Pumpkin French Toast with Cinnamon Sugar Cornflake Crust

Pumpkin French Toast with Cinnamon Sugar Cornflake CrustWhew! That title is a monster! You might be asking, are all of those things really going to be in this recipe and will it really be good or just plain overwhelming? Fear not, dear readers! This recipe is as every bit delicious as it is a mouthful and I promise to never steer you wrong. If you’re looking for a lovely little Fall-inspired breakfast to have this weekend or later on in the season once the leaves have all wrapped themselves in ochre, this is it. All the flavors of Fall and home in one dish!

Pumpkin French Toast with Cinnamon Sugar Cornflake CrustPrior to moving to Minneapolis, I’d never seen French toast dipped in anything other than your standard egg custard. All of that changed, though, when I found my favorite local brunch spot, Sunnyside Up Cafe, where they rolled their French toast in crushed cinnamon-sugared cornflakes – what a surprising and delicious treat! Their Cowboy French Toast, as they called it, was unmatched in its crunch and caramelization – cornflakes and sugar browned up in butter? Help me, Rhonda!

Pumpkin French Toast with Cinnamon Sugar Cornflake CrustSadly, my beloved Sunnyside Up went out of business a year or so ago and ever since I’ve been thinking of trying my hand at recreating their French toast. I’ve hesitated though because, truth be told, I’m not the biggest fan of sweet for breakfast. Sweet and salty, yes, please, but a whole plate of sugary, syrupy breakfast makes me feel off the whole rest of the day. Last week, though, I found a beautiful cinnamon bread at the store and while we’d had a few slices for a late-night sweet treat over several days, it was starting to get a bit dry. As I made my way back through the kitchen en route to the bedroom on Saturday night, I passed it on the counter and it clicked – we could have French toast tomorrow morning! With a plan in place, I left 8 slices out on the counter, took a package of bacon out of the freezer to defrost, and off I went to slumber.

Pumpkin French Toast with Cinnamon Sugar Conflake CrustThe next morning felt like Fall, with a cooler breeze in the air and the first turning leaves spied from the kitchen window. As I began to gather my ingredients, I came across a lone can of pumpkin puree in the back of my pantry. My initial thought was “You’d better use this remaining can up from last winter before you start stockpiling cans for this season!” and as soon as the thought was complete, my stomach & brain sung “pumpkin french toast!” in unison. The rest of this story is history!

Pumpkin French Toast with Cinnamon Sugar Cornflake CrustThe pumpkin custard here is simple, but tastes like the loveliest of pies – cinnamon, vanilla, & cardamom all join the milk and eggs to round out the flavors of Fall. Rolled in a mixture of crushed cornflakes, sugar, and some more cinnamon, the French toast takes on this hard, crisp exterior that holds up well to a pat of butter and your best maple syrup. In fact, you don’t even really need the latter as this recipe is so delicious on its own, but why stop at pumpkin french toast with cinnamon sugar cornflake crust? A drizzle of maple syrup, a slice or two of bacon, some fresh berries and this is the stuff of dreams – autumnal dreams! Serve this to your favorite wearer(s) of plaid & enjoy!

Pumpkin French Toast with Cinnamon Sugar Cornflake CrustNote: Exciting news at Femme Fraîche – I was able to upgrade my camera just last week, which means I have a bunch more megapixels to capture and play with. While these photos were taken with the new baby, it was less than 24 hours after its arrival, so they might not look so great while I get up to speed on all of the new bells & whistles. Prettier (less grainy?) photos to come!

Pumpkin French Toast with Cinnamon Sugar Cornflake Crust
Yields 8 slices of French Toast

Ingredients:
8 slices of a sturdy bread, such as brioche, that has been left out on the counter overnight or is a few days old
3 eggs
1/2 cup of whole milk or half & half
1 teaspoon of vanilla
2-1/2 teaspoons of cinnamon, separated
2-3 shakes of nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon of cardamom
5 Tablespoons + 2 teaspoons of granulated sugar, separated
1/3 cup of canned, pureed pumpkin; not canned pumpkin pie filling
2 cups of cornflakes
Small pinch of salt
4 Tablespoons of butter, plus more for serving
Maple syrup, optional
Fresh berries, optional

Directions:
Set out 8 slices of bread overnight to dry out a bit so that they will absorb maximum pumpkin custard and flavor when you make your French toast. In a resealable gallon bag, pour 2 cups of cornflakes, 1-1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, 5 Tablespoons of sugar, and a small pinch of salt. Crush together until all of the cornflakes are broken down coarsely. Pour contents onto a large platter and set aside. In a mixing bowl, combine the 3 eggs and milk until well incorporated. Add the remaining cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, 2 teaspoons of sugar, and vanilla. Whisk together, then add the pumpkin puree and stir until combined.

In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat as you dip each piece of bread in the pumpkin custard. Depending on your bowl, you can submerge each piece for a minute or so, or soak each side for approximately a minute each. When your bread has absorbed a enough custard, transfer to the platter of cornflakes and coat with the mixture. Pat mixture onto both sides with a little pressure so that the cornflakes adhere well. Add to melted butter in the pan and follow suit with 3 others slices. Cook in two batches of 4 for approximately 3-4 minutes a side or until cornflakes are golden brown and smell of caramelized sugar and butter. Use remaining two tablespoons of butter to melt in the pan between batches.

When finished, allow French toast to sit for 2 minutes so that the coating hardens up. Top with a pat of butter, a drizzle of maple syrup, and fresh berