Making Baklava not as difficult as it seems

Deliciously easy to make buttery Baklava

From the first bite, I've always loved Baklava. It's a simple dessert with complex contrasts of flavor and texture - honeyed citrus and cinnamon, layers of papery-thin, buttery crust, and finely chopped nuts.

Years ago on a memorable date, my companion wanted to introduce me to the wonders of Mediterranean cooking.  He was so earnest and so completely charming, that I hadn't the heart to tell him I'd eaten already at the restaurant he proposed or that I was familiar with the cuisine.

Never one to disappoint someone, especially someone of the male persuasion, who is trying to make me happy, I never let on and my Prince Charming proceeded to wow me with his Greek restaurant, ordering all his favorites and finishing with the classic dessert.

I loved the way he seemed delighted to delight me, and I loved the honey-syrup drenched Baklava.

Although the love affair lasted only a brief moment, my passion for Greek food and the deceptively simple Baklava has lasted a lifetime.  Still, I'd never considered making Baklava. I always thought it would be too hard, having heard horror stories of phyllo's difficulty. 

The good news is that the dessert, while time-consuming, is not difficult at all and the results are sensational. Make some for your next gathering and your reputation as a domestic goddess will be firmly established.

This recipe is easily halved as well.


from Gourmet June 2004

Adapted from Eleni Theos Stelter

Resist the urge to chop the nuts in a food processor — it makes them release more oil, resulting in a heavier baklava.

Active time: 1 1/2 hr Start to finish: 12 hr (includes chilling and standing)

Yield: Makes 32 pieces


For syrup
2 cups sugar
2/3 cup water
1 lemon, halved
1 orange, halved
1 1/2 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
2/3 cup honey

For baklava
3 1/4 cups whole almonds with skins (1 lb), finely chopped
2 1/3 cups walnuts (1/2 lb), finely chopped
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 (1-lb) package phyllo dough (17 by 12 inches; about 28 sheets), thawed if frozen


Make syrup:

Combine sugar and water in a 2 1/2- to 3-quart saucepan. Squeeze juice from lemon and orange into sugar mixture. Add fruit halves and cinnamon sticks. Bring mixture to a boil over moderate heat, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved, then simmer 10 minutes. Stir in honey and return to a boil. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Pour through a sieve into a large measuring cup or bowl, pressing hard on, then discarding, solids. Chill, uncovered, until cold, about 1 hour.

Assemble and bake baklava:

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.

Whisk together almonds, walnuts, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt until combined well.

Generously brush a 13- by 9- by 2-inch glass baking dish with melted butter. Halve phyllo sheets crosswise and stack sheets. Keep stack covered with 2 overlapping sheets of plastic wrap and then a dampened clean kitchen towel.

Lay 2 sheets of phyllo in bottom of baking dish and brush top sheet generously with butter. Continue to layer 2 sheets at a time, staggering sheets in each double layer slightly to cover bottom of dish, then brushing every second sheet generously with butter, until you have used 10 sheets of phyllo total.

After brushing top layer of phyllo with butter, spread a rounded 1 1/2 cups of nut mixture over it. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons butter.

Repeat layering 3 more times. Top with 10 more sheets of phyllo. (You will use 50 sheets of phyllo total.) Butter top and let baklava stand at room temperature to harden slightly (to facilitate cutting), 10 to 15 minutes.

Using a sharp knife, cut baklava into 16 equal rectangles, then cut each piece in half diagonally. (Be sure to cut all the way through.)

Bake baklava until golden, 50 minutes to 1 hour. If your oven runs hot like mine does, the baklava will be ready in 30 minutes.

Transfer dish to a rack to cool, then slowly pour cold syrup around edges of hot baklava, in between all cuts, and over top. Let stand at room temperature at least 8 hours. (Cover once baklava is at room temperature.) Do not chill.

Cooks' notes:
• Syrup can be made up to 5 days ahead and chilled, covered. • Baklava keeps in an airtight container up to 1 week.

Meals in minutes: Spicy Thai Chicken with Peanut Sauce recipe

Spicy Thai Chicken with Peanut Sauce - meals in minutes

Thank you, Rachel Ray for saving the culinary day.

At a loss for a quick dinner this week, I was thinking about scrambling through the drawer full of takeout menus.  Then I remembered watching RR on TV  and watching her prepare a Make Your Own Take Out meal - Spicy Thai Chicken with Peanut Sauce.

Ah, shades of the Seventies!  There were very few Asian restaurants where we lived and I remember trying to find authentic ingredients - okay, water chestnuts and baby corn - to experiment with my new wok. 

Didn't everyone get a wok for Christmas in 1977?

So, I loved RR's MYTO for the day and I made it that very night.  I loved it; the boy scraped out the offending water chestnuts, pronounced it edible, but didn't beg for seconds.

Make Your Own Take Out: Spicy Peanut Chicken

Serves 4
  • 1 cup brown or white rice made to package directions
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable or other high temperature cooking oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless chicken thighs, diced into small bite-sized pieces
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 inch ginger root, grated or minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter or reduced sugar peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup Tamari sauce or reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon chili paste
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 can sliced water chestnuts (8 ounces), drained
  • 1 bunch scallions, whites and greens chopped on angle into 1-inch pieces
  • cup unsalted, dry roasted peanuts

Start brown or white rice and 10 minutes before it is done begin your stir fry.

Heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil over high heat in a large skillet. Add chicken and stir fry for 2-3 minutes, add bell peppers and stir fry 2 minutes more. Remove chicken and peppers to a plate and add 2 tablespoons more oil to the pan. Add ginger and garlic and stir fry 15 seconds then add in peanut butter, soy, stock, chili paste and sesame oil and stir to combine into sauce. Add chestnuts and scallions and toss 1 minute, add chicken and peppers back to pan with peanuts and turn to coat in sauce. Serve over rice.

Cool Waters recipes thirst quenchers

If one of your resolutions for 2010 was to exercise more and be healthier, drinking more water is likely on your 'New You' to do list too.

Cool Waters by Brian Preston-Campbell, Jerry Errico

 Cool Waters: 50 Refreshing, Healthy, Homemade Thirst Quenchers by Brian Preston-Campbell offers 50 ways to infuse excitement into your drinking water, and the recipes are accompanied by thirst-inducing color photographs by Jerry Errico.

Published by the Harvard Common Press, the 96-page book of thirst-quenchers retails for $12.95 in hardcover.

Cool Waters is full to the brim with healthy, natural, and delicious ways to make ordinary water extraordinary.

Workout Fuel


Drink a few glasses of this before, during, and after a strenuous workout—its taste surpasses that of any bottled sports drink, and it has far fewer calories. Coconut water is a natural electrolyte-replacing rehydrator—exactly what you need from a sports drink. Other nutrients here are vitamin C, iron, and calcium. If you cannot find golden kiwis, use green.

Makes 4 servings


  • 2 golden kiwis, peeled
  • One 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup fresh or unsweetened canned coconut water
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 4 cups still water


  1. Place all of the ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth, for about 1 minute.
  2. Strain the puree through a fine-mesh sieve into a pitcher. Serve cold or at room temperature.

TIP: Don't confuse coconut water with coconut milk or cream of coconut. Canned coconut water can be found at many grocers and health-food stores.

Roast beef and turkey redux: what to do with the leftovers

Before: A lovely rib roast

It's the season of leftovers.  From Thanksgiving to New Year's, there are big dinners and that means lots of food to re-heat or re-invent.

Re-heating leftovers is easy, but not particularly interesting. In fact, after about one re-heat, the entire food situation begins to look desperately boring.

Whether you cooked a turkey or a rib roast like the one I served Christmas Day, there are lots of opportunities for delectable re-invented meals that go beyond the usual sandwiches.

Soups and stews are go-to recipes for leftover meats (and I always recommend cubing some of that turkey or beef and freezing it for soups or stews later). You can also use cubed or diced meats for a hearty Cobb-style salad as a quick meal.

