Cake of the Month 2016

07
Jul

Project Michigan

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Logo Idea from Student Presentation

Logo Idea from Student Presentation

The bakery turned 26 this year. Along with this milestone, I had a feeling that maybe the bakery ( and me as well!) could use a bit of re-branding… a kind of  business facelift. I began thinking . “Is it time to re-do the logo? Are we still fresh in the minds of our consumers and/or potential customers? Are we still relevant , among the growing competition of cupcake shops, food trucks and Pinterest DIYers? ” Does our website communicate what we are all about?”.

Even with my  marketing degree, I find it hard sometimes to take a look at the business  objectively.

 

In the meantime, one of my fav cousins began  teaching advertising copywriting at MSU. He suggested Sweet Maria’s as a potential case study for his senior class’ final presentations. What a great opportunity!  I jumped at the chance.

We skyped to discuss objectives,: emails and phone calls followed. These students were really taking their Sweet Maria project seriously.. even their do-it-yourself cupcakes came out great!

 

 

Awesome Student Cupcake!

Awesome Student Cupcake!

 

 

 

At semester’s end it was off to East Lansing for the final presentations.

 

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This whole experience couldn’t have been any better.

It was great meeting with all of these young, enthusiastic, creative students.Every single presentation had something of value; SWOT’s , logo re-design, social media strategies, website ideas, promotional ideas.

I spent some quality time with my cousin.

I enjoyed a few days away from the day-to-day bakery operations.

And  after my previous life in the advertising world, it felt great to be the client.

I returned from my time on-campus refreshed ,and with some new business perspectives.

So stay tuned, we are baking some fresh ideas, a few  from our friends ( now graduates!)  at MSU.

go Spartans!

 

Me and Cousin Lou

Me and Cousin Lou

 

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26
May

Another Round…..

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Cookie Cup Mania has definitely struck . At Sweet Maria’s , we always love a new project. Luckily our customers step up and give us plenty of challenges.  Our latest  is the cookie cup, the perfect edible shot glass filled with delicious chilled milk. I did see edible cookie cups years ago, but never had the time to experiment. Here’s how they finally happened.

One of our favorite customers wanted to toast at a friend’s baby shower. What better way than with a shot of milk in a cookie cup?

We pressed our regular chocolate chip cookie dough into a popover pan, then inserted a cannoli tube first, then a cork wrapped in foil (food blogger approved method) into the center, then baked. Both times failed. The cannoli tube tipped over, and the corks popped up.

After much thinking…..

A new dough with no leavening was mixed, smaller chips used for easier rolling….freezing before baking….then baking blind …. NEWS FLASH! Why didn’t we think of this sooner?? Just lining the cups with clean squares of parchment and weighing down with pie weights, rice or dried beans (like we’ve done a billion tart pans before) did the trick.

Every possible cookie dough since last week has been baked into a shot cookie cup or even better, an ice cream cookie cookie cup.  Chocolate chip, Coconut Macaroon, Peanut Butter Cookie….yes please! Another round!

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Chocolate Chip Cookie Cups

These fresh baked cookie cups are perfect for milk shots or ice cream sundaes. A perfect holiday weekend project!

1 pound unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2  cup mini chocolate chips ( or finely chopped chocolate)

2 ounces dark chocolate

Special equipment:

parchment paper

pie weights, rice, or dry beans.

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. In the bowl of stand mixer ( or with hand held mixer) cream butter and both sugars until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix until well blended.
  3. Add flour and salt. Mix just until blended.
  4. Chill dough for at least 1/2 hour.
  5. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/8” thickness.
  6. Cut dough into rectangles . Place dough into non-stick popover pans. ( or jumbo cupcake pans for ice cream sundae cups) Line the bottom of each cup with additional dough. Press to secure dough.
  7. Freeze dough in pan for approximately 1/2 hour. Cut dough flush with the tops of the pan.
  8. Place a square of parchment into each cup. Carefully fill with rice ( or pie weights or dry beans).
  9. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.
  10. Remove pan from the oven. Remove parchment and weights. Return pan to oven and bake an additional 5 minutes.
  11. Cool cups slightly in pan.
  12. Carefully remove cups from the pans and cool on wire cooling racks.
  13. Melt chocolate. Brush inside of cups with chocolate. Let dry. Fill and enjoy as desired!

Checkout Maria Baking these with Scot and Kara!

 

 

 

 

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28
Apr

Oatmeal Cookie Day!

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I love all of the food holidays! Everyday should be a sweet celebration. Saturday is no exception. Please join me in celebrating National Oatmeal Cookie Day. If you like them chewy or  crunchy, with nuts,or  without nuts, with chocolate chips,  or without chocolate chips, it’s totally up to you. Take our homestyle classic cookie recipe and feel free to improvise. And be sure to celebrate daily.

Sweet Maria’s Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

These cookie are moist and chewy. Be sure not to over-bake. You can add chocolate chips or walnuts if you like!

1/2 pound ( 2 sticks ) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup brown sugar

2 eggs

1 tablespoon molasses

1 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

3 cups rolled oats

1 cup raisins

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F
  2. In the bowl of a standing mixer ( or with a hand held mixer) cream butter and both sugars on medium high speed until light.
  3. Add eggs and molasses. Mix until well blended.
  4. On low speed, add flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and oats. Mix just until blended. Add raisins, Mix well.
  5. Chill dough for 15 to 20 minutes. ( can be made 2 days in advance).
  6. Spoon dough out onto a parchment lined cookie sheet, spacing each 2 inches apart.
  7. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until slightly browned.
  8. Remove from the oven.
  9. Cool cookies on wire cooling rack.
  10. Store at room temperature in an airtight container.

Makes about 40 2-inch cookies.

See how we bake them with Scot and Kara at Better Connecticut!

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06
Aug

I scream you scream….

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Ice Cream Cupcakes

Dessert for our annual company picnic is always a challenge. Everyday we are surrounded by delicious cakes and cookies. It’s easy to get tired of the same sweets.  The one thing that always excites us is ice cream.  We’ve had sundae bars before but they can get messy. I think I found sprinkles in the yard for months after the last picnic. I wanted something refreshing then thought, “Why not make ice cream cake? ” We have all the yummy components, all we needed was the ice cream! The only problem was what flavor? So why decide? Ice cream cupcakes were the only solution. Using all our favorite toppings and fillings, our newest obsession was born. Plenty of flavor options for all, easily contained in a cupcake liner. Don’t be surprised if you find them as a “pop-up” product at Sweet Maria’s on summer weekends.  Summertime is sweet!

Here’s how to:

-Line jumbo cupcake pans with paper liners( sometimes regular size cupcakes are just not enough!) Make Graham Cracker and Chocolate Cookie Crumb: Melt 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, then cool. Add to 1 cup crushed graham crackers or chocolate cookies and 1/4 cup sugar. Mix well.   IMG_5609 Get some caramel, ganache, hot fudge sauce, crushed heath bars, fruit, amaretti crumb, sprinkles, nuts, crushed candy bars, etc.. Let ice cream soften for a few minutes before assembly.  Layer crumbs, ice cream,caramel, fudge sauce,  press gently, then layer more!   IMG_5613         Top with whipped cream and garnish appropriately. Freeze until firm.   IMG_5614               Wrap each individually in cello bags and store in freezer until serving. Let ice cream cupcakes soften.at room temp 5 minutes before serving.   Our Favorite Flavor Ideas: – Salted Caramel -Cookies and Cream – Chocolate Heath Bar -Chocolate Peanut Butter -Toasted Almond-“Smores- Birthday Cake- Chocolate Heath Bar-Mocha Almond Fudge-Black Forest-Caramel Banana Brownie

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26
May

Beyond Cake

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Of course, we love cake! Especially wedding cakes. A towering masterpiece of sugar has always been a traditional way to celebrate a wedding. In ancient Rome, a piece of cake was broken over the bride’s head , then eaten by the bride and groom for good luck. In Medieval England, guests were asked to bring a small cake to the wedding celebration. The cakes were piled high and the bride and groom had to kiss over the top to guarantee their happy life together!

Mom and Dad May 1961

Mom and Dad May 1961

The cake is always the centerpiece of the event and can be as unique as the couple getting married. Dark chocolate, fresh fruit, flowers, sugar ribbons and more are all beautiful and tasty ways to deck out the cake. For some brides, cake might not be their favorite dessert…..there are other ways to celebrate beyond cake.  We are always happy to customize a dessert table for any occasion. Planning a dessert table is a challenge; mapping out all the plate placement ,baking samples, and portion counting can take months. It can be a daunting task. Tarts, pies, candies, petit fours and pastries can be more challenging than a 5 tier cake! When it all comes together, and looks great, the “oohs and ahhs” and “happily ever after” is all that ever matters.

Dessert Table Plate Planning

Dessert Table Plate Planning

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Dessert Table Done!

 

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Dessert Table Done!

For more wedding cake history :A Slice of History

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29
Mar

” Do You Make the Meat Pie?”

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My family's Easter Meat Pie

 

Every year the phone calls start about a month or so before Easter. “Do you make the Easter meat pie?” Many aliases follow, “pizza gain” , “pizza gaina”, “pizza rustica”.  Seeing that we are in the business of sweets, no we do not sell the meat pie. Of course we ( meaning the family) make the meat pie. The meat pie or “pizza piena” ( “full pie”) , as we call it,  is made to celebrate Easter, spring and all the abundance we can enjoy after depriving and fasting during Lent.  Of course, all meat pies are not created equal. The recipes and combinations of meat and cheeses will vary according to the region of Italy , usually based on locally sourced ingredients. We judge the pie based on the amount of meat. After all it should be “full” with minimal egg and cheese used as a binder. The crust is a crispy savory treat . The end pieces of the pie are always my favorite.

Growing up I wasn’t really that big a fan of the pie. When I was legally able to enjoy a glass of Pinot Grigio along with it,  then I understood it’s true deliciousness.

Pieces of Easter Meat Pie Ready to be Enjoyed!

 

My Mom always made the pie on Good Friday, but of course it could not be eaten until Saturday. ( remember, no meat on Fridays).  My Dad ate it for dinner on Saturday night and  I honor him and carry on this tradition.

 

If you choose to make this pie, here is our family recipe and a few tips. Just save me an end piece.

 

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Tips:

– Ask the deli server to cut the meat thick. Setting at the local grocery store, # 6. This will make the cutting the meat easier.

– When chopping the meat, smaller is better.

–  You can chop the meat the night before you bake the pie. Just refrigerate and use when needed.

– The pie does get better with age. You can bake it, refrigerate,1 week ahead, then serve.

– Use a springform pan for easiest removal.

– Place a foil lined cookie sheet underneath the pie while baking in case of any leaks or overspills.

– Don’t be impatient. This pie takes awhile to cook.

– Do serve it at your Easter brunch or as an appetizer at Easter dinner.

– Honor your own traditions, too!

 

Pizza Piena  “Full Pie”

Easter Meat Pie

Filling:

8 eggs

¾ lb. ham ( diced small)

¾ lb. prosciutto ( diced small)

¼ lb. salami ( diced small)

1 ½ cups ricotta

½ cup grated pecorino Romano

½ cup chopped parsley

1 teaspoon black pepper

Crust:

1/3 cup shortening, melted, then cooled

4 eggs

Salt and pepper

1 ½- 2 cups flour

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Make crust. Beat eggs and cooled shortening. Add salt and pepper and 1 ½ cups flour. Knead to make a soft, not sticky dough. If dough is sticky, add additional flour. Cover and set aside.
  3. Make filling. Beat eggs, ricotta, pecorino Romano. Add chopped meat, parsley and black pepper.
  4. Reserve ¼ of the crust dough. Roll out ¾ of the crust dough like a pie crust. Place into 9-inch springform pan. Pour in filling.
  5. Roll out remaining crust. Cut into strips. Layer strips over filling in lattice pattern. Crimp edges of crust all around.
  6. Bake 1 hour and 15-20 minutes, or until center is set. Cool pie in pan 3-4 hours or overnight.
  7. Refrigerate and cut into  pieces.

 

My Mom,Corinda, with pie, circa 2011

 

 

 

 

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20
Feb

Cakes for Kids Kickoff!

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IMG_4740 Wow! Hard to believe we turned 25 on Sunday!  To celebrate, we kicked off our local “Cakes for Kids” initiative. We will be donating cakes to the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center at Saint Mary’s Hospital . This year we’ll donate 25 cakes, next year 26 cakes, and so on. You can help spread some happiness for these kids by donating  what you can. The hospital will use the funds to buy additional sweets, party supplies and more fun things for patients.

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    Cakes for Kids is a sweet way for us to celebrate our 25 years in business and give back to a great community. By delivering a surprise birthday cake to a child in the hospital we are hoping to add a bit of yumminess and a smile to their day.  Stop in the bakery  to find out how you can help us be the icing on someone’s cake!

sweet maria's since 1990

sweet maria’s since 1990!

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20
Dec

A Christmas tradition, plus variations

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pizzelles

By popular request, I am sharing my recipe for traditional Italian pizzelle cookies. These crispy treats are a holiday favorite, made famous by my Aunt Josephine and my mother-in-law Terry. I love these cookies and I’m lucky enough to delegate making them to the experts in the family. Their pizzelles always seem to come a little crisper, a little fancier and a little tastier. Years of experience, patience, and a vintage pizzelle maker can make all the difference!

Vanilla Pizzelles ( you can use any flavor; lemon, vanilla, almond, anise)

3 eggs

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/4 pound unsalted butter, melted, then cooled

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

 

Preheat pizzelle maker.  In an electric mixer, beat eggs, sugar, melted butter and vanilla. Add flour and baking powder. Mix on low speed to make a sticky dough. Drop a teaspoon of dough onto the center of each pizzelle outline. Close the pizzllee iron and bake 45 to 60 seconds or until nicely browned. Carefully remove the hot pizzelle from the iron and cool flat. Dust with powdered sugar.

Variations:

While pizzelle is still hot , carefully roll into a cannoli shell shape. Place seam side down to cool. Fill with whipped cream or cannoli filling.

Stack cooled pizzelles with whipped cream and fresh fruit.

 

pizzelle "cannoli"

 

 

pizzelle cream stacks

pizzelle cream stacks

 

 

 

Christmas circa ’67

 

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24
Nov

All About Almonds

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white chocolate spice macarons

For the last couple of years, I have been seduced like the rest of the country by the pretty French macaron. You know the delicate little sandwich cookies, brightly colored and flavored. The shells are a baking challenge to say the least. How could a cookie with three simple ingredients, almond flour, sugar and egg whites be so hard to perfect?

 

In the search for perfection  I was reminded of the the original Italian macaroon, also known as amaretti. Same simple ingredients, almond paste, sugar and egg whites, easy breezy to make.  Our amaretti topped with pine nuts and their chocolate variation are two of our most popular cookies. Delicious almond flavor, crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside…. naturally wheat free. Delicious!

Inspired by macaron mania, I  created some new amaretti flavors and colors. Check these out; Raspberry, Lemon, Lime, Orange, Chocolate Cherry and Espresso Amaretti. All perfectly paired with almond. Just the beginning!

 

 

flavored amaretti

flavored amaretti

 

 

Many thanks to Kellie and Dee for the French mac tutorials.. Old dog, new tricks?

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05
Jul

cake in a bowl

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After last Monday’s photo shoot for the latest  Intermezzo Magazine article I was left with some “less than fresh” ginger sponge cake.( see issue 31 , coming soon! ) I was also left with no dessert  options for Saturday evening’s dinner with the in-laws. I looked into my fridge and took a look at what I could possibly pull together, quickly and deliciously. And I went to my “go to” dessert option, cake in a bowl.

Luckily, I had some of the season’s best strawberries. I grew up thinking everyone opened their refrigerator to a nicely chilled bowl of sliced strawberries macerated in sugar and vermouth. I didn’t  know people ate them a different way. I also grew up thinking everyone bought their produce the same way my family did.  Nick Sprotto  visited my Mom, grandma and aunts in the family compound.  Two or three times a week he’d sit and have coffee in the early am rattling off the contents of his truck in a friendly, but monotonous tone “pears , potatoes, and so on…  Pretty old school stuff. Farm to table circa 1970.

It really made a difference in the quality of the fruit. Be sure to seek out the best from your local farm markets and purveyors this season. It’s almost never been easier or trendier.

Strawberry Spongecake Trifle ( aka “cake in  a bowl”)

half a 9-inch spongecake cut into cubes (about 2 cups)
2 cups sliced strawberries

1 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup sugar

Syrup:
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup dry vermouth

Make syrup.  In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring water and sugar to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until sugar dissolves. Remove pan from heat and stir in vermouth.

Make whipped cream.Whip cream on medium high until soft peaks form. Add sugar. Whip until stiff.

Assembly: Toss sponge cake cubes with sugar syrup. In a medium bowl, layer whipped cream, cake cubes , fresh strawberries. Repeat. Refrigerate and enjoy.

 

Strawberry Cake in a Bowl

Strawberry Cake in a Bowl

 

 

 

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