Friday, December 27, 2013

Cookies boxes for friends. Sorry Santa!

So this was the cookie box packaging I ended up with after looking at all the packaging pictures on Pinterest. I made 4 types of cookies, and green tea macarons, bought some candies, to fill the 4 tiny squares of the box. 

I made some green tea macarons, double chocolate walnut cookies, chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal pecan cookies, and coffee cinnamon snicker doodles! Hooray!

Initially, I had planned to make some red macaroons to give this box a Christmasy red and green color scheme, but the world isn't always perfect, and I always end up with a different end product than what I had in mind.

Unfortunately, I am almost always guilty of making detours from my original plan. *Sigh*

Good thing they fit perfectly! 2 of each cookies in a red and white polka dot cupcake liners, with the Lindt Christmas chocolate bear snuggly seated on 2 mini candy canes covered with cookies and cream Hershey kisses.

I sent a few boxes to close friends who've moved away after graduation, with hopes that it will brighten up their holidays! This was my first shipment of baked goods and I'm happy that they hold up pretty good during travel. 

Here's some photos I recieved from Reagan, Prisilla, and Sandy+AJ

(Like how my sister always say) To the rest of my friends, "Happy Christmas and Merry New Year 2014!"

Monday, December 16, 2013

Cookie Fest: Crisp Chocolate Chip Cookies

I've been working way too hard lately and my hands noticed it before I even realized I've turned into a cookie manufacturing machine!! But, I'm not going to complain about the number of cookie platter orders this week at the bakery, after all it's the holiday season!

I'm baking cookies at work and I'm baking cookies at home. It's such a repetitive cycle! The only difference is that they're not the same cookies. Thank God! I found myself being someone who actually enjoy the process of baking cookies more than the actual act of devouring it. Of course I nibbled a little here and there, but most of them get packed and sent out to friends.

As I'm making my cookie sampler holiday gift boxes, I wrote down a list of what types of cookies are going into those boxes. It's obvious that a good chocolate chip cookie is always a staple in all cookie platter or sampler box. So I made them my way, crisp with a some crunch to them.

I used to like my chocolate chip cookie chewy with lots of oatmeal in them, but my favorite childhood cookie company (Famous Amos) made them bite size and crunchy, so I've decided to make mine crunchy too and save the oatmeal to make some oatmeal pecan cookie.

I'm also putting together a cookie platter! I bought a plastic holiday design plate at the local supermarket for $2.50 and arranged my 4 varieties of cookies (clockwise: Chocolate chip, Chocolate chip walnuts, Oatmeal pecan, and in the center - coffee cinnamon snickerdoodles)

Wrap it in some cellophane, tie it up with some festive ribbon, attach the greeting card, and it's ready to go! :)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Top 6 Cookie Gift Packaging

It's December! Tis the season for cookie swaps or simply gifting homemade cookies! I've been having a list of close friends and cookie ideas in my head for the past few days, but I haven't decided on any packaging yet.

I'd have to say that I'm kinda guilty of having a small affair with food packaging, sometimes more so than baking itself. I strongly believe that packaging is a very important aspect if you're selling or gifting baked goods. People "eat" with their eyes first before even having their first bite, so visual presentation shouldn't be overlooked!

I've gathered my favorite top 6 cookie gift packaging pins from Pinterest with hopes to finalize my cookie gift box. Check it out and tell me what you think!

1. Sweet Lavender Bake Shoppe is one of The Great Cookie Swap 2013 Blogger, and she did a post on cookie swaps rules and packaging. I like this simple and sweet idea of wrapping up your cookies in cellophane and then box them out for shipping.

2. Wrapping cookies in cellophane on both ends with bows makes me feel like I'm receiving a large size "candy"! It looks pretty especially with a classy ribbon! Unfortunately, I found this pin with a link to an "invite" only blog. :(

3. Still sticking to the cellophane method. This would be a good packaging for trio cookies. A dozen with 3 different flavors in a treat box!

4. Let's move on to the boxes. I actually like this one from Southern Flair. It has a very simple yet traditional look, and a home style type of feeling going on.