A Mexican-style lasagna of layered flour tortillas, diced turkey, sour cream, grated cheddar cheese, and a roasted poblano chili sauce spices up an ordinary after the holidays meal.  This dish makes a fantastic one dish brunch or dinner meal served with a green salad garnished with avocado.After: Beef Pot Pie

With a homemade pie crust (or store bought, if you must) and some chopped root vegetables and mushrooms, leftover beef or turkey can be transformed into a savory and meaty pot pie just like Mom used to make - and infinitely better than a frozen version.



serves 6


1 cup diced beef or turkey

1 cup chopped mushrooms

1 cup diced carrots

1  medium potato, diced

1 medium sweet potato, diced

1/2 cup frozen peas

1/2 cup diced onions

1 cup beef or chicken stock

1 tablespoon cornstarch

Prepared pie crust or puff pastry


In a large casserole, mix diced meat, mushrooms, carrots, potatoes, peas and onions. Salt and pepper to taste. Mix stock with cornstarch and pour over the meat and vegetable casserole.  Cover with prepared pie crust and vent with three vertical slashes.

Bake in an oven preheated to 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until crust is browned and sauce has thickened and bubbly.


serves six


6 flour tortillas

1 cup diced turkey

1 cup grated cheddar cheese

1 cup diced or canned tomatoes (drained)

1/2 cup diced green onions

1 cup roasted poblano sauce


for the poblano sauce

1 cup whole milk

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 poblano pepper, roasted and seeded

salt and pepper to taste

In a small sauce pan, combine milk and butter. Stirring continuously, bring the milk and butter to almost boiling. Whisk in the cornstarch and continue stirring until the sauce thickens slightly. Remove from heat and pour into a blender. Add roasted poblano, then pulse until smooth. Salt and pepper to taste.

In a medium-sized casserole, spread a thin layer of poblano sauce, then top with strips of tortilla (each tortilla can be cut lengthwise in quarters to make serving easier), followed by diced chicken, tomatoes, onions and grated cheese. Repeat the layering process, ending with grated cheese.

Bake in oven, preheated to 350 degrees, for 45 minutes or until bubble and cheese is melted. Allow to sit for five minutes before cutting and serving.

Flourless Chocolate Cake recipe makes go-to holiday cake

Simple yet sensationalThis is my go-to holiday and special occasion cake - Flourless Chocolate Cake made with a recipe first introduced by Gourmet magazine in November 1997.

The recipe is simple enough for a novice cook, yet special enough, with all its gooey, chocolate-y goodness, for experienced cooks to bake it again and again.

This chocolate all-star is a fixture of my son's birthday parties as well as Thanksgiving and Christmas dessert menus. If I want to make the chocolate lovers in my life delirious with bliss, this is the cake I bake to up their serotonin levels dramatically.

There is nothing not to love about a cake that looks this good, tastes this good and is done, ready to serve in under an hour - including clean up.

I prefer to serve it with vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream or seasonal fruits.

Flourless Chocolate Cake Gourmet | November 1997

Can be prepared in 45 minutes or less.

Yield: Makes one 8-inch cake


4 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened)
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder plus additional for sprinkling

Accompaniment if desired: Coconut Lime Sorbet


Preheat oven to 375°F and butter an 8-inch round baking pan. Line bottom with a round of wax paper and butter paper.

Chop chocolate into small pieces. In a double boiler or metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water melt chocolate with butter, stirring, until smooth.

Remove top of double boiler or bowl from heat and whisk sugar into chocolate mixture. Add eggs and whisk well. Sift 1/2 cup cocoa powder over chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined.

Pour batter into pan and bake in middle of oven 25 minutes, or until top has formed a thin crust. Cool cake in pan on a rack 5 minutes and invert onto a serving plate.

Dust cake with additional cocoa powder and serve with sorbet if desired. (Cake keeps, after being cooled completely, in an airtight container, 1 week.)

