cat cake

Dear Lyndsay,

Happy book birthday and congratulations on your first cookbook! I wish I was in Vancouver celebrating with you at Collage Collage, but I’m happy to be celebrating with you online. Coco Cake Land is just as cute as your cakes! I love how the book looks and all of the pretty cake inspirations inside.

Coco Cake Land

Ever since my colleague, Daniel, told me about your book, I have been waiting to get my hands on it (and I have Claire in publicity to thank for it). I love the cat cake and the bunny cake and the cacti cake and the fox and the lamb … basically all of them. And those pretty party cakes are what I can work towards. Still can’t do a pretty side drip. Help!

Coco Cake Land

I had sent a photo of the cake to my mom who asked why wasn’t I sharing it with her. I got kind of the same response when I texted it to my best friend. Sorry, this was for two kids who had been asking for cake in the past two weekends!

Coco Cake Land

I think my favourite part of making the cake is putting the ears on. And then the eyes and nose. Because it’s already so freaking cute at that stage.

Coco Cake Land

It was such a blast from the past since I hadn’t worked with fondant in so long. It was stickier than I remembered. Or perhaps it was the new brand of fondant I was trying out. They came in small tubs which was perfect for this project.

Coco Cake Land

And I got to do something new! I have never piped on fondant before. I always tried to avoid adding too much moisture as the fondant would get melt-y, but it didn’t! I adore the added touch of frosting fur on the ears.

Coco Cake Land

I still can’t get over how cute this is, it’s probably the cutest cake I’ve ever made. I made your one bowl dark chocolate cake (page 147) and filled it with the peanut butter frosting (page 156) before piping your simple vanilla buttercream (page 149). Oh my gosh. The piping really took a toll on my hands and arms. All that squeezing. I should have picked up a larger multi-opening decorating tip.

Coco Cake Land

I know I said the cake was too cute to eat. But we just had to. The chocolate cake was really decadent and moist. I loved the peanut butter frosting too, the recipe I normally use requires me to buy cream cheese, so I’m glad that I can do without it and just use your recipe now.

Coco Cake Land

Can I say it? This cake was purrfect.

Sincerely,
Syl

paprika peach pie

Dear Howard,

Another pie! This time, the crust surprised us by being incredibly flaky like puff pastry. Was it the wide lattice? Was it because I added more liquid to the dough than the previous pie? Was it the addition of Demerara sugar? We’ll never know because I’m never consistent! Sorry, but at least each pie we have is a surprise.

02_PaprikaPeachPie

Paprika Peach Pie
All-butter pie crust recipe adapted from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book
Makes one 9-inch pie (double crust)

1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 teaspoons granulated sugar
½ pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ apple cider vinegar
1 cup cold water

  1. Add the sugar and salt into the food processor. Then cube the cold butter and scatter them around the bowl. Pour in the flour and then pulse until the mixture is grainy and sandy looking.
  2. In a measuring cup, pour in the apple cider vinegar and cold water.
  3. Turn on the food processor again and through the opening, add 10 tablespoons of the apple cider vinegar and water mixture.
  4. The dough should come together nicely and feel a little (a tiny bit) tacky or sticky. I prefer the dough this way because additional flour gets added during the rolling process.
  5. Divide the dough into two flat discs and wrap with plastic. Refrigerate overnight or for at least 2 hours.
  6. Take one of the discs out to roll out to make the pie shell. Keep refrigerated as you prepare the pie filling.

Pie Filling
Filling recipe adapted from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book
Makes enough for one 9-inch pie

2½ pounds peaches (5 cups, which is about 7 peaches)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
⅔ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons potato starch
1 tablespoon paprika
⅛ teaspoon white pepper
¼ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon salt

  1. First thing to note, I omitted the Old Fashion bitters from the original recipe.
  2. Peel the peaches, they’re best when ripe. I made this pie twice and the first time, the peaches were still a bit too firm. Then cut the peaches into cubes or slices (I prefer cubes for pie fillings).
  3. In a bowl, add the peaches, lemon juice, sugar, brown sugar, paprika, white pepper, allspice, ginger, and salt. Let it macerate for an hour.
  4. Remove majority of the excess juice and save about a quarter cup. Add in the potato starch and mix to thicken the filling.

