Thursday, January 23, 2014

Kinds of Food Coloring

When I was growing up, my mom always had Wilton gel food coloring that you had to dig out with a toothpick.  I hated it.  I found it messy and annoying and the red was never red (come to find out, I was actually using pink!).  Anyway, time went on and I became and adult and I bought myself food coloring from the grocery store with the little triangle tops that I could squeeze 1 drop or a hundred but didn't have to use a thousand toothpicks to get the color I wanted.  I thought these little squeeze bottles were the pinnacle of food coloring.  How wrong I was.

Fast forward a few years and I took my first cake decorating class.  In that class I learned about different types of food coloring.  The water based food coloring I had fallen in love with had a thousand flaws.  Well, mostly just one.  It was too liquidy and would change the consistency of my frosting before I could get the right color.  Enter, the dreaded gel coloring.  Gel coloring gives you bright, deep color without watering down your icing.  So what kind of food coloring should you use for your project?  Good question.

Gel Food Coloring: The two brands of gel food coloring I use most often are Wilton and Americolor because that is what I can find in the store.  Wilton comes in little tubs while the Americolor comes in nice little squeeze bottles (no toothpicks!)  I have heard that the no-taste red is superior in the Americolor, so that is what I use.  Gel food coloring requires less color than water food coloring and does not thin out the frosting.  Tip: gel food coloring gets brighter/darker with time so color your frosting (or fondant), wait 15 minutes and then evaluate if you need to add more.  I learned this the hard way with my sister's bridal shower cake and she had very dark pink roses on that cake.

Powdered Food Coloring: Most often used to make French macrons.  Powdered food coloring does not add any liquid to the product and is best for projects where you have no leeway with the amount of liquid in your finished product.  I have never personally used powdered food coloring, so I cannot attest to its attributes.  

Oil Based Food Coloring: used for coloring chocolate.  Chocolate will seize if it comes into contact with water so the gel food coloring doesn't work.  (If you have never had chocolate seize on you, count yourself lucky and just trust me on this one).

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Chocolate Owl Cupcake Toppers

Last weekend I made these owl cupcake toppers for a friend of my sister who is having a baby girl in February.  I piped the toppers out of pink, white, and dark chocolate candy melts.  The cupcakes were plain white with American buttercream tinted a pale pink.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Alternative Sweeteners

Ok, so January, we're supposed to be cleaning up our eating right?  Well, for my husband and I, that has meant that we are trying more and more to cut out processed foods.  I can't say exactly when we started, but over the course of the last few years we have been phasing out and reducing our intake of processed and pre-packaged foods.  Sometimes we are better at it than others.  I'm still a total soda junkie and chips are one of my favorite guilty pleasures but I have been weeding out things like processed meat and cheese and definitely prepackaged sweets.

Lately, I have been thinking that maybe I need to work on giving my sweets a little bit of a healthier makeover.  I have been working on incorporating whole wheat flour into most of my cookie recipes (chocolate chip really benefit from some whole wheat flour but these whole wheat ginger crinkles aren't bad either).  But, I still use a LOT of white sugar. 

Enter: alternative sweeteners.  What kind of sweeteners are available instead of refined white sugar? Lots.  Ones that I have used and like are as follows:

Honey: my personal favorite alternative sweetener.  It's easy to find pretty much everywhere and is one of the more reasonably priced options.  If you are lucky enough to have a local hive near you, get local, minimally processed honey.  The flavor is out of this world and you are supporting the bees which are dying out.  

I use honey 1:1 like white sugar in  my recipes even though honey is a bit sweeter than regular table sugar.  They typically turn out about the same, however will frequently have a bit of a honey flavor.  Favorite recipes using honey: skinny banana bread, no-bake energy bars, and granola.  Best part about honey-it never ever goes bad.  It has natural anti-microbial properties and thusly has practically an infinite shelf life.  If your honey crystalizes, just heat it up  and you are back in action.

Agave Syrup: Sweetener derived from the agave plant (yes, the tequila plant).  It is vegan friendly and can be used in all of the same recipes where honey would be used.  Agave comes in light, amber, and dark.  I have only had experience with the light variety and it has a flavor that is more delicate than honey.  It is also more liquid than honey so it dissolves nicely in drinks, hot or cold. 

Brown Rice Syrup: made by, "culturing cooked rice with enzymes to break down the starches." (Wikipedia)  This is the sweetener that most energy bars use.  I personally do not like the taste of brown rice syrup as much of the other choices, but it is a popular choice.  I am able to find it in my local grocery store, but you if you can't, most health food stores should carry it.

Pure Maple Syrup: I'm not talking Mrs. Butterworth's pancake syrup here, I am talking the real deal.  It's expensive, but if you have the cash to spare, this stuff is where it's at.  Rich, flavorful, takes your breakfast to a whole new level.  And not just breakfast.  I like to use it in oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, granola, no bake energy bars.  It really adds.  Maple syrup comes in different grades.  In the US it's Grades A and B.  Grade A is the lightest and Grade B is the dark mapley syrup that tastes the best on your pancakes.  Vermont has its own grading system for maple syrup which is stricter than the system used in the rest of the US.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Ringing in 2014

Honey and Maple Syrup Sweetened Homemade Granola

January is a time for renewal and growth.  A time to detox from all of the Christmas/holiday craziness and refocus on simplifying, learning new things and cleaning up your body.  This year, no long list of resolutions that I will struggle to keep.  Just a couple guidelines to try and create a happier, healthier 2014:

1. Simpler recipes-recipes that don't require a manual and 40 bowls to wash.  Who has time for that?

2. Less waste, going more green-my husband and I started a compost pile a couple of years ago, but we still end up wasting a lot of food.  I also frequently fail to examine where my food comes from and what kind of packaging it's wrapped in.

3. Trying new things-no fear when it comes to trying something different both in the kitchen and out.  My first endeavor-ice climbing at the end of January!  And puff pastry will be mine.

I'll try and keep you posted about how things are going.  What are you resolving to change this year?

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