5. I think I like the compartment box look because I pinned this one right after I saw the one above. This is a cute one that The Black Apple made and shared. These boxes are the Martha line available at Michael's. I totally got inspired to make some mini macarons from my box after seeing her's.

6. Last but not least. I like the washi tape decor on this box. It's a cake box with a handle, a very classic bakery style, but the washi tape makes it pop and gives it a handicraft "made with love", "home made", "self made", "from me to you" gift kind of feel.

I think I've decided to merge number 4, 5, and 6 together and make some number 1 for a few other friends. Let's get the cookie baking started!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Gluten Free Vs. Vegan Baking?

Understanding people's needs is a serious issue. More and more people are becoming allergic to common household pantry goods such as flour and dairy products.

I'm sure you've heard of "gluten-free" and "vegan" baked goods.

As a part of the service industry, American bakeries and cake stores have been slowly accommodating and serving people with sensitive diets. In fact, it's getting more and more popular to a point where you have to be flexible enough to produce such baked goods.

Gluten Free Baking

The gluten free diet is for people who are gluten intolerant or those with coeliac disease and basically it excludes food with gluten in them. Gluten is associated with wheat because when wheat (which is found in flour) is mixed with liquids, gluten proteins form.

These gluten proteins are what makes the dough elastic and stretchy. So if you're making a bread dough, the more you kneed, the more gluten proteins develop, the more air gets trap in the dough which makes an airy and fluffier product.

There are gluten free flour mix available in most major supermarkets and they can be used as substitutes for regular flour. Grocery stores now sell cup-for-cup gluten free flour made out of rice, nuts, corns, or beans. The gluten free flour mix almost always have xantham gum in them but if they don't, it's always good to include a little to help with the consistency of the batter and structure of the baked good.

Xantham gum might sound chemically and alien but it's basically a plant based thickening and stabilizing agent. It helps to blend liquids that don't usually blend well together and it helps to produce a thick batter consistency and creamy texture.

Vegan Baking

Simply explained, Vegans do not consume animal products. Be it from a religious point of view, or just wanting to stay healthy by embracing a new diet, it's a food/lifestyle choice which is slowly growing in number.

What does it mean for us bakers? It means that we need to eliminate the use of animal products in our baked goods. There is a difference between vegan and vegetarian diets though. Vegans excludes eggs and dairy products in their diet. Yup that means, no eggs, animal milk, butter, cheese, and yogurt in their desserts!

Since eggs are so important in the baking process, there are powdered egg replacers that are available in supermarkets. Cow milk can be replaced by using soy milk, rice milk, coconut milk, or any plant based milk. Butter can be substituted for 100% dairy free vegan margarine. You can also use applesauce or avocado to replace butter. 

Tofu can be used instead of yogurt. There's a product called Tofutti that can also be used to replace cream cheese. I made a Tofutti cheesecake once and it was surprisingly tasty! 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Fresh Fruit Tarts

Summer's berry season has long been over, it's starting to get cold outside, and Pastiche, the local dessert store, isn't selling their famous fresh fruit tarts until early next year.

So I decided to make one myself. 

I bought half a dozen medium sized tart pans on Amazon, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, kiwis, navel oranges, a lot of eggs, and started from scratch.

Isn't it amazing how globally dependent we are? True, the strawberries aren't super sweet this time of the year, and mangoes don't really taste as good as those from Thailand but it's still readily available in the big chain grocery stores.

Right now, I'm just plain thankful I've got everything I need for my fruit tarts.

I can't believe it's been years since the last time I made these, and it feels extremely good to create these beautiful looking little fresh bundles of joy.

By the way, as much as I want to make them as visually attractive as possible, a little part inside of me wanted mine covered with slices of golden kiwi...

That didn't happen, but I promise you, it won't be long before I make my own golden kiwi tarts!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Earl Grey Macaroons

Hi there. I've finally made more macaroons since I last remembered. It's true that to be good at something, you'd have to practice over and over again.

However, practice is one thing. Knowing where you've made mistakes is another. 

Please disregard those who claim that French Macaroons are a thing of the past. Last month, I had Bouchon Bakery's Peanut Butter and Jelly Macaroons and I went back in line to get another one right after finishing the one I've devoured!

Macaroons is like ice cream, there's still so many more flavors to experiment on!

So far I've got lemon, chocolate, cappuccino, strawberry, orange, and green tea down. Now here's my attempt on Earl Grey!

By the way, earl grey is my sister's favorite macaroon flavor and it's "slowly becoming" my favorite ice cream flavor.

This particular macaroon had a subtle tea flavor, not overly strong - because I didn't use strong earl grey loose leaf tea in the first place.

A few of my friends commented on my Facebook page that chocolate ganache was the way to go for the filling.

At first I was worried that the chocolate might overpower the delicate flavor of the tea but to my surprise, it came out alright. :)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Cake Couture For My 23rd Birthday!

Please excuse me for the lack of updates, I was having too much fun in California.

A few weeks ago, I celebrated my 23rd birthday!

Like all my past birthdays, I always find myself having this crazy feeling... about suddenly realizing that another year have gone by. For me, September always fly by super fast.

This year, I am blessed to be able to spend my birthday with my family. The last time that happened was on my 18th birthday before I went to college. So, it's been a while.

Nonetheless, I wanted a pretty cake. I've been thinking about it since a month ago, and I knew I wanted a Hello Kitty Sailor cake!

Too bad I am currently staying in my sister's apartment in Davis, CA, so I didn't have the tools, formulas, ingredients, and the time to make one myself. If I could, I would, but this time, I searched around town to place a custom cake order.

After all the research on Google and Yelp, I finally found Christie from Cake Couture. She lives in Davis and caters to clients around the area. Her website is very professional and I guess that was a "wow" factor for me as compared to the other bakers in the area.

I met up with her about 3 or 4 days before my birthday to discuss the cake design and she did a very lovely Hello Kitty figurine on the boat. I absolutely love the effort she put into the details.

It might sound strange ordering my own birthday cake from another baker, but I'm glad I went about calling her. Christie is such a wonderful and talented person. Frankly, I was extremely inspired by her and the hard work she puts into the home based cake business.

I really admire her dedication to this passion and business, knowing that cake orders will keep you up all night, especially if you're working alone...

I was very pleased that she was able to squeeze my order into her super full and tight schedule! She is very approachable and was able to accommodate my request for an earlier pick up time.   

This cake screams 2 of my favorite things: Hello Kitty and Anchors, and I am so hyped about having it as my 23rd birthday cake. 

Wanna have a peak inside? 

Oh by the way, I forgot to tell you, the cake was coffee flavored with French-roast Starbucks flavored coffee filling. I love coffee flavor, so I thought that cake could use a little bit more coffee kick to it, but that's just me. Okay, let's cut the cake!

Finally I'd like to say another Happy Belated Birthday to my September beloveds: 
Jackie, Mom, Sunny, Hans, Grandpa, Cici Cla, Miko, Silvia!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Up, up, and away: Hot Air Balloon Ride

Hello from The Golden State! That's right, I'm in California!

My dear sister is officially a freshie in UC Davis and to celebrate her 18th birthday, we secretly booked a hot air balloon ride from Balloons Above The Valley.

None of us have been on a hot air balloon before so we were extremely thrilled about it, except for waking up at 4am in the morning...

The crew was very professional and organized. The check-in location was at a Marriott hotel. They had us sign agreements regarding the ride and provided us with pastries, muffins, cookies, coffee, and tea before we head off to the balloons.

Getting into the basket was a little "un-glamorous". There were step holes on the side of the basket and we literally need to climb to get in. I've always imagined the basket to be bigger and there's a door or gate that opens for us to get in. 

On second thought, climbing into a hot air balloon basket was pretty fun too.

Photo Credit: Jackie Leonardo

It's not scary. It actually felt like we were floating on air. No, I take that back. We "floated" on air! It's like someone on the ground said "Wingardium Leviosa" and we float up, up, and away! 

However, due to the foggy weather, our initial route over Napa Valley was changed to Winters. A little disappointing but they assured us that it will still be lovely.

And apparently it was pretty colorful!

