Tag Archives: how to

Tutorial: Vanilla Extract and Sugar

28 Jun

It’s flaming hot and humid here but my mind is already thinking of snow banks and holiday gifts.

Which really turns out to be pretty handy, because making vanilla extract takes some time. Not much effort, but lots of time.

Vanilla extract is a great gift to give to anyone on your holiday list who excels or even dabbles in baking. The flavor is much nicer than store bought extract (which often has water or additives). And the best part is you can get two gifts for the price of one. Once you are done using the beans in the extract you can use them to make some vanilla sugar.

You can use any alcohol you want to make vanilla extract. As long as it is at least 40% proof. The most used alcohol is Vodka, because it has no flavor of its own.

I like to use Rum. It brings its own flavor to the mix, which adds another level of complexity to the extract. Plus the sugar from the molasses helps to speed up the extraction process.

A good ratio of beans to alcohol for single fold vanilla is 3/4 pound of beans to 1 gallon of alcohol. You can of course make your extract stronger. Double fold (which is used by bakers) is twice that (duh). I usually make mine somewhere in the middle.

Split each vanilla bean down the middle.

Open up the bean and scrape out the seeds.

You want to sterilize the jars you will be using by putting them in a large pot filled with water and bringing it to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes and you are good to go. I find large  Mason jars work perfectly.

Place the beans and seeds in the jar. Top up with the alcohol of your choice (a shot or two for you is always good too).

Shake the jars really well and then place in a cool dark spot. Take them out each day or so and give them a good shake. After around a month you can switch to only shaking them around once a week.

After a while you will start to see the colour deepen. Take off the lid and smell the developing vanilla flavor. How awesome is it that you are the one responsible for this process? And how much better is it that all it took was 5 minutes of work on your part!

After three months the extract will be full of flavor and ready to go. You can always leave the beans in and keep topping up with alcohol and new beans. This is great to keep for yourself, it’s a never ending supply of vanilla extract.

If you are making them up as gifts bottle them up into cute little individual bottles. Mine are from the dollar store.

Don’t throw away the beans, they have got plenty of flavor left in them. Dry them off and grab some sugar and another Mason jar.

Toss the beans and sugar in the jar, give it a shake. After a month you will have another gift to pass along to the bakers on your list. But make sure you keep some for yourself.

Vanilla sugar is a popular ingredient in some old European recipes. I have a great Apple Cake recipe that I picked up from a co-worker’s Oma that just isn’t the same without it.

But really you can use it in any number of ways. Sprinkled over fresh berries, in whipped cream, any where you want that delicate vanilla flavor to add a little something special.

Take a few minutes now and come December you’ll be thrilled to have these great gifts to give out. All you have to do is have some fun decorating them for the season and watching the smiles bloom on your loved one’s faces.

Trust me, everyone loves hand made gifts. And hand made gifts you can bake with are just that much better.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine


FYI: Strawberry Freezing, Pureeing and Jamming.

21 Jun

Today I’ll continue with our adventure into preserving local strawberries to enjoy year round. Now that we’ve made it home from our trip to the pick-your-own berry farm we need to start processing the strawberries.


Freezing berries is one of the easiest ways to preserve them. No need to buy overpriced strawberries from the grocery store in January when you have some sitting in your own freezer at home that you picked yourself locally.

Step 1: Wash the berries in a colander. Use a plate under the colander to catch water while you work.

Step 2: Cut up strawberries. First slice off the top, lay flat and slice in half, slice in half again.

Step 3: Spread out in a single layer on a parchment lined pan.

Step 4: Place pans in the freezer.

Step 5: Once berries are frozen package into freezer bags and place back in the freezer.

Have you seen the label IQF on berries in the grocery isle? It stands for Individually Quick Frozen. By freezing the berries spread out on a pan they stay separate from each other and freezer quicker, which helps to maintain the quality.


Step 1: Wash and core strawberries. To core slide a paring knife into the top of the berry, twist the berry around until the top and core are seperated from the rest of the berry.

Step 2: Puree the berries in a food processor or blender.

Step 3: Place berries in a pot, bring to a boil. Skim foam. Allow to boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat.

Step 4: Pass puree through a fine mesh strainer to remove seeds. You can also use cheese cloth if you do not have a fine mesh strainer.

Step 5: Return to pot and reduce over low heat for 30 minutes or until reduced by 1/2.

