Tag Archives: gingerbread

Chocolate Hardware Tools and Book Signing in Brooklyn

Melissa Iwai 2016

Melissa Iwai 2016

Anne Rockwell, the author of Let’s Go to the Hardware Store, and I will be at BookCourt (163 Court St.) in Brooklyn tomorrow ¬†(March 26) at 2 pm to read and sign books. I will also talk a bit about how I created the artwork for the story.

I also made a bunch of treats to bring to the event!

First up are dark chocolate and milk chocolate tools. I bought a cute tool mold here to make the candies. I melted chocolate pieces in a heat proof bowl in the microwave at 30 second intervals (about 1.5 to 2 minutes). Mixed well to get rid of any lumps and poured into the molds.

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Getting the chocolate in the nooks and crannies takes a bit of time. You can nudge the chocolate with a spoon. Then, I wiped the edges clean with a damp paper towel and tapped the mold hard on the counter several times to get rid of any air bubbles. I found the dark chocolate to be easier to work with. Then I stuck it in the refrigerator to chill. The milk chocolate took longer to harden. Also, I discovered that the longer you let the chocolate chill, the easier it is to remove.

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To do so, you just turn the mold over and gently press on the shapes. The chocolate should snap out in one piece.

Finished tools -- they are so shiny!

Finished tools — they are so shiny!

I wrapped the chocolates in foil, and then printed out my illustrations of tools from the book and affixed them to the wrapped chocolates.

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For the toolbox, I made gingerbread. I used the same recipe I used for my Haunted Gingerbread House and Magna Tiles, but made one and half batches. I was inspired by this blogger’s cute tool box, but I made my own template, and I used a breadstick instead of a straw for the handle.

The trick is to roll the dough out on the baking sheet on parchment.

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Then, using a template, score the dough gently with a knife. Bake for 15 minutes. While the dough is still warm, cut out the shapes. This ensures a sharp clean edge.

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Then I frosted the pieces using this recipe. I am not so great at frosting and made my flooding icing too thin. ūüė¶ So my toolbox is not so pretty. But it holds my chocolates well. I made a divider out of card stock that is labelled “dark chocolate” and “milk chocolate” on each side so people can choose their favorites.

If you are in the Brooklyn area, please stop by and say “Hi” and grab a chocolate tool! ūüôā

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Chocolate Candies

1 bag chocolate pieces

  1. Pour 5 oz. of chocolate into a medium bowl.
  2. Heat at 30 second intervals in the microwave oven, checking the chocolate each time. You don’t want to overheat it. When it is smooth and silky when you stir it, stop heating. For dark chocolate it was about 90 seconds. For milk chocolate it was a little longer.
  3. Pour chocolate into candy molds. Be sure not to overfill. Nudge chocolate with a spoon or knife into nooks and crannies.
  4. Wipe around mold if you got chocolate in between shapes. Chocolate will come out easier if all the edges are clean. Tap mold hard several times on counter to remove air bubbles.
  5. Chill in refrigerator until firm, at least 30 minutes.
  6. To remove, turn mold over and gently press on the bottom. Chocolate should pop out easily.
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Mrs. Charles Darwin’s Recipe Book

book cover

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this “recipe book” of Emma Darwin awhile ago, before work got crazy. ¬†It’s not just your average cookbook, it’s a documentation of family life in the Darwin household in the middle of the 19th century. ¬†It is filled with reproductions of handwritten recipes and beautiful botanical illustrations, as well as interesting anecdotes and little details about daily life, such as what time the family ate lunch and dinner and how they were “lax” because they didn’t require the children’s nurse to wear the “right cap”. ¬†Another bit of interesting trivia is that both Emma and Charles Darwin were grandchildren of Josiah Wedgewood. ¬†Which is more intriguing — the fact that the father of evolutionary theory had a connection to the famous Wedgewood pottery or the fact that he and his wife were first cousins — I cannot say!

Wedgewood's Water Lily pattern which the Darwin's used

An example of ¬†the Wedgewood Waterlily pattern used by the Darwin’s

The recipes, which have been tested by the authors, Dusha Bateson and Weslie Janeway, give us modern day folk a taste of Victorian England via one of its most esteemed families. ¬† The historical notes are fascinating, and I found myself imagining what it must be like to live in Emma Darwin’s world. ¬†The Darwin household must have been teeming with activity, what with their ten children and a dozen servants living with them as well as numerous visits from family and friends. ¬†I imagine it was a full time job keeping track of the household accounts, the garden, and the livestock!

I hadn’t known that Charles Darwin had a rather delicate constitution and suffered from poor digestion. ¬†The recipe book is filled with rich Victorian age food that is comforting and soothing, ¬†such as puddings (apparently Emma’s original recipe book has more than sixty puddings!) and many other dishes with cream and butter. ¬†Preserving and pickling was quite common at the time, and Emma’s notebook has instructions for preserving eggs, curing beef, pickling, etc. ¬†There is a chapter in the recipe book on preserves that I am looking to make use of in the future (the Quince Jelly sounds wonderful).

custard up close

Since there is a whole chapter devoted to Charles Darwin’s beloved puddings, I knew I had to try one. ¬†I made the Burnt Cream, which is basically Creme Brulee. ¬†I don’t have a blow torch nor a salamander (an iron disc with a long handle that they used to heat the sugar), so I melted the sugar and poured on top. Unfortunately, I did not achieve a hardened layer. ¬†I also tried broiling it to crisp up the sugar with no luck. ¬†So, I served the puddings ¬†turned over on a plate. ¬†The caramelized sugar made a sweet sauce, making the dish more akin to Mexican Flan, which was delicious.

I also made Stewed Spinach because I knew Jamie would love it (and he did)! ¬†It is a simple side dish to throw together easily on a weeknight. ¬†It’s so comforting and good. ¬†And it always makes me happy to see my son eating green food.

spinach 1

The third recipe I tried out was the Gingerbread. ¬†The authors adapted this recipe and used half of Emma’s original amounts (2 1/2 lbs. of flour!) I went a step further and cut that in half and made a loaf of Gingerbread instead of a large square pan of it. ¬†It was also delicious — perfect with tea– and gobbled up by children and adults for a nice afternoon snack.

gingerbread vert

I hope you enjoy these recipes as much as we did. ¬†It also gave us an added sense of awareness knowing we were eating the same kind of food that was served over a hundred years ago and enjoyed by the Darwins in their cozy home in Down House on the North Downs of Kent, which added to the flavor. ūüôā

auburn custard

Recipes from “Mrs. Charles Darwin’s Recipe Book” ¬†by Dusha Bateson and Weslie Janeway, published by¬†Glitterati Incorporated, 2008

Burnt Cream

1 tablespoon flour

1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream

2 eggs, separated

2 ounces (50g) superfine (caster) sugar, plus 1 teaspoon

1.  Mix the flour in a medium saucepan with a little milk or water before adding cream; this will prevent lumps. (Note:  I added 4 tablespoons of water and whisked it).  Bring to a boil and cook gently for 10 minutes to ensure flour is thoroughly cooked.

2.  Add the egg yolks and 1 teaspoon sugar.  (You can do without the sugar at this stage if you like, as the caramelized top will provide plenty in the finished dish.)

3.  Beat the egg whites only until they form a frothy liquid and add them to the pan.  (Note, I added 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.)

4.  Taste and, if you are satisfied that no hint of floury taste remains, pour the mixture into an ovenproof dish  and allow to cool.  Chill overnight.  (I used four small individual ramekins.)

Sprinkle an even layer of superfine sugar over custard.  If you have a blowtorch, heat the sugar until it browns.

Otherwise, as the authors suggest, “Far simpler is to put the superfine (caster) sugar in a small heavy saucepan and heat it gently until it melts. ¬†Do not stir. ¬†When it starts to color and bubble, tip the pain in a circular motion so the sugar is well mixed and dissolves completely. ¬†Watch it carefully — it can burn very quickly. ¬†What you want is a deep auburn color with that wonderful caramel smell. ¬†Then, holding the custard dish in one hand, pour the molten sugar onto the top, tipping the dish so it covers evenly. ¬†The sugar will bubble up, but do not worry, it will soon subside. With his method, a beautiful thin layer is achieved. ¬†Do this a couple of hours before you want to eat. ¬†As soon as the sugar has cooled, chill until needed.”

Stewed Spinach

3/4 pound (350 g) fresh spinach (I used one bunch)

2 tablespoons butter

Approximately 1/2 cup (250 ml) heavy cream

Salt and pepper

Pinch grated nutmeg (optional)

1.  Wash the spinach leaves well.  Give the handfuls of leaves a good shake and pack them into a saucepan. No need for any extra water.  Cover the pan and place over a medium heat.

2.  After 1-2 minutes, remove the lid and stir the leaves with a wooden spoon, turning the top leaves to the bottom, so they all cook.

3.  When the spinach is thoroughly wilted, let it bubble for another 1-2 minutes.  Taste  a small piece to make sure it is tender.

4.  Pour the contents of the pan into a colander and plunge the sieve into a sink of cold water.  This helps to keep the bright green color.  Do not submerge completely, but make sure the spinach is in the water.  Remove the colander from the water.  Using a wooden spoon or, even better, your fist, press the spinach down, removing as much water as possible.

5. When you have extracted as much liquid as possible, put the spinach back in the saucepan over moderate heat.  Add butter and with a wooden spoon mash or pound the spinach to break up the leaves.

6.  Add just enough cream to give a thick puree.  (You may not need to use the full amount.)  Season with salt and pepper and a little grated nutmeg, if using.  Serve at once.

gingerbread 2

Gingerbread

(I halved these amounts and baked in a loaf pan)

1 pound (450 g) flour  (about 3 1/3 cups)

1/2 ounce (15 g) ground ginger (4 teaspoons)

1 teaspoon baking soda

4 ounces (110 g) butter

4 ounces (110 g) brown sugar (about 2/3 cup)

12 fluid ounces (335 ml) dark molasses

1 teaspoon lemon extract

2 eggs, lightly beaten

In Preparation:  Preheat oven to 350 F

1.  Line a 9-inch square baking pan with parchment paper.

2. Sift the flour into a large bowl.  Add the ground ginger and the baking soda.

3.  In a small saucepan, over low heat, melt the butter, brown sugar, and molasses together.  Add lemon extract.

4. Make a well in the flour and add the mixture from the saucepan.  Mix together thoroughly.

5.  Add the beaten eggs and mix well.

6.  Pour into prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes.  Test with a toothpick.  If it comes out clean, the cake is done.  If not, bake for a few minutes more.

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Gingerbread Magna-Tiles


As Halloween fast approaches, the thought of doing another haunted gingerbread house crossed my mind.  But a couple of weeks ago Jamie had a play date with his friend, Lucas, and they built an amazing Azkaban Prison (from Harry Potter) out of Magna-Tiles, which inspired me to do something different.

Some basic shapes in a Magna-Tiles set.


Magna-tiles are great building tiles with magnets on their edges making the pieces stick together when placed side by side.  They come in two sizes of squares and several triangular shapes.  I decided to create gingerbread Magna-tiles for them to build their own haunted houses with during a cooking project/play date at our house.  Instead of magnets, of course, Royal Icing dyed grey would be used.  The recipe for the gingerbread is the same one I used last year.  It is so delicious and is perfect for building.

In preparation for the project, I made templates of the Magna-Tiles shapes out of card stock.  Downloadable PDF files of these are here.  Then I cut them out and placed them on top of the gingerbread dough and scored the dough around the shapes with a sharp knife.  I kept the rough edges intact so that the cut edges would stay sharp and crisp.

Roll out the dough on parchment paper to about a 1/8-inch thickness about the size of your baking sheet

I baked it for about  10 minutes (the recipe says to do so for 15 minutes, but I found this to be a bit too long).  Then I cut out the shapes while the dough was still soft. After it cools a bit on the baking sheet, you can remove the side pieces and cool cookies on racks.

Since there were three boys involved (Lucas’ brother Caleb also joined in the fun)I made a double batch of dough.¬† I ended up with three large squares for each boy to be used as a base and twelve squares and a bunch of triangles.¬† In retrospect, I should have made more squares!

Before they arrived, I made a work station for the builders.  Each had a baking sheet covered in foil to make their house on, a bag of grey cement (icing), a bunch of different goodies to decorate with, some white, black and red fondant for sculpting objects and monsters, and some food coloring pens (love these!)

Then they got to building (as will be evident, all three boys are really into Harry Potter right now)…

Lucas made Bellatrix Lestrange’s¬† Cave:

Dementor in front

I think this is a dragon egg encircled by Nagini (Voldemort's snake)

Jamie made the Shrieking Shack:

Close up of interior

Caleb made Hogwarts Castle:

It was a very creative and sugar filled play date. ūüôā

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Gingerbread Castle

Hope everyone had a Merry Christmas for those of you who celebrate!

We went to visit our family in Long Island for the holidays.¬† I always bring some goodies.¬† This year it was a¬† Gingerbread Castle which Jamie and I made and decorated beforehand, and assembled at my sister-in-law’s house.

The process was the same as when we made the Haunted Gingerbread House:

I made a pattern and printed it on card stock and cut it out.¬† Then I made gingerbread and cut out shapes using said pattern. We assembled it using royal icing as the “mortar” to hold the pieces together.¬† For the windows, we filled cut out holes with crushed Jolly Ranchers that melted into “glass” when baked.¬† The moat of the castle¬† was a giant gingerbread frame and filled with “water” made from Blue Raspberry and Green Apple flavored crushed Jolly Ranchers.

With the drawbridge up... Note the "swampy" water...

With the drawbridge down. "Chains" made from fruit leather.

Jamie decorated almost the entire castle by himself.

We used a happy colored “palette” (e.g. brightly colored jelly beans, candy coated chickpeas, licorice, candy covered chocolate, fruit jellies, and candy coated seashells) since it is a cheery holiday, rather than the muted dark palette we used for the Haunted House.

Instead of ghouls, Jamie  made a snowman out of fondant and decorated it with a food coloring pen.

Unlike the Haunted House, the Castle was picked at and eaten and demolished in a day and a half or so by a houseful of people, rather than our small family of three. ūüôā
Hope everyone has a great last week of the year!

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