Doesn't that look just like carpets? Winters has more variety of sights as compared to Napa Valley. We saw rice fields, sunflowers, stone fruit fields, vineyards, empty fields, and greeneries.

The landing was smooth. We only had 2 small bumps, which felt like a thud.

After we landed, the balloon was quickly deflated and re-packaged while we were still in the basket. The pilot opened a small opening to release the air inside the balloon while 2 other men pull down a rope attached to the balloon.

Photo Credit: Jackie Leonardo

After the ride, we had a full champagne brunch!

So that was my first ride, but it definitely won't be my last! 

And by the way, Happy 18th Birthday, Jackie!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Travel Notes: Virginia and Tennessee

Two weekends ago, I went South-bound to Tennessee with friends from Sunshine Travel. I've never been down South, so I was pretty excited about this 4 day tour, and as it turns out, it was super fun!

This was the last Tennessee bus tour for the year so I guess they've taken down the itinerary online, but they still have a lot of other interesting tours!

We visited a few different nature attractions, check it out!

1. Virginia's Natural Bridge

This attraction in Rockbridge County, Virginia was our first stop. Over the years, water flowing on the Cedar Creek carved out this geological formation which shaped a bridge out of a rock. The natural arch is over 200 ft high and is now known as a National Historic Landmark. Some also believed that when George Washington came and surveyed the bridge, he left his initials on the bridge!

And if you follow the walking trail, there's a mini waterfall at the end of it!

2. Ober Glatinburg (Great Smokey Mountain National Park)

We drove through the Great Smokey Mountain to reach our next destination. Ober Glatinburg is located at the top of the Great Smokey Mountain. It's a ski arena during the Winter time and a small attraction park during the Summer time. We went on the Aerial Tramway to the top and played the Amaze'N Maze and the Swing Chair.

3. Dixie Stampede Dinner & Show

This was fun and was the highlight of the Tennessee trip in my opinion. Dixie Stampede is a dinner show (arena style) and it's extremely audience-interactive! We had a 4 course meal, which includes one whole roasted Cornish hen, that we ate with out hands! The show includes live animals such as horses, ostriches, baby pigs racing, plus Sunny and I making a fool of ourselves in a volunteer "horse stick" race! Haha..

4. Ruby Falls

This is by far the most magnificent thing I've ever seen in my life. Who knew there are waterfalls in underground caves?! I thought water fall from mountains tops... Ruby Falls is such an eye opener! It's beautiful especially lit with colorful lights and music. However the guide only turns on the light in the falls room for 5 minutes. So snappy, snap, snap!

4. See Rock City

Like it's name, it is literally a rock city. We walked through suspended bridges and gigantic rocks on the hour long walking trail. Look at this narrow pathway between 2 natural rocks! It's called the "Fat Man Squeeze" and yup, one of my friends really had a hard time getting through.

I think waterfalls are becoming a trend in this trip. This is the Lover's Leap waterfall. It rained a little earlier in the morning so it was extremely foggy at the summit, but trust me, if you were there you'll agree with me that it's really beautiful and that this picture does not do justice to its magnificent view.

6. Lost Sea Adventures

Another cavern tour! This cave was previously used by Native Indians since its discovery. The caves maintain a temperature of 58 degrees Fahrenheit which makes it the ideal resting place to hide from the heat outside.  

Why "lost sea"? Because at the bottom of the cave is America's largest underground lake and we get to "explore" the lake on a guided boat tour. I was kinda hoping that the boat ride would last longer but apparently the lake we circled was kinda small.

7. Shenandoah Caverns

This was the last cave attraction for the tour. This is the home of the famous "breakfast bacon" formations. On the other hand, this picture below is really cool too. It's the Diamond Cascade. This particular formation sparkles like glittering diamonds! Can you believe that some people even had their wedding ceremony in front of this formation?!

This is the Rainbow lake! The pool of water underneath mirrors the formation above making it look as though its symetrical and deep. Of course the colorful lights lends a hand to its beauty too!

That was the end of our 4 days Tennessee trip. I made a few friends along the way and saw a lot of amazing sights and nature's wonders. Our world is a pretty place underground, isn't it?

P.S. I'm heading west to California for a few weeks, more travel posts coming your way!