Pie Assembly Time

Unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoon flour
1 large egg, whisked
Brown Demerara sugar

  1. This is also a good time to start preheating your oven to 425°F, make sure to position the oven racks to the bottom and center positions. Butter the pie pan and chill in the fridge.
  2. Dust a flat surface and rolling pin with flour (about a tablespoon). Roll the dough out to about an 11 or 12-inch circle to create the pie shell. Let the excess dough hang off the edge.
  3. Pour the filling in the pie shell and refrigerate.
  4. Dust the surface and rolling pin with flour again (the remaining tablespoon). Cut into strips or shapes depending on your design. Place on top of the filling in the pie shell.
  5. To make the border, roll in all the excess dough hanging off the edge. You’ll soon have a nice thick circumference that can be crimped into a wave. Refrigerate the pie if the oven is still not at the right temperature.
  6. Once your oven indicates that it’s ready, take the pie out of the fridge. Scramble the egg in a small bowl and brush it over the dough. Careful not to draw out any of the peach filling out if your lattice top has huge gaps.
  7. Then sprinkle the Demerara sugar on top, it should stick to the egg wash.
  8. Place the pie on a baking sheet on the lowest rack of the oven. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
  9. Lower the oven temperature to 375°F and move the pie on the baking sheet to the center oven rack. Continue to bake for 30 to 35 minutes. The pie is ready when the crust is golden brown and the juices are bubbling.
  10. Take the pie out and let it cool on a wire rack for 2 to 3 hours. Serve at room temperature. The pie will keep refrigerated for 3 days or at room temperature for 2 days.

This is one showstopping pie. I love these unexpected sweet and savoury pie combinations!

Sincerely,
Syl

PS: #NotSponsored I just really love this cookbook! The dough is so easy to use and all the recipes have been delicious.

strawberry balsamic pie

Dear Howard,

I finally joined the Food52 Baking Club on facebook. Why? Because they were using The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book for the month of July and it’s a cookbook that we actually own! It was so nice to see a forum where everyone was baking from the same recipes and sharing success stories and handing out tips where things didn’t work.

With all the strawberries in stores these days, I wanted to give the Strawberry Balsamic Pie a try. I was intrigued by the combination of sweet strawberries with tart balsamic vinegar, plus the book says it’s one of their most popular pies in the shop.

02_StrawberryBalsamicPie

Strawberry Balsamic Pie
All-butter pie crust recipe adapted from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book
Makes one 9-inch pie (double crust)

1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 teaspoons granulated sugar
½ pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¼ apple cider vinegar
1 cup cold water

  1. You can make the pie dough by hand, but I like to use my trusty food processor for its speed. Plus, it evenly distributes the butter into small specks among the flour.
  2. Add the sugar and salt into the food processor. Then cut up the cold butter and scatter them around the bowl. Pour in the flour and then pulse until the mixture is grainy and sandy looking.
  3. In a measuring cup, pour in the apple cider vinegar and cold water.
  4. Turn on the food processor again and through the opening, add 10 tablespoons of the apple cider vinegar and water mixture.
  5. The dough should come together nicely and feel a little (a tiny bit) tacky or sticky. I prefer the dough this way because additional flour gets added during the rolling process.
  6. Divide the dough into two flat discs and wrap with plastic. Refrigerate overnight or for at least 2 hours.
  7. Take one of the discs out to roll out to make the pie shell. Keep refrigerated as you prepare the pie filling.

03_StrawberryBalsamicPie

Pie Filling
Filling recipe adapted from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book
Makes enough for one 9-inch pie

¼ cup + 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 pounds fresh strawberries, diced (5 to 6 cups)
1 small ambrosia apple
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
¾ packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 grinds fresh black pepper
½ teaspoon salt

  1. First thing to note, I omitted the Angostura bitters and ground arrowroot (used cornstarch instead) from the original recipe.
  2. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of sugar over the diced strawberries and let it macerate at room temperature. I left it out for 2 hours.
  3. Peel the apple and then grate it it. Drain the strawberries from their excess juices and combine with the shredded apples. Mix in the balsamic vinegar.
  4. In another bowl, mix the ¼ cup of sugar, brown sugar, cornstarch, black pepper, and salt together. Add this sugar mixture to the strawberry and apples. Pour it into the pie shell. Refrigerate as you work on the lattice top.

04_StrawberryBalsamicPie

Pie Assembly Time

Unsalted butter
1 large egg, whisked
Brown Demerara sugar (I didn’t have, so my photos are missing this)

  1. This is also a good time to start preheating your oven to 425°F, make sure to position the oven racks to the bottom and center positions. Butter the pie pan and chill in the fridge.
  2. Again, dust a flat surface and rolling pin with flour. Roll the dough out and cut them into strips or whatever shaped design you’d like.
  3. To make the border, roll in all the excess dough hanging off the edge. You’ll soon have a nice thick circumference that can be crimped into a wave. Again, if the dough starts to feel warm, pop it back in the fridge, especially if your oven hasn’t finished preheating yet!
  4. Once your oven indicates that it’s ready, take the pie out of the fridge. Scramble the egg in a small bowl and brush it over the dough. Careful not to draw out any of the strawberry filling if your lattice top has huge gaps.
  5. Then sprinkle the Demerara sugar on top, it should stick to the egg wash.
  6. Place the pie on a baking sheet on the lowest rack of the oven. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.
  7. Lower the oven temperature to 375°F and move the pie on the baking sheet to the center oven rack. Continue to bake for 30 to 35 minutes. The pie is ready when the crust is golden brown and the juices are bubbling.
  8. Take the pie out and let it cool on a wire rack for 2 to 3 hours. Serve at room temperature. The pie will keep refrigerated for 3 days or at room temperature for 2 days.