I like to call the result of this process Strawberry Essence. It’s full of compacted flavor with no additives or chemicals. You can freeze it and defrost as needed. I use this in cakes, icings, mouse, anything I want to give a fresh summer time strawberry flavor. I use the puree to make the strawberry mouse in my Strawberry Shortcake Cookie Cup.


Jams are the traditional preserve. It’s a practice that had fallen out of favor for awhile, thankfully it’s starting to become more and more common. Once you make your own jam you will never want to buy grocery store imitations again.

That and anyone you give the jam to will make such pitiful pleas for more that you’ll pretty much be obligated to making some each year.  I always keep some extra around in case I need an emergency gift for someone. It makes a great hostess present.

Heres a list of the basic equipment you will need. You can buy kits that have most of this already. At the end of the summer the jars, lids and pectin go on sale for dirt cheap. Be sure to stock up for next year’s canning season.

Strawberry Jam

Yield: 7 x 250 or 236 ml Jars

3 3/4 Cups Crushed Strawberries (about 2 liters/quarts)

1/4 Cup Bottled Lemon Juice

7 Cups Granulated Sugar

1 Pouch (85 ml) Liquid Pectin

This reipce is from my Bernardin Guide to Home Preserving, it works great. Just be sure to measure the strawberries after you have crushed/pureed them.  I usually make this in a 3 x batch. Did I mention you will have LOTS of people begging or some of your homemade jam?

You want to be sure to put a label on the jams with the date they were made. You can buy canning labels that are premade. They look a little too…. grandmotherly for me. So I make my own using address labels.

You can copy and paste this into a template for address labels and print out using Avery White Mailing Labels 8161 or 5161. Easy, modern, non grandmotherly jam labels!

Next I’ll show you one of the many ways you can use that puree to add amazing flavor, chemical and preservative free, to whip up an impressive dessert (in a cookie cup!) Plus details on Off the List’s one month of blogging giveaway.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

FYI: Getting Up Close and Personal with Gum Paste

10 Jun

In the last FYI: Getting to Know Gum Paste I showed you a slew of great tools for working with the sugar clay and walked you through the very simple process of making it from a powder mix. Now it’s time we get to the real fun; expressing our creativity in sugary goodness. Gum Paste is softer, more pliable, and much more elastic than fondant. It also dries very quickly, unlike fondant. Our number one ally in the struggle to keep the gum paste moist while working on it is shortening. Remember this well and you will save yourself much frustration. This FYI Gum Paste edition we will go over some gum paste basics

  • How to tint to any colour
  • How to easily roll it out
  • How to add textures
  • How to use the Clay Extruder
  • How to cut letters with the Tappits
  • How to adhere letters

To start rub a bit of shortening onto your hands and work a little bit into a piece of gum paste as big as you need for your project.

Lay a piece of wax paper on your work surface. Scale the size of the piece you use to the size or project you are doing. Open the colour you wish and grab a toothpick. Never double dip a toothpick into icing colours, this is an easy way to contimante the gel. You can use both ends of the toothpicks but once they have touched the gum paste they are done.

Dip the toothpick into the icing colour and smear a small amount onto the piece of gum paste. Unless you are aiming for a dark tone be light handed. As the saying goes, you can always add more. Not so much on the taking away part.

To keep the colour from transferring onto your fingers fold the piece of gum paste in on itself. Keep folding in or roll out between your hands into a long rope and fold it in. Eventually the colour will work into enough of the gum paste that it won’t leave much (if any) staining on your hands.

Keep adding colour (be sure not to double dip!) until you are satisfied.

Place your pretty tinted piece of gum paste on the sheet of wax paper, cover with another. It helps to shape the gum paste to generally mimic the finished shape you are after.

Place the rolling pin in the middle and using gentle pressure roll out the gum paste. It helps if you rotate the wax paper as you go, this way you’ll roll out more evenly.

Gauge how much you need to roll the gum paste out to fit the cutter you want to use. The thinner you roll it the quicker your finished project will dry but the more fragile it will be. After a few projects you’ll start to learn what works best for you.

Remove the top sheet of wax paper and the cutter down firmly into the middle of the gum paste. Pull away the excess gum paste.

Be sure to wrap any gum paste you are not using in plastic wrap and place in a zip lock bag you keep near by. Wasting gum paste isn’t doing yourself any favors (ask me how I know.) Remove the cutter carefully from the gum paste.

Put a light layer of shortening on the texture sheet and using a sheet of wax paper roll out a small, narrow piece of gum paste on top.

Carefully pull the gum paste off of the texture sheet.

Lay the textured gum paste down flat on your work surface (which is protected by a sheet of wax paper). Line up the letter you want on the Tappit cutter.

Press down firmly and lift up gently. If you find that some of the tricker letters aren’t cutting cleanly, spread a little shortening on the cutter itself.

Pull away the excess gum paste (remember to wrap in plastic wrap and put in a zip lock bag) and expose the desired letter. Using a small flat tool (I use the spatula from my modeling kit but a butter knife works almost as well) carefully lift the letter off of the wax paper. You might have to wait a minute or two for the gum paste to stiffen up enough that you can move the letter without completely distorting it. Don’t worry about a little distortion, you can always adjust it once you have it in place.

Place the letters on your plaque piece and play with them until you are happy with their arrangement.

Removing the letters one by one smear a thin layer of edible glue on the back and place them back into their spots, adjusting them as you go. Once all of the letters are adhered place the plaque (wax sheet and all) out of the way and onto a flat surface

Lay down another piece of wax paper. Texturize another piece of gum paste.

Cut to the desired size using the wheel cutter/fondant  embosser. This is where wax paper becomes so handy, you can easily see through it to the measurements on your rotary mat. Carefully peel the wax paper off of th first piece of gum paste and adhere it to the larger piece.

Now grab the clay extruder. Kiss it. No seriously. You are going to fall in love with this thing. When I first got mine I tried it once and almost threw it out. I had no idea how close I came to making the biggest mistake of my caking life.  I’m glad I can save you the trial and error it took me to appreciate this thing.

Unscrew the cap, choose a small round die, place it inside the cap and screw the cap back on.

Work a generous amount of shortening into a inch or so sized piece of gum paste. You want this baby to be super pliable.

Scoop up some shortening on your pinky finger (shortening = key to success with gum paste). Coat the inside of the extruder with the shortening as far down as you can go without getting your pinky stuck. Because husbands called to help in such an emergency will take a good 3 minutes to laugh at you before they help. And that’s 3 minutes you could be playing with gum paste instead.

Remove the barrel from the extruder. Roll the gum paste into a small log and place it inside the chamber of the extruder.

Place the barrel in the top of the extruder and push down. With even pressure extrude a small rope of gum paste directly onto the wax paper. Move the extruder as you go to prevent the rope from bunching up and sticking to itself.

Position the rope on your gum paste plaque to your liking and then use a light layer of edible glue to secure it. You can do so many things with the extruder. Most of the accent on the Baby Shower Cupcakes were done with it. It has dies that are perfect to make gum paste hair. It allows you to make a quick and simple border for the edge of a cake in seconds. The possibilities are endless. It works as easily with fondant as it does gum paste.

Sit back and smile. You now know all you need to start working with gum paste. Plus now you also know the secrets of using some of the most versatile tools in the world of sugar art. Tappits come in all kinds of fondants from funky to formal. Textures can be applied to the sides of cakes as well as accents. You will never stop finding new ways to use an extruder, and you will find yourself groveling and apologizing for ever thinking of throwing it away.

Next FYI we’ll start to learn how to make detailed and delicate gum paste flowers. I’ll warn you now, this can get addicting.

Are there any specific gum paste (or other sugar) techniques that you’ve seen and always wanted to know more about? Tell me what you’d like to see on FYI and I’ll do my best to fulfill your wishes.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

FYI: Getting to Know Gum Paste

9 Jun

Although once a foreign novelty, Fondant has become a household name in the past few years. Love it or hate it, doesn’t matter, you know what it is.

Gum Paste is it’s more temperamental, and rewarding, counterpart. It’s a sugar clay that you can mold and craft into anything imaginable. It’s different from fondant in the fact that it dries hard, really very hard. In fact it can dry before you want it to, while you are working on it. But unlike fondant it holds its shape and you can roll it much thinner than it’s easier cousin.

Gum Paste flowers are the most traditional application for the sugar clay.

Bows are becoming more and more common.

(Sorry about the quality (or lack of) of some of these pictures. They are from before I had my life altering SLR or any real photography skill.)

Gum Paste can be used to create an edible version of anything you can possibly want to put on a cake or cupcakes.


And Tiaras. And yes the Roses are gum paste too.

Shoes for a Baby. 

Or a Princess.

Details to make a purse cake come to life.

Hand modeling any creature you could possibly want. Even Mr. Bear from the last week’s Show & Tell began as a humble hunk of gum paste.

Some people are afraid to start working with gum paste. I was one of them. Actually I’m usually weary of any medium I haven’t played with before. That’s what blogs like this are for!

I’m going to walk you through everything you will need to know to start working with, and loving, gum paste. Then you can set out on your own and learn tons more to share with me.

Gum Paste 101

There are a few ways to obtain gum paste. You can purchase it premade, you can make it from scratch, or you can go the middle route and purchase a powder. I buy the Wilton Gum Paste Mix from the Bulk Barn. Most craft stores carry it. It makes a good sized batch that will last a lot of small projects or a few medium sized.

Beside the Gum Paste is my container of Gum Tex. You can use Gum Tex to make your own gum paste from scratch. Or if you are like me you can keep a container around to make some edible glue to keep together all your sugar clay creations.

Fondant was included in this picture, not because it’s a spot light hog, but because sometimes it helps to use 50% Gum Paste and 50% Fondant.

Large bows are a perfect example of this. You have an extended time to work on shaping because of the Fondant and it will still dry relatively hard (although it will take longer) thanks to the Gum Paste.

A perfect symbiotic relationship.

Making Gum Paste from a Mix

The instructions are clearly outlined on the back of the container. It’ll take a few times to get the feel for it, but it’s fairly simple.

Set up your black Kitchen Aid mixer with a paddle. Open up the can of gum paste mix with a black Kitchen Aid can opener.  (Can you guess what style most of my kitchen appliances/tools are?)

Empty the container into the bowl of the mixer. Add 1/4 cup of water with a black Kitchen Aid measuring cup (I’m really not joking, I do have a complete set of black Kitchen Aid measuring cup).

Set to stir and allow it to incorporate the water into the powder.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl and paddle. Notice that the spatula is a WHITE Kitchen Aid spatula. I’m not crazy enough to have my kitchen match 100%. Mind you, if anyone knows where I could pick up a black one, feel free to let me know.

Once it starts to come together switch to the dough hook and knead until it looks like a solid dough.

Put it into a Ziplock bag and let it rest for 15 minutes.

Put it back into (the now cleaned) Kitchen Aid bowl and add 1/3 cups of powdered sugar. Knead for 5 minutes.

Congratulations! You just made gum paste.

Now, you can store it in the fridge in a Ziplock bag if you aren’t going to use it right away (wrap in plastic wrap if it’ll be a while before you get to it).

Next I’ll tell you what toys… ahem…. tools are useful when working with gum paste.

Gum Paste Tools

The tools I’m going to show you are by no means a hard wired list. My collection is always growing (and sometimes shrinking.) It’s all about finding what works for you and what you like to work with.

That being said, a lot of these are tried and true tools that I saw recommended by a lot of other cake designers and sugar artists before I shelled out my dollars to buy them. They are the ones I use the most and the ones I think you would get the most use out of as well.

Icing Colours are necessary, luster and petal dusts are lovely, but for the most part I have found the Food Writers to be useless. These arn’t a top quality brand though, the point is very blunt, and I think that is the problem.

The Silver and Gold highlighter have got to be my all time favorite and most used of all my dusts. They add bling to any cake. And we all know that bling is always a good thing.

Out of all of these the two most essential and enhancing to any gum paste work are the Extruder and the Tappit letter cutters.

These are all  (except the three white ones) from a basic Wilton Gum Paste kit. It’s a great place to start until you decide on which kind of flowers you want to invest more money into and buy higher quality cutters and veiners for.

Floral wires, tapes and stamens make the difference between awkward sugar flowers and jaw dropping realistic edible masterpieces. .

When you are drying anything made of gum paste (or fondant for that matter) if you don’t lay it on some kind of mold or form it will dry flat and lifeless. These are all good for giving shape to different projects.

Despite all of the Wilton products I have I’m not a big fan of the brand. But I LOVE this set of modeling tools, they are indispensable.

When working with gum paste you will save yourself alot of frustration by always having these 5 things on hand:

Cornstarch: for dusting work surfaces

Plastic Wrap: for covering pieces of gum paste you arn’t working with to prevent them from drying out

Wax Paper: to protect your work surface

Shortening: to grease your hands and re-moisturize the gum paste

Tooth Picks: to apply colours and for some fine detail work

Next FYI we will get up close and personal with some gum paste. I’ll show you how to colour it, how to use Tappits, the Extruder, and Texture Tiles.

Let me know if you have any specific comments or questions about gum paste.

Or really just any comment about anything, the weather, your dog, that strange smell you still haven’t tracked down the source of.

I’d be thrilled to hear from you.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Show & Tell: Birthday Bunting Banner and Party Hats

7 Jun

I’m excited and flustered…. and embaressed.

My basket tutorial was posted over at whip up (yay!) and people are stopping over to my humble little blog. But I’m so ashamed at how empty it is! It’s like moving into a new home and inviting the neighbors over, only I don’t have anywhere for them to sit because the furniture hasn’t arrived yet.

So to everyone who has come to welcome me to the neighborhood I appreciate your patience. As a new blogger it’s going to take me ages before my online home has any of the substance and finesse of you other fine folks.

In the mean time I’m going to finish up the subject of the Birthday Package that I sent for my neice’s birthday. The baskets were the last part, before them I tackled making a Bunting Banner and Party Hats.  Both of which I followed amazing tutorials from other bloggers, with a few changes of my own.

I have a confession… the Bunting Banner= my first sewing project. It took me about 10 minutes to thread the machine when I started, by the end I could do it with my eyes closed. Maybe with a little peeking.

When my sister was just starting to think of planning Kimmy’s birthday I had come across an amazing tutorial for a birthday banner at Pickup Some Creativity. I quickly swindled her into NEEDING a bunting banner for the party and offered to make it.

Follow the tutorial and anyone (I’m proof) can have a super cute bunting banner in no time.

I took my very first trip to the fabric store (Luke was very patient as I owwed and awwwed over all the options) and picked out some coordinating fabrics.

Then I got to work sewing all of the triangles.

Here is where I deviated a little. I wanted the letters to really pop (and I had found the cutest black and white fabric on a second trip to the store). So I cut 2 1/2 inch circles out of fabric and sewed those onto the triangles first.

And then I sewed on the letters exactly as instructed in the tutorial.
After completing all of the letters (I might have adhered the a’s on backwards the first time, which might be a warning to not try and do sewing projects late at night with out the appropriate amount of caffeine).
I started sewing them all onto the Bias Tape. Which I found after a third trip… or was it a fourth?… to the fabric store. In the tutorial all of the triangles are sewn onto one piece of bias tape, I decided to divide mine in two. I measured 12 inches of my bias tape, started laying out the triangles and measured another 12 inches at the other end for each piece.
I also didn’t do the basting stitch recomended in the tutorial. I did a regular old stitch on the inside as well as the outside of the bias tape. I just don’t like having to rip out all those stitches. It looks fine this way, really you can’t notice.
This was a great first sewing project. It was straightforward and so clear with the great instructions from Pickup Some Creativity. And so rewarding, look how cute it is hanging on my wall. I can’t wait to see pictures of it in all it’s glory set up for the party.
The party hat tutorial came from Crap I’ve Made. I didn’t have the party hat mojo flowing and I had an illogically difficult time with these. I ended up having to make my own templates, one for the fabric and one to cut out cardstock for the hats. I could have bought the hats premade like Char at Crap I’ve Made… but making them was faster than a trip out for me.

I added a special detail for the birthday girl’s hat with a 2 1/2” felt circle and 2 made out of the same fabric from the banner. The little party hat on the 2 is simply a small triangle of the pink fabric sewn onto the hat and a small tuft of green yarn glued on with Fabri-Tac.

The pom poms were made using this tutorial from Kids Craft Central. Simple enough, repetitive, but simple. Ignore the squashed nature of the pom pom in the upper left corner, that was from the 2 hat sitting on top of it.

Hopefully my small additions will make Kimmy’s 2nd birthday a fun filled day for her.

Thank you for stopping by and taking a look at what I have to offer so far.

Please come by and check out all the new Tutorials, Show & Tells, FYIs and On the Lists posts as the blog grows. I’ll do my very best to fill my home with lots of interesting and useful material for everyone.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine