So I guess every baker has a story of how they got into the craft. Mine involves a short and stout woman, known as ‘Nan’. She’s one of the most delightful and wonderful women in my life – a true inspiration and talented baker. She’ll change your life with one of her butter tarts, and make your waist slightly rounder with her catch phrase “Are you sure that’s enough butter?” And aside from the fact that she’s an extremely hard worker, and awesome baker, she’s hilarious. I can’t get enough of the woman – she’s a sweet Irish lady with too many dirty jokes.
So butter tarts are her ‘thing’. When I was about 14, my Nan insisted that I come visit her for a weekend to learn the trade – the pastry secrets, I happily obliged. Before we began she gave me a pen and paper, asking that I write the recipe down and keep it in a safe spot… I guess you could say I kind of did that. I hid the damn recipe so well I can’t find it, so the other night when I decided to bake a batch, I made a quick phone call (which actually always turns into quite a lengthy conversation) to my Nan, to spill the secrets… this time I typed out the recipe. Excitingly enough, I found out she updated her filling recipe with a new ‘secret ingredient’ which I can honestly say, makes for a richer and lovelier tart.
So first things first, the pastry. I am NO pastry expert… I hardly make the stuff and this is the second time (on my own) that I have ever made butter tarts. It ain’t easy, I tell ya, but I did it, and it worked out pretty good. I use Tenderflake for my pastry cause that’s what Nan uses and I follow the recipe on the box, but I also add sometime special too, which I cannot disclose at this current time. Unfortunately I didn’t have a cutter/cup that was large enough for the tart pans, so they ended up being kind of ‘short’ which interfered with pastry to filling ratio. I made two types: plain and pecan… I have this thing against raisin butter tarts. I also cut the pastry pretty thick. I guess what it comes down to is, I need to make butter tarts more often… the only way to perfect my skillz is to keep makin’ em. My oven is pretty temperamental so baking pastry can be somewhat daunting, but a few batches later and I can foresee much prettier and tastier results. The Lawson’s have a particular way of eating butter tarts – it starts with two tarts, a bowl of ice cream and some maple syrup – place warmed tarts and maple syrup atop the bowl of ice cream and consume immediately (Warning: This could result in a sugar coma) And as much as I would love to share this family secret recipe, I simply cannot… Joy of Baking does have a very similar one though, which can be found here: http://www.joyofbaking.com/ButterTarts.html

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Oreo Cupcakes


Just like you possibly do, I often bookmark oodles of sites with yummy recipes, only to be forever forgotten… Sometimes my baking intentions exceed realistic expectation, but every now and then I stumble across a recipe that is immediately printed and stored in safe spot. Once I have the time and resources to follow through, it is baked and devoured. I guess what stole my heart for these cookies ‘n cream cupcakes was the half Oreo cookie that was placed in each liner before it was filled with the chunky Oreo cookie batter.


The end result for these cupcakes was pretty good. I may have over mixed them slightly, resulting in a denser cake, but it stood up nicely to the big chunks of cookie. The icing was cream cheese based, and it was a perfect compliment to the cake – overall it tasted like a giant Oreo disguised in cupcake form, only better. And then it comes time to decorate and quite honestly the possibilities are endless, but I used mini Oreos and some of the crumbs – ultimate confirmation of the cupcakes flavour. I recommend baking these – even if you’re not the biggest Oreo fan, I received a swarm of compliments – a man I hardly know confessed his love for me because of these cupcakes… sugary bogus infatuation.
Recipe can be found here: http://annies-eats.com/2010/06/02/cookies-and-cream-cupcakes/

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Space Cakes Vs. Van Bakes – so in the beginning I called this blog ‘Space Cakes’ but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was being greedy and irrelevant. I just wanted to throw two of my favourite words together, while making little to no sense in the process. So I guess space cake is another word for a baked good containing illegal substances but I just love space, so I tried my damnest to incorporate it into the blog. Things just didn’t work.
Also, for another reason I cannot quite recall, I decided to use ‘Van Bakes’ for my wordpress account AND my email, so why not just use ONE synchronized message, instead of confusing my visitors (or lack there of – sometimes I feel that I’m the only soul that reads this blogs, and that’s my fault entirely) Plus it’s simpler – I am Van and I bake, and I don’t like making things complicated. So please be advised that until I can screw my head on straight, this page may be under construction. To be entirely honestly, over the next little while I’ll be working on a legit new website… new game, new name!

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Awhile back I posted a blog that discussed a few locale bakeries, one of these was Jedd’s Frozen Custard Patisserie Café. Upon my first visit, I sampled a small taste of custard and purchased a few pastries, this time I decided to go back with a different motive – one that involved frozen custard. Some fellow employees and I opted to have our weekly status meeting at a remote location, and we were all craving something sweet, and well, we’ve been meaning to get frozen custard for the past month – I mean that too, we try to plan this every week and we fail. But no more procrastination because finally we made the trek and without hesitation, I ordered a single scoop of chocolate frozen custard.

Normally I don’t dedicate an entire post to ONE treat, especially one I didn’t make myself, but this is something special. I’ve had a fair bit of ice cream in my lifetime – I’ve made the stuff, I’ve invested in the fancy expensive kinds, I’ve stained my favourite clothing… I know my shit when it comes to this frozen treat because it’s one of my favourites. Aside from the fact that it sometimes hurts my insides, it’s worth it in the end… And then there’s gelato, which is a whole ‘notha story. I love the stuff, it’s damn good – but how did Jedd’s stand up to the other two frozen delights? It kicked their asses… it gave them both bloody noses and bruised eyes, because nothing, and I mean NOTHING, compares to Jedd’s. How did I go this long without tasting frozen custard!? WHAT IS FROZEN CUSTARD!? Well I know it’s made with some egg yolks and cream and sugar, but these simple ingredients come together for a final product of perfection. The texture is unlike anything – light as air, but rich and perfectly satisfying. I literally phased out completely from this meeting because I was in heaven and then I ate it all and I felt this giant hole in my heart… so I licked the bowl clean. Best part about this? I don’t have a stomach ache and I live about a 10 minute walk to this place. And now I’m dreaming up these amazing concoctions in my head – Jedd’s chocolate frozen custard with fresh raspberries!? Oh my holy crap, I must, I must, I must. If you live in or around Toronto, you need to plan your visit ASAP. And sometimes you can even find Jedd hanging around – and he’s a pretty friendly man… I will be back and I also need to try more pastries, the chocolate ‘Diva’ tart looks divine. If you’re curious about my little illustration above – my dearest boyfriend, Josh did that. Maybe a tad bit violent, but just in case you’re wondering, the Jedd’s cup was victorious in this particular battle – he did have a chainsaw after all.

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First order of business, this photo is pretty old… from college, but it sums up the following: I have barely been able to contain my excitement. Tonight marks the beginning of a journey – one that involves hard work, dedication and lots of sweets. At 6:30 this evening, I will trek downtown Toronto and attend an information session at George Brown, more specifically, for their baking arts program. You know what this means!? I get to go back to school… for baking! It’s been a long time coming, and don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t for a second reconsider my initial post secondary experience. I took advertising at Sheridan and the knowledge and experience I received in those 3 years was extremely valuable and essential for my future endeavors. Because not only will I know how to bake like a champ, but I can also sell myself during the process. Why specialize in one industry, when I can combine two? I’m a package deal, baby.

So in the beginning I’ll take things slow – one class per week at night for the next three months. This is an introduction – a prerequisite for the rest of the course, but once this baby is complete, I get to start taking specialized classes for breads, chocolate, pastries, etc. If there’s one thing I love its learning – it’s infinite and keeps me on my toes. I want to take in as much as possible because my brain is spongy and ultra absorbent. While I’m there, I’ll get a chance to work in professional kitchens with professionals! So exciting and awesome. So what do I want out of this? Besides expanding my skill set, I get to learn the ‘method’. I can already predict my impatience settling in – I’ll straight up confess that I’m guilty of not measuring my ingredients perfectly… and sometimes I take short cuts… so it’s time to learn how to do things the right way. At the same time I’m a biased baker – I only tackle projects that appeal to me… and I definitely need to brush up on pastry making abilities.

So I guess that means my blog will have some new exciting bits of info – any helpful pointers from baking class, shall be shared… along with my general chit chat about the overall experience. I can’t wait to get into a kitchen, meet my fellow classmates and even more exciting, my professors. Wish me luck!

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Give me any occasion and I will find an excuse to bake for it – it’s just in my nature to find reasons to be in the kitchen, especially during my friend’s birthdays. I feel like it’s expected now, my typical starter question of, “What’s your favourite dessert/flavour in the entire universe!?” And it’s not typical that I bake exactly what they want, but I like to have a general idea of preference and then I let the imagination wonder. Well it was about time I got around to making whoopie pies because there is quite a bit of hype surrounding them (more so in the states) but Bakerella posted a recipe/photo of a chocolate peanut butter variation and I knew that I couldn’t pass this one up. So rather than use my Friday evening to relax or head to the bar for some liquid fun, I excitedly put on my favourite apron and got to work.

The whoopie pies were easy to make – I was pleasantly surprised when I dolloped the thick batter onto my baking sheets and they came out almost perfectly round. And the hint of salt in the frosting makes the biggest difference, seriously, I could taste the slight saltiness and I really, really liked it. I had been debating on whether or not to buy the whoopie pie cookbook, but that will come at a later date, when my bank account balance is slightly steeper. TO make things a little more festive (since these were for a birthday!) I spun them in different kinds of sprinkles and mini chocolate chips and Bakerella’s suggestion of peanut butter chips. In the end I was rather satisfied, and you can bet I’ll be making more of these tasty little suckers.

My next feat was another one of Bakerella’s specialties – oreo truffles. Seriously the easiest thing ever, but oh-so pretty to look at and even tastier to eat. I can assume these wouldn’t stay around long… I had one and then immediately boxed them up as a gift. The decorating possibilities are endless, which is perhaps, why I adore these little guys so much. I am officially adding these to my roster of Christmas treats because man, they really pack a punch! (a really delicious punch)

Lastly, what a better way to end the weekend than a family feast. It was really just a bunch of close friends, but basically family, whatever… anyways it had been raining ALL day, I’m talking torrential downpour, so when things let up we headed to gather some groceries. By the time we were done, the rain was back so I made the most of the situation and jumped in every puddle on the way home, to spite the rain gods (TAKE THAT) I made an amazing lettuce-free greek salad, complete with heavenly chunks of feta (me + feta = love) twice baked potatoes and Cajun chicken. We wrapped up the meal with an odd treat… Pumpkin Pie Soda. We all shared a bottle of the pumpkin brew and it… tasted like pumpkin pie!!! A really unique flavour… not something I would enjoy often but it’s fun to test out these things just for the sake of it. I happened to purchase this at McEwen grocery store and I’m sure glad I did.

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