March 29, 2021

Tangzhong Hot Cross Buns


When Easter rolls around there's nothing better than a really good hot cross bun.  You can't beat the combination of a bread roll spiced with cinnamon and studded with raisins.  My only complaint about traditional buns is the flour and water paste that adorns the top.  When it bakes up I've found it to be too hard and too tasteless.  I made this comment recently on Instagram and someone suggested making the cross out of an Asian bun topping.  It was such a brilliant idea that I wish I had thought of it myself.

I was then inspired make Tangzhong Hot Cross Buns, a variation of the traditional Easter bread made with tangzhong dough.  I started with my favorite tangzhong dough from Cook's Illustrated and simply added cinnamon, nutmeg and raisins. For the cross that goes on top I used a modified version of the sugary topping for pineapple buns, another favorite from Cook's Illustrated.   

When the buns baked up the cross on top wasn't as clearly distinct as you would find in other buns, but I was more than ok with that because they tasted amazing!!  Tangzhong breads are popular because of their soft and fluffy texture and these buns had it in spades.  Add in spice and raisin and I think I've found the perfect hot cross bun.  I'll definitely be making these every year.


March 28, 2021

Bunny-Themed Easter Table


Easter 2021 seems a lot more hopeful than last year as COVID-19 vaccines are more broadly rolled out in the US.  I wanted my Easter decor to reflect an uplifting mood and I hope I've achieved that.  Decorating for the holidays, be it Easter or Christmas (my other favorite holiday), brings me so much joy and who doesn't need some of that right now?

Bunnies, bunnies and more bunnies.  These cute furry creatures were the inspiration for my Bunny-Themed Easter Table this year.  It all started with the floral meadow tablecloth and embroidered napkins I bought from Williams-Sonoma and after that the ideas just multiplied, much like their namesake animal! 

Since last year I started collecting Easter bunnies and this year's additions to the fluffle are moss covered bunnies I picked up from Mrs. Alice, a UK-based tablescape retailer that's become a new favorite of mine.   Everything they sell is absolutely gorgeous!

By way of desserts I made a spreckled egg cake, raspberry and lemon petits fours, jam-filled thumbprint shortbread and iced sugar cookies.  Colors of pastel pink, blue, yellow and green were used throughout the room to complement the Easter theme yet these cool tones were warmed up by using  rattan and wood elements such as the placemats and napkin rings.

Easter candy is a requirement and I filled gingham Easter basket party favors with lollipops, chocolates and marshmallows.  Ceramic bunny bowls brimming with jelly beans and malted milk balls were placed on the dining table.  They made an extra sweet addition to the tablescape.

Wishing you a wonderful Easter (or spring or Passover)!
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March 26, 2021

Speckled Egg Cake


The centerpiece for my Easter dessert table this year is a Speckled Egg Cake.   Around spring time you'll see cakes similar to this as it's perfect for the Easter holiday or spring season.  Even better, it couldn't be simpler to make.  All you need is a frosted layer cake along with some vodka and brown food coloring for the "speckles."

I made four cake layers (by doubling this recipe of Martha Stewart's one-bowl chocolate cake) and then filled and frosted them with blue-tinted Swiss meringue buttercream.  To achieve the "speckled" effect I mixed a little bit of vodka with brown food coloring and used a pastry brush to splatter the mixture all over the cake. 

If you don't want to use vodka I've also seen recipes that used 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract mixed with 1 teaspoon of cocoa powder.  For the cute bird's nest topping I combined about 1 cup of toasted coconut flakes with 1/3 cup of melted chocolate chips.  Form into a nest shape and place a few Cadbury's mini eggs in the center.  Chill until firm and then place at the top of the cake.


March 22, 2021

Petits Fours


This Petits Fours post is long overdue and I mean REALLY overdue.  We're talking more than a decade people!  When you put it that way it sounds so bad, right?  My fascination with petits fours really started when I saw them made in this video, Martha Stewart Living Cake Decorating.   I was immediately drawn in by how beautiful and elegant the little cakes were.  They've been on my baking bucket list forever and I finally got my a%$ in gear and made them recently for my Easter table this year.  I packaged four petits fours into clear plastic boxes and placed a favor at each place setting.  I think they look absolutely darling and fit the Easter decor beautifully.

Essentially petits fours are small pieces of pound cake that are filled (I like jam or curd and buttercream) and covered in a glossy fondant.   I started with this recipe for the pound cake from the blog Rose Bakes which is nice and sturdy and holds up really well.  One recipe of the cake makes a half-sheet size pan and yields a lot of petits fours.  I made half of the cake into raspberry petits fours and the other half into lemon petits fours.  I'm  a sucker for fruit flavors and I think the tartness from the raspberry and lemon would be a nice counterbalance to the sweetness from the fondant. 


Now let's talk about fondant because that's the Archilles heel of these pretty treats.  The fondant used to coat petits fours is different from the rolled fondant you've seen covering wedding cakes and the like.  Petits fours use a poured fondant.  You can make certainly make it yourself but I was too intimidated (and lazy!) to do that so I bought some premade fondant from Amazon and it worked great.  The only thing I had to do was melt it in a bowl over a pan of simmering water until it was thin enough to coat.  Two tricks I learned from the Martha Stewart video were to have simple syrup on hand to stir into the fondant or put it back on the heat when it got too thick. 
The main caveat I have when it comes to making petits fours is that it's NOT a neat and tidy process.  The poured fondant can be very finicky to work with and downright messy.  It took me a while to get a feel for what was the best consistency for the fondant and even more time trying to figure out the best set up.  In the end I'm happy with my first attempt at petits fours.  I don't have the time to make them often so I'll save it for special occasions. 
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