Simple and savory recipe: mussels with linguine

Mussels make a savory meal in minutes 


Mussels are one of my favorite mollusks. They're delicious, nutritious, and inexpensive as well as readily available fresh or frozen in most seafood markets.

These tender and versatile mollusks were long considered the poor relative to better known and pricier shellfish – scallops, clams and oysters.  But anyone who’s ever eaten Moule Frites (the hearty French bistro fare Mussels and Fries) knows there is, thankfully, more than one shellfish in the sea.

Since mussels, like their more celebrated cousins, oysters, feed indiscriminately, most mussels found in markets are farm raised. Selecting fresh mussels is not difficult if you follow two simple rules – look for tightly closed shellfish and avoid broken or damaged shells.  While you might keep your mussels on ice overnight in the refrigerator, they are highly perishable and should be used promptly after purchase.

Most live mussels bought in the seafood markets are pretty thoroughly cleaned. However, should they be “bearded,” you simply will need to remove that unsightly stubble of hairs with a sharp tug toward the hinge of the mussel. To ensure they are thoroughly clean, it’s recommended to place the mussels in cold water with a tablespoon or two of corn meal. The mollusks eat the corn meal, then expel any grit or sand, making your mussels much tastier.  They should be well-rinsed before preparation. 

Despite what may seem like a high maintenance ritual, I prefer fresh mussels - alive, alive oh - for obvious reasons.

However, I recently tried green mussels frozen (and already cooked). I was a little leery of frozen mussels, thinking they'd be rubbery perhaps.  I bought a New Zealand brand, Talley's, found at Whole Foods, which were on the half shell, and retail for about $7.99.

The results were pleasantly surprising, tender meat and good flavor.  I made a quick broth with dried Italian herbs, sherry, garlic, sweet onion and diced tomatoes, added the mussels, and then put on a pot of water to boil the linguine. Don’t forget to reserve pasta water to add to the sauce as it helps the sauce adhere to the pasta.

Dinner was ready in less than half an hour. This quick and easy recipe for mussels is great for last minute meals.

Mussels with Linguine

serves four

8 ounces linguine

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon butter, salted

1/4 cup Vidalia onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup tomatoes, diced

1/2 tablespoon Italian herbs, dry

1/4 cup sherry

1 cup chicken stock (or clam juice)

1. Add butter and olive oil to a small stock pot. Stir in onion, garlic, tomatoes, and Italian herbs. Saute for about five minutes or until onions are soft.

2. Add sherry to the stockpot and reduce by half before adding the chicken stock or clam juice and the mussels.

3. Simmer for about 5-10 minutes, allowing the flavors to marry.

4. Put pot of water on to boil for linguine. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water to add to your sauce.

5. Add pasta water to your stockpot, then add linguine to mussel and broth mixture. Gently mix, then serve in pasta bowls.  Sprinkle with grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano as desired. Garnish with chopped flatleaf parsley.

Serve with fresh Italian bread.


Host a holiday cookie exchange party

Find more cookie recipes at Allrecipes Secret Santa is so over-rated.

I'd much rather go to a party where cookies are the main event and everyone goes home with great goodies to enjoy.

Hosting a cookie exchange is as easy as whipping up a batch of your very best cookie bars. 

The rules are easy. Invite a dozen or more friends over. Provide some simple snacks - nuts, fruit and cheese, a crusty French bread with an olive tapenade and some wine. Or serve some egg nog (spiked if you like).

Ask each guest to bring 4 dozen homemade cookies to swap with other guests. Since most cookie recipes make 4 to 5 dozen cookies, this is easier than it sounds. If you like, you can allow busy guests to bring bakery bought cookies.

Some cookie exchanges factor in some sort of contest or ornament exchange as well. This adds to the fun and really isn't very complicated.

If participants are exchanging ornaments, every guest brings one special ornament to swap with another guest. (Note: The host might consider having a few extra ornaments on hand so no one gets left out if someone forgets to bring an ornament.)

Prizes can be given for Best Cookie Overall, based on taste, texture, presentation, Most Creative, Outstanding Presentation, or Most Original Recipe, etc. 

Be sure to have guests bring a container or plastic Ziploc bags to take home their cookies. The host may want to have extra takeaway bozes on hand in case someone forgets theirs.

Possibilities are endless

Not a big fan of cookies? Have a cupcake exchange instead. Instead of 4 dozen cookies, bring 2 dozen cupcakes to swap. Don't like cupcakes?  Have guests make two cakes to exchange. Cakes to heavy? Guests can bring homemade candies.

Magic Cookie Bars

(recipe from Eagle Brand)

Makes 3 dozen


  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine, melted
  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1 (14 ounce) can EAGLE BRAND® Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate morsels
  • 1 1/3 cups flaked coconut
  • 1 cup chopped nuts


  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F (325 degrees for glass dish). Coat 13x9-inch baking pan with no-stick cooking spray.
  2. Combine graham cracker crumbs and butter. Press into bottom of prepared pan. Pour sweetened condensed milk evenly over crumb mixture. Layer evenly with chocolate chips, coconut and nuts. Press down firmly with a fork.
  3. Bake 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool. Cut into bars or diamonds. Store covered at room temperature.

Easy and delicious Fruit Cake Bars recipe for Christmas

For more yummy bar cookie recipesfrom Eagle Brand click here

I love Fruit Cake - not the hard as a brick stuff you could use for a door stop, but moist, rum-soaked, candied fruit and nut rich cake. 

My early experiences with fruit cake were less than stellar - waxy, indigestible stuff bought from the store.

I really appreciated my Mom's dense and rich cakes, chock full of candied fruits. I know it comes as a big surprise that I loved the cherries best.

Fruit cake ought to be made a few weeks out from Christmas to allow for a good dousing with rum, but I usually wait until the ninth hour.

Fortunately, I have this really good fruit cake bar recipe adapted from Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk which makes up for my procrastinating ways.  It makes a moist, rummy Fruit Cake Bar - perfect for parties or for shipping to your beloveds near and far.

Old Fashioned Fruit Cake Bars

makes about 4 dozen bars

  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 (27 oz.) jar Mincemeat
  • 1 (14 oz.) can Eagle Brand® Sweetened Condensed Milk>
  • 2 cups (1 lb.) mixed candied fruit (1/2 cup coconut optional)
  • 1 cup pecans halves
  • 2 tablespoons spiced rum

HEAT oven to 300ºF.

1. Stir together flour and baking soda. Combine eggs, mincement, sweetened condensed milk, candied fruit, nuts and spiced rum in large bowl. Blend in dry ingredients. 

2. Coat 15 x 10-inch jelly roll pan with no-stick cooking spray. Spread batter evenly in pan. Bake 40 to 45 minutes.

3. Cool. Glaze if desired with heated pureed apricot preserves.

Note: This recipe can be used to make a cake using a 10-cup fluted bundt-type pan and baking for 1 hour and 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. You can also make cookies using the drop method (a rounded teaspoon full approximately 2 inches apart on prepared cookie sheets) or even cookies and baking for 15 to 18 minutes.

My boyfriend, the butcher makes Saturday night dinner just right

Saturday night's delish dish

I like to look.  At the grocery, that is.

When I'm shopping for food, I'm in no particular hurry. Unless, I'm shopping for a particular menu, I usually don't carry a list.  I know what I want when I see it.

This is no problem for me shopping solo, but if I'm marketing with anyone else - my son, my mother, or any other person who isn't as happy in the kitchen as I am - the going can be tough. I hate to be rushed, so if I'm shopping with anyone who sticks to a list and does a cart dash through the market, I'm more than a little annoyed.

The same goes for when I'm cooking.  Join me in the kitchen for a glass of wine and a chat, but stay out from under foot and - please - don't second guess my seasonings or method.  I won't tell you how to cook in your kitchen and unless I ask, I don't want you telling me how to cook in mine.

Old habits are hard to break.

So when I found myself in front of the butcher's counter at Whole Foods this week, I was doing what I normally do - eying the meat, checking out its color and its texture, making note of its price, basically enjoying the overabundant display.  There's a reason excessive and gorgeous displays of food are dubbed 'food porn.'

One of the reasons I like Whole Foods is the staff is attentive and knowledgeable, although, for me, sometimes too much attention is worse than not enough.  My boyfriend, the butcher, for instance was quick to ask if I needed assistance - not once but twice in the span of five minutes. The third time he asked, I finally woke up and realized he was flirting.  

Please don't flirt with me over the meat counter.  I can't think about possible dates over a bloody cut of meat. Too much multi-tasking.  Plus, my mother was hovering.

None of this was lost on my mother the matchmaker, who despite marrying me off unsuccessfully one or two times before, would still like to see me linked up with some eligible someone. But I really just wanted a lamb roast.  Besides, my mother's matchmaking record is not so great.

Even if my boyfriend the butcher struck out, he gave terrific customer service. I got a lovely boneless roast, hand cut just right for Saturday night dinner. Maybe I ought to reconsider the man behind the meat counter.

Boneless Lamb Roast with Carrots, Parsnips & Brussel Sprouts

serves six

2-3 pound boneless lamb roast

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced

1 tablespoon fresh Italian oregano, minced

1/4 cup olive oil

3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

3 carrots, peeled and cut in 1-inch cubes

3 parsnips, peeled and cut in 1-inch cubes

12 brussel sprouts

1. Rub the outside and the center of the roast with the kosher salt and ground pepper.

2. Mix garlic and fresh herbs, then rub the mixture over the roast and in the center. 

3. Place the roast in a glass baking dish and pour the olive oil and white balsamic vinegar over the roast. Cover and marinate over night.

4. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Farenheit. Arrange vegetables around the roast and add 1/2 cup of water to the baking dish. Cover and cook 20 minutes per pound for medium rare (140 degrees on the meat thermometer), 25 minutes per pound for medium (160 degrees), and 30 minutes per pound for well done (170 degrees).

Culinary Institute of America holiday cupcake recipes

What better way to spend some quality time with your children this holiday season than having them help you create something beautiful and delicious in the kitchen?

Making fondant decorations to top your holiday cupcakes or to simply hang up for the holidays is an excellent opportunity for children to stretch their imaginations and gives them the opportunity to be proud of something they can make.

Chef Kate Cavotti, an instructor at The Culinary Institute of America, has some great ideas about how you can utilize things you already have around the house to make personalized decorations out of basic fondant.

A combination of sugar and cornstarch, fondant can be decorated in a number of ways by using stamps, cookie cutters, paint brushes, food color markers, piping gel, food coloring, or food grade glitter.

The first thing you need to do is purchase ready-made fondant from your local craft store. You can keep it white, or you can easily color fondant by kneading in a few drops of food coloring.

Once you color it and cut out the desired shapes, the fondant will need a few hours to dry and harden. If you are making ornaments, be sure to cut the hole for a ribbon before the fondant dries. Chef Cavotti suggests getting the children to help make fondant shapes a day or two before you plan to decorate.

Cookie cutters are not just for cookies anymore. Use them to cut out fondant shapes that are perfect for younger children to decorate with food color markers, colored gels, and food grade glitter.

If you are one of many people who are avid stamping crafters, you can easily adapt the stamps to make fondant decorations. Just be sure to clean any ink off them by scrubbing them with a toothbrush in soap and water. Once stamps are rinsed clean, have the children take food color markers and trace the raised part of the figure on each stamp to apply color.

Once the colored shape is stamped onto the fondant and the food coloring is dry, the decorations are ready. You can also let your children continue to color in the figure with the markers or make them appear 3-D by piping on colored gels, or sprinkle food grade glitter onto them.

To get the glitter to stick, take an artist's paint brush dipped in water and apply the water to the area you wish covered in glitter. Take another dry brush and apply the glitter by tapping the brush holding glitter over the wet areas.

Chef Cavotti suggests making carrot cake cupcakes with fondant or cream cheese icing as a base for the decorations. Dip the cupcake in a bowl of powdered sugar or shredded coconut to make it look more like snow glistening and place the fondant decoration on top.

It's a good idea to stick a toothpick in back of each decoration to insure it will stand up straight. When Beautiful holiday cupcakes working with children, it always helps to be well-prepared. If possible, try to have all the baking equipment put away and the decorating supplies laid out before the youngsters arrive.

The following recipes and other decorating tips can be found in The Culinary Institute of America's Cake Art cookbook (2008, Lebhar-Friedman), which is available for purchase at local bookstores or online at

Carrot Cake

Makes two 8-inch or 9-inch layers, or 24 cupcakes

* 4 cups cake flour

* 4 teaspoons baking soda

* 2 teaspoons iodized salt

* 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

* 2 1/2 cups canola oil

* 3 1/2 cups sugar

* 8 large eggs

* 4 teaspoons vanilla extract

* 10 medium carrots, peeled and grated (about 6 cups grated)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly spray two 8- or 9-inch round cake pans with a nonstick spray and line the bottoms with a round of parchment paper. For cupcakes, prepare pans with cupcake liners.

2. Sift the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon together and reserve.

3. Mix the oil, sugar, eggs, and vanilla together with a handheld beater or paddle attachment on medium speed until all ingredients are thoroughly combined, about 1 minute. Add the sifted ingredients and mix on low speed until just incorporated. Stir in the carrots by hand.

4. Divide batter evenly among the prepared pans. Bake the cakes until a skewer inserted near the center comes out clean, for 8- or 9-inch cakes 80 to 90 minutes, for cupcakes about 25 minutes.

5. Let the layers cool in the pans for a few minutes before turning out onto wire racks to finish cooling. The cakes are ready to fill and frost now, or they can be wrapped and stored at room temperature for 2 days, or frozen for up to 3 weeks.

Nutrition analysis per one 2-ounce cupcake: 210 calories, 2g protein, 23g carbohydrate, 1g fat, 220mg sodium, 30mg cholesterol, less than 1g fiber.

Simple Buttercream Icing

Makes about 4 cups

* 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

* 4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted, plus extra as needed

* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

* 1/8 teaspoon salt

* 1/4 cup heavy cream or whole milk plus extra as needed

1. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium speed until it is very light in texture, about 2 minutes. Add the confectioners' sugar, vanilla extract, and salt and mix on a low speed until the sugar and butter are blended, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.

2. Increase the speed to medium and, with the mixer running, add the cream in a thin stream. Increase the speed to high and whip the buttercream until very smooth, light, and with a good spreading consistency. Adjust the consistency if necessary by adding a bit more confectioners' sugar or cream. Use to fill, ice, and decorate a cake.

Note: Once blended, buttercreams can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. To use after refrigeration, let the buttercream soften at room temperature for about 15 minutes. Transfer it to the bowl of a stand mixer and beat with the paddle attachment until it has a smooth, light spreading consistency, 3 to 4 minutes.

Nutrition analysis per 1-ounce serving: 130 calories, 0g protein, 19g carbohydrate, 6g fat, 0mg sodium, 15mg cholesterol, 0g fiber.

Cream Cheese Icing

Makes about 4 cups

* 2 eight-ounce packages of cream cheese, softened

* 8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

* 1 1/4 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted

* 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1. Mix cream cheese in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed until very smooth. Add butter in stages and continue to mix until very smooth, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl as needed to blend evenly.

2. Add the confectioners' sugar and mix on low speed until blended. Beat on high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add vanilla and mix until completely blended.

Nutrition analysis per 1-ounce serving: 130 calories, 1g protein, 7g carbohydrate, 7g fat, 45mg sodium, 30mg cholesterol, 0g fiber.

Chef's Note: To make lemon cream cheese icing, add the grated zest of one lemon to the icing with the vanilla.

Cream Cheese Icing recipe courtesy of The Culinary Institute of America.