The green aliens are my favorite Toy Story characters so they had to be included in the party. I found this idea online through Disney. If you go to the link you will find detailed instructions on how they made theirs. Mine were similar with a few differences. I used fondant to make the eyes and poked black licorice into the balls for pupils. The aliens had two mouths, one being black fondant and the other being black licorice. The antennae were made from sour straw candy, cut into 2" pieces and topped with a green cake decoration (buttercream was the glue). The ears were made from rolls of sour green candy that I found at a gas station, of all places. (This was by far, the hardest ingredient to track down. I went to candy stores, pharmacies, etc. and almost jumped out of my skin when I found the strips at the gas station by accident.)
I assembled all of the pieces, a day in advance. The pieces were stored in plastic containers. The cupcakes were vanilla with vanilla buttercream. I frosted the cupcakes and then added the parts that had already been assembled.
The piggy bank, named Hamm, from Toy Story was my inspiration for these easy cupcakes. They would also work well for a barn-themed party. The idea came from Hubpages. The original cupcake used marshmallows for the snout. I used fondant. Either would work just fine. The ears were made by cutting pink wafer cookies into triangles. The eyes were chocolate chips. The mouth was a strip of licorice.
Assemble all the parts in advance and store in parchment lined containers. The cupcakes were vanilla with vanilla buttercream. But strawberry would also be grand.
This is one of several cupcakes I made for Milo's Toy Story Party. We made all of the parts, a day in advance with fondant that we dyed and rolled. My five year old helped me make the mustaches, noses and eyes. The body was cut with a small oval cookie cutter. The eyes were white fondant with pieces of black licorice for the pupils. The lips were red licorice, but I also made some with red fondant and they looked great. We made all of the parts assembly-line style and stored them in tupperware containers lined with parchment. We also used the parchment to separate the layers. Then we covered them until we were ready to decorate.
The cupcake was chocolate with chocolate cream cheese buttercream. I used a pastry bag, fitted with a small tip and filled with the buttercream to act as the glue to connect the parts. If you are doing this, make sure to use the least amount of "glue" as possible.
I also had my daughter help me put the faces together by giving her all of the pieces on a plate with a frosted cupcake. It was really quite easy.
My daughter is in love with Jessie from Toy Story. She is going to be her for Halloween, in fact. She also happens to be allergic to wheat so I made these especially for her to enjoy at our Toy Story party. The original idea came from Disney Family's website and were done as an adorable sugar cookie.
Our version was made from a gluten and wheat free cupcake frosted with vanilla buttercream. The top of the hat was half of a large red gum drop. The stitches of the hat were made of white buttercream, which I reserved before dying the rest of it red.
If you do not yet know about Etsy, you really should check it out. It is the most fabulous website in the history of the internet, where artisans and craft people peddle their wares. You can find almost anything from artwork to toys and clothing. The prices are generally quite fair and most items arrive on your doorstop, lickety split. When I was planning my son's Toy Story-themed party, I went to their site to see what fun things they might have. And boy, did I hit gold. I found so much for the party including the invitation, the favor bags, a shirt for my son to wear and labels to put on the water bottles.
The invitation was one of the coolest things we have done for a party. Usually, I make the invitations for days in advance. And often, they end up being quite expensive after I buy all of the ingredients. I ordered these and the designer entered all of our personal details. Then he sent them to me via a pdf which I took to Kinkos and printed out myself on a self-help machine. The grand total for everything was around $25 and that covered 30 invitations! Here is the invite that we purchased...
I thought it would be a fun way to get the kids to drink more water since we were having a party at a Jr. gym so I bought this label from InviteDelightToo which arrived as a pdf. I printed them out at home and adhered them to water bottles from Costco...
There are tons of other fun things to check out on Etsy. This is just what we used. And there is a full spectrum of party themes. Your party guests will be impressed and you will not have to do ALL of the work yourself!
Every year, my daughter's original baby group gets together for a Halloween costume party. The kids are now five and a couple of siblings have joined the group. It is an event that I look forward to for months. We hosted the party at our house yesterday and had a lot of fun making goodies and decorating. The cupcakes were decorated with all kinds of candy. I just filled up several bowls with all kinds of shapes, sizes and colors. We also cut up some licorice strands. I frosted the cupcakes and handed them off to my decorating crew (Ella, 5; Milo, 3; and Gabe, if I revealed his age he might kill me). Milo's cupcakes looked less like monsters and more like giant mounds of candy corns. Ella's were the most elaborate and she had a story about each of them. This would also be a really great activity if you are looking for a Halloween party activity. Just pre-frost the cupcakes and let the kids go to town. Just be prepared for sticky fingers!
Veggies can be fun! We got this idea from a magazine and it was a hit.
Carmel apples (a classic) & Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
The spread. The candy corn seemed to disappear before our very eyes!
My husband and kids helped me decorate these scary beasts.
As it turns out, kids like candy. Even the monsters knew they were in trouble!
Looking for a delicious, sophisticated and EASY treat to make for your next event? Try these. The recipe is from Martha Stewart's website. I made them for a cocktail party that I had a couple of weeks ago and have not stopped thinking about them since.
After the cookies cooled, I dipped them in melted Valrhona Chocolate. It made for quite a nice cookie!
Amazon delivered my copy of the new MasterChef Cookbook today, hot off the presses. It was written by my friend, JoAnn Cianciulli, and features many of the recipes that you have seen the contestants prepare on FOX's new hit show. It is a great book to have in your library, offering tips on stocking a pantry, selecting cookware and suggestions on wine pairings (from judge Joe Bastianich.) There are lots of recipes from the contestants, judges and Cat Cora's halibut dish from last week's episode. I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves to cook and especially to fans of the show.
Working on MasterChef was so much fun for me, personally. Even though I have been in "the biz" for close to 20 years and have worked on many shows. This one, in particular, was really special. The people involved from the producers to the production assistants were top notch. We all were passionate about the project and worked very hard, with limited resources and a short amount of time. I have been so proud of how it turned out. As the set decorator, my focus is always the "look" of the show and I think my crew really knocked it out of the park. And it is really fun to see all of this in a cookbook; something I can keep on my shelf, always. The coolest thing is watching the show each week. So much fun!
GREAT job to JoAnn and her outstanding culinary team. I hope that these books sell like hotcakes!
I was supposed to be baking today. But alas, I have been hit hard with a nasty cold/flu bug that has held me hostage for the better part of a week. Thanks to some fabulous antibiotics, I am finally on the mend. But as I am recovering, I am staying home tonight while my husband and his friends are going to the Hollywood Bowl to see a concert. We have a box subscription for the World Music Series. Our box holds 4 people and it is always my favorite part of any summer. Usually, I make a fun dinner (sometimes with a theme) and I always bake a goodie to enjoy for dessert. I had the menu planned for tonight, lots of Italian favorites including prosciutto and melon, panzanella, roasted veggies w/Israeli couscous and on and on. Dessert was going to include espresso cookies, lemon cupcakes and raspberry pavlova. Yes, for four people. What can I say? I tend to "go to town". And 2 of our friends are turning 40, so I was going to go a little extra crazy. Instead, I have been on strict diet of soup and popsicles. Talk about misery. If you would like to make the pavlova, seen above, here is the recipe. I hope it tastes good!
Just discovered a really cool blog that I wanted to share. It is called Paper & Pigtails, a Kori Clark Designs Blog. It is jam packed with loads of ideas and fantastic visuals for everything from birthday parties to Holiday cards. Definitely worth adding this one to your favorites list. I love bold and colorful graphics and this site has them en mass. Check it out if you get a chance!
BTW, the photography is phenomenal. The layouts, the styling; it is all very inspirational.
People often ask me for my favorite cupcake recipes. Usually they want something that is easy to prepare yet knocks people's socks off. This is a great one and perfect for the summer. It is best with berries; something about the cream cheese frosting mixed with the sweetness/tartness of the fruit really works. I also suggest using the almond extract when making the cake. It takes it to a whole other level. (Just make sure that there are no allergy restrictions!)
My two shows will be airing on Fox tonight, back to back. It is the season finale for Hell's Kitchen 7 and an all new episode of MasterChef. I was the set decorator on both of these shows and it is fun to have two of my shows airing on the same night. Both have been big ratings winners this summer. It is all very fun to watch. And MasterChef is especially good!
This past weekend I was wine tasting in the Santa Ynez Valley. We were with several people and one of them happened to mention a winery that does tastings, pairing wines with... cupcakes. Naturally, this got my attention. How fabulous is that? Two of my favorite vices, together! Talk about a buttercream buzz!
Truth be told, I gravitate toward savory foods when I chose foods to accompany my wine selections. And I have never been that into dessert wine. But I am curious about this whole thing. I went online an Googled "Cupcake and Wine Pairing" and got back thousands of suggestions. How did I miss this phenomenon?
We never made it to the winery that was doing the cupcake tastings. But I am thinking about throwing together a little party with some girlfriends and trying this thing out. There is a lot of information out there, online. Here are some wonderful suggestions...
Cake has always been my favorite. But even when I have a entire cake in my possession, I rarely ever eat more than a piece or two. Today, Venus and Mercury must have aligned. I feel like a starved werewolf who just got a sniff of a meat market. What brought this on? No idea. I am not sad, nor am I hungry. I just am in the mood to eat some fluffy, buttery and sugary creation. Like some who roam the Internet in search of (think of a word that rhymes with corn) I have been spending some time looking for what I desire. And it is KILLING me! Here is what I am craving...
Doughnut Plant, NYC.
Fauchon. Sometimes fancy can be good!
Cafe Lalo. Just seeing this place makes me drool.
Lark. Their Mocha Cupcake was created by angels.
Sweet Lady Jane. If I were Superman, this would be my Kryptonite.
Madonna Inn. I had one of these almost every birthday growing up.
And that, my friends is the short list. Thank goodness for the internet and sense memory. If only it were as good as the real thing...
Just got a shout out in Time Magazine. I was interviewed for an article for my other blog (Living WELL with Food Allergies) and my friend, Joel Stein, the author decided to print a little joke that I made about Buttercream Buzz. It is a funny article and he comes full circle on the way he looks at food allergies. Check it out, "Aw, Nuts" in Friday's Time.
Besides being an accomplished sous chef, Ella is also a budding photographer. She snapped this of me, baking a cake in my new kitchen. We have now been in the house for 4 months but I am thankful every day to have such a wonderful space to cook in. After cooking in our Manhattan apartment, just a wee bit bigger than a postage stamp and our house in the Hollywood Hills, which had about 4' total of counter space... this feels a lot like dying and going to Heaven.
In the photo, I am wearing my MasterChef apron. It just premiered on Fox this week. I was the show's set decorator and I am really proud of all that our Art Department did. We had an insanely low budget and not much time to create a divine space. Thankfully, none of that showed up on camera and I got to watch it on HDTV. If you get a chance, tune in. It was so much fun to work on. The gals in the culinary department really kick some bootie and I learned a lot by watching them.
It wasn't so long ago that LA was a ghost town for decent bakeries. Lately, with the cupcake renaissance things have gotten more interesting. People often ask me what my favorites and here is my mini list...
When I am not blogging about baking and being a Mommy, I work as a Set Decorator for TV and Film. One of the shows that I decorated recently is called MasterChef and it begins airing on Fox tonight. I am supremely proud of the sets that we created and I think that this will be a show worth watching. It is an international phenomenon and is one of Australia's most successful TV shows. Our version will feature celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey, as one of three judges. It is a cooking competition show, but with people who are not professional chefs. Most of the other cooking shows, a la Top Chef, have professional chefs competing against one another. You will get to see the softer, gentler side of Gordon who is known for his abrasive yelling in the kitchen. MasterChef is produced by the same people who do "Biggest Loser". It has a lot of heart and we have been receiving favorable reviews all over the place. Here is one from the Hollywood Reporter which had this to say about the show...
"Bottom Line: Top-notch production and unpredictable judges are the main ingredients in this tasty series."
If you are able to, please tune in or set your DVRs. If the show is anything like what I saw during filming, standing in the control room, it is going to be really fun to watch.
It seems that Magnolia Bakery LA has been closed temporarily, less than two weeks after they opened. I discovered this, as I marched like a zombie to their new store. Hoping to score more crack, I mean, another caramel cupcake. Sad news, indeed. Hopefully they will reopen before I am forced to enter a 12 step program.
Mom's first birthday cake of the year. I am not sure what it is about my family, but we seem to be having multiple celebrations for everyone's birthdays. We have a little tradition of going to the Hollywood Bowl for Reggae Night each year. My husband and I have a box subscription in the summer and it is lovely because we can dine out, under the stars. I usually try and concoct some sort of theme for the menu and often, the show itself, is my inspiration. This night, I chose to make Salmon with a soy & maple reduction, cold sesame peanut noodles, fruit salad with mint and ginger, and apricot slaw. This was the dessert... a coconut rum cake. It was pretty good, although I made several goofs along the way. (READ those recipes, people! Even when there are little children around to distract you!) I put too much coconut milk into the cake. And the frosting, well, let's just say it took some effort to get it to work. Can't tell you what I did, exactly. But everyone seemed to like it. My Mom humored me and told me that it was her new favorite. Her real birthday isn't until next week. We'll have to see what she has to say then!
Every time a big holiday is over, I like to go shopping. The deals are to be had. Most times, holiday merchandise will be on sale for 75% off. This is true for every holiday. My favorite buys are usually baking decorations and wine bags. I throw my finds into a plastic box with a lid and leave them to be rediscovered the next time the holiday rolls around. I picked up these firework picks at Pottery Barn last year. And they were a big hit at this year's family BBQ. It was a spectacularly easy way to decorate in a jiffy.
In our home, everyone gets their hands on the action. Ella has turned into a full fledged sous chef. Often times, nudging me out of the way. Especially if there are sprinkles involved. And whenever I pull out my hand mixer, my son who is only 2 1/2 comes running. Doesn't matter what room he happens to be in. But isn't this what it is all about? Making people happy with our loving goodies. Brings a smile to my face, every time.
There is new favorite at my house and I cannot get it out of my mind! Lemon Buttercream. It all started with Ella's birthday in April. She requested a lemon cake with lemon frosting. It was the first time I made it and have been hooked ever since. It goes amazingly well with raspberries. And now I am playing with recipes and looking for more ways (and excuses) to make the stuff. It doesn't help that my Dad keeps giving me bags of lemons from his tree.
Summer is here! And the bounty of seasonal fruits are all around us. They are the easiest way to decorate any dessert. And you can get the kids involved, too. This cake was from Everyday Food, their Tres Leches Cake. Really yummy way to end a meal on a warm night!
The world famous, Magnolia Bakery will soon be opening a west coast location in LA. The New York City bakery that helped ignite the cupcake craze is tops. We used to live in Greenwich Village, not far from their original location. I frequented them more times than I care to admit. There is something pretty special about getting a freshly frosted cupcake. It is simple and delicious. Vanilla and chocolate with vanilla or chocolate frosting. It reminded me a lot of my childhood, smelling my Mom's kitchen. And since I was homesick when I was living in NYC, this helped fill a void. Thankfully, I was walking constantly so the extra calories were not a problem. But every so often I would buy a half dozen and surprise my husband or visiting friends with them. They were always a hit. It wasn't long before I discovered their banana pudding. And then I was addicted to that!
When we moved back to Los Angeles I made sure to take one of their cookbooks with me, which is now a well worn part of my library. Whenever someone asks me to suggest a fabulous cake recipe, I always mention their vanilla birthday cake recipe. It is just what you would expect in a classic cupcake. Nothing fancy, but perfectly fulfilling.
The romantic part of me wishes that they would never have branched out from their original location. Yes, I understand their need to expand. But to me, half of the fun was walking down Bleeker and hoping that the line was not too long. So I am a bit torn over the fact that they will soon be in my neck of the woods. I guess it is a good thing. But I still think I would rather get one when I am in New York. Call me old fashioned! But let's be honest... I will probably visit their LA store the first week they open. I hope they have the banana pudding...
Gabe got to choose his birthday cake this year. He wanted something with chocolate and banana. So I whipped up my favorite chocolate layer cake (Darn Good Chocolate Cake from the Cake Doctor). I used whipped cream and chocolate frosting to separate the layers and then piled lots of banana slices on top of each. For the candy topping (the stuff that looks like glass) I made a simple brickle with sugar and water. For me the cake was a bit rich and sweet. But Gabe and his friends gobbled it up.
Last year, I made a similar cake for Ella on her birthday. With this one, I incorporated layers of cherry vanilla cake (+ chocolate chips) with cherry buttercream frosting and chocolate whipped cream. Of the many cakes I made over the course of 2 weeks, this one disappeared the fastest.
So I like to bake. Sue me! And it seems that I also have an inability to resist any request Ella makes of me. She really wanted a lemon cake for our family celebration. And since she is allergic to wheat I couldn't go the traditional route with my chosen recipe. Boy, was I happy to discover that one of my favorite Gluten/Wheat Free cookbooks had a recipe for one. (Gluten Free Baking Classics by Annalise Roberts). The cake is even on the cover of the cookbook. And for good reason. This was so incredibly moist and absolutely one of the best lemon cakes that I have ever had. Ella, well being 5, thought it was a little tart. But I am still going to be making this one again.
This is a dessert that I have featured before. And it is, without question, one of my favorite all time cakes to make. Truth be told, I bust this out when I want to impress people. The flavors are complex... Hazelnut brickle on top of orange and chocolate crumbles, on top of mascarpone and whipped cream frosting, on top of dark chocolate cake. It is true treat. I took these to a house warming party for a work colleague. Several people thought that they were from a bakery. I guess the high brown cupcake wrappers threw them for a loop. I tell ya, you get the right packaging and people think you are downright FANCY!
(For recipe, see previous post below for Hazelnut Crunch Cake).
As usual, our family celebrated our daughter's birthday with not one, but THREE cakes this year. I always like trying new ways to decorate the baked confections. This year, I thought about rolling out Starburst candies and cutting them into fun shapes to decorate her cake. But as I always seem to be running behind on time, I quickly realized that a simpler approach was needed. Somewhere I had seen a cupcake cookbook that used lollipops to adorn children's cupcakes. So I decided that this was the way to go. I got a lot of approval from the crowd. Truth be told, the suckers were store bought (thank you, Michael's!) But next time, I vow to make my own.
These were Cherry Chip Cupcakes with Cherry Buttercream. Lots of buzzin' was goin' on after these bad boys disappeared!