Monday, December 17, 2012

Mixed Plate: Hello, My Little Petite Sweet...

Tis the season for sugary sweets and decadent treats.. and then wondering why the pants don't fit come New Year's Day. It's so hard to resist all the goodies around this time of year! Especially when you work at an office and every week someone brings in something homemade or clients are sending gifts of thanks like fancy chocolates. And don't get me started on the day one of my office mates introduced me to the entity known as The Kringle. And it's definitely the season for making at-home treats, both to give away and hoard for yourself, and therein lies this bloggy sweet tale...

Deck the halls with... shiny stuff! - Photo by Wasabi Prime
I don't have an office break room anymore to indulge in communal sweets, but I do get into a baking mood when the holidays come 'round. I was decorating the house, pulling out Christmas stuff one weekend and it just didn't feel like the holidays until the house had the smell of fresh baked goods perfuming the air. And just doing a run-through with a cinnamon/vanilla scented candle wasn't going to cut it. 

I had been meaning to try the recipes from the new Petite Treats cookbook, from the wild n' crazy gals over at Mini Empire Bakery. It's their newest book, as adorably cute and petite-sized as their first book, Mini Pies, which I enjoyed baking from as well. If you haven't already done your holiday shopping, it's one of those cute, charming cookbooks that make for easy gifts, since it's full of photos, the recipes are for familiar desserts, and there's a lot of good options and suggestions for making things vegan, gluten-free and just a more natural way of enjoying your sweets. And the best thing is, the desserts are MINI, so you can EAT MORE. This logic of mini desserts is brilliant.

Petite Sweets from the Mini Empire Bakery team gives you a reason to eat your beets! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I wanted to try their Red Velvet Yippee Cakes, which are a mini version of whoopie pies. Having made whoopie pies before and seeing how large they can be, and how much butter goes into the icing, you get a little of that reality shock. As wonderful as they taste, it's the Thing That Cannot Be Unseen, remembering how many sticks of butter had to be sacrificed for a healthy slathering of sweet, iced filling. Making a mini version of whoopie pies was much easier for my brain's calorie counter to handle, plus the recipe in Petite Treats uses beets to give the red velvet cake it's signature hue. Traditionally, beets were part of the original recipe, the ingredient that gave the cake that distinctive color, but thanks to the popularity of this vintage recipe and the need to play up the red hue for TV Land and Food Photography-ville, most recipes suggest using a scary amount of red food dye. Granted, the dye is safe and it's not like the crazy tumor-growing stuff we all drank down in iced Cherry Squishee form back in the 80s, but that red color really is quite alarming, especially in the large amount required to make today's expectation of red velvet cake.

Their recipe called for canned beets, which has the benefit of the beet juice -- nature's food coloring! And don't get it on anything, it stains like Bloody Murder. I used roasted beets, just because I had them, but don't worry, whether home roasted or canned, you're not going to take a bite from the cake and say, "Mmm... borscht-y!" I've baked with beets before, even blended them into chocolate brownies to keep it moist -- they're ideal to bake with chocolate, as the bitter cocoa goes nicely with the slightly earthy, but sweet beets. You don't taste them at all, and for this recipe, they lend their color in a more natural way, more of a burgundy color. While the cake won't have that blood red look that you usually see, it's a truer red velvet cake. And hey, burgundy is one of the hot trend colors of the year, so consider your dessert extra fashionable.

I didn't have a special pan to make each little yippee pie that perfect mound-shape, and I wasn't sure if the dough would run on the pan, so I made square yippee pies. As Huey Lewis and the News would say: It's Hip to be Square. The cake batter is stiff enough to where you could pipe or carefully spoon each half onto a prepared baking sheet, just being mindful to keep each dollop as uniform as possible. I basically made a red velvet brownie, then once it was cooled, carefully sliced it across the middle and added frosting to the center before slicing into smaller pieces. I personally love cream cheese frosting, so I used that as the filling, but the recipe comes with a great buttercream icing recipe, which is more true to whoopie/yippee form.

Something sweet to give - lavender sugar - Photo by Wasabi Prime
I saved our mini red velvet cakes for ourselves, as the cream cheese frosting made it a little harder to mail out to family and friends. We have to save a little something sweet for ourselves, right? But while I was in my baking/decorating mode, I managed to make a quick batch of lavender sugar, something sweet that's very easy to package up and give to friends. In the final stages of homemade gifts, I had some dried lavender from a friend's garden and plain white sugar. I buzzed the lavender buds and sugar in a food processor until they were as chopped up as possible, and then divided up the fragrant sugar into those quaint little Weck jars, which are all the crafty rage these days. A pretty blue-lavender bow, and these little darlings were ready to gift to friends who like to bake or drink tea. A little sprinkle of this in tea is wonderful, it sweetens and perfumes the drink beautifully. You could probably incorporate it in cocktails as well, but again, using it sparingly as the lavender is strong. I used this sugar in this year's lavender shortbread cookies, cutting the regular sugar with some lavender sugar to make the cookies extra special.

A sweet finish to a productive holiday weekend - Photos by Wasabi Prime
And so I managed to cross off several holiday to-do's on my list, while enjoying a house smelling like sweet cake and lavender. It's a rare moment of holiday heaven when you can both feel productive and be rewarded with a delicious dessert afterwards. Don't forget to put Mini Empire's book on your holiday gift list, or for any dessert fan in your life -- everyone deserves to have a little something sweet now and then.

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