05_StrawberryBalsamicPie

Despite letting the strawberries sit for two hours, a bunch of juice bubbled out of this pie. Luckily the border was high enough that nothing spilled onto the baking sheet or oven. This smelled so good, it was really hard waiting the couple of hours for the pie to cool and set.

06_StrawberryBalsamicPie

It was of course worth the wait. I served it without mentioning the balsamic to see if anyone would pick up on it. It’s pretty subtle, but I think I like this sweet and savoury combination because it doesn’t scream balsamic vinegar. Looking forward to the next strawberry season when I can buy bushel of strawberries for this pie!

Sincerely,
Syl

shakshouka

Dear Laura,

Oh geez, I thought I had published this letter. How many months has it been now? We’re in the sweltering heat of the long weekend when I made this shakshouka after that winter storm at your place. And now, you’re making it again with homemade bread and fresh herbs from your garden for brunch this weekend. Regardless, thank you for introducing my newbie taste-buds to this delicious dish.

Shakshouka (North African-Style)
Recipe from Serious Eats
Makes enough to serve 4-6.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 large red pepper, thinly sliced
1 small jalapeño, thinly sliced
2 to 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 ½ tablespoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin seed
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed
Salt and pepper
Large handful minced cilantro, parsley, or a mix
4-6 eggs (depends on how many eggs each person wants)
Feta cheese (crumbled) and crusty bread (toasted), for serving

  1. Choose your vessel, we’ve made it in both a cast iron skillet and a straight-side sauté pan. Heat the olive oil until it’s shimmering. Then add the onion, red pepper, and chili and cook until they’re browned and starting to char.
  2. Add the garlic, paprika, cumin, and tomatoes. Reduce the heat and let the dish simmer for about 10 minutes. Seriously, if you can make pasta sauce, you can make this sauce.
  3. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add in half the cilantro or parsley.
  4. Egg time! Using a large spoon and make little wells in the sauce. Break an egg into the well and cover the edges with a little bit of sauce so that it’s partially submerged. Repeat with the rest of the eggs, work around the perimeter of the pan. Simmer until the egg whites are cooked and the yolks are still runny.
  5. Take it off the heat to serve and garnish with the remaining cilantro, parsley, and feta cheese.

Shakshuka

Love how easy and hearty this is!

Sincerely,
Syl

banana leaf mural

Dear Laura and Richard,

You know, when most people offer to paint a mural in your newly renovated home, rarely do people take on the offer. But I’m so glad you’re both so trusting and adventurous (I believe Howard called it “brave”) because now we can brush aside the naysayers.

Banana Leaves Mural

Thanks for laying down the tape and prepping the wall for me to doodle on. And thank you for finding me a relatively easy design and colour scheme of one.

Banana Leaves Mural

Equipment

Painter’s Tape
Pencil
Molotow ONE4ALL Acrylic Paint Markers in 4 mm, Mister Green
Molotow ONE4ALL Acrylic Paint Markers in 15 mm, Mister Green
Molotow ONE4ALL Acrylic 30ml Refill in Mister Green
⅛ inch or ¼ inch paintbrush
Paint holder
Ladder

  1. Apply painter’s tape on the ceiling, adjacent walls, and over the floor or floor trims. Also around any shelves, sink, toilet paper holders, light fixtures, mirrors, or windows.
  2. Draw a light outline in pencil of the banana leaves.
  3. Trace the outline with the 15 mm paint marker. Go over it a few times to make it as thick as you like.
  4. Then, use the 4 mm paint marker to draw in the leaf details. These are simply straight-ish horizontal lines.
  5. Pour out the refill paint into the paint holder and touch up the lines with the paintbrush.

Banana Leaves Mural

How weird is it that I summed up 7 hours of work in 5 steps? Except, I’m sorry that the paint still got past the painter’s tape and it required you to repaint some places white.

Banana Leaves Mural

Thanks for pitching in and giving me snack breaks. I love that this was a group project and we all got to exercise the creative part of our brains. I also won’t forget the delicious shakshuka, homemade bread, crispy potatoes, smoothie, Bún bò Huế, and Daim cake.

Banana Leaves Mural

Stay tuned for my next post where I try to recreate the shakshuka!

Banana Leaves Mural

I hope you like the finished wall, I can’t wait to come back and tag it!

Sincerely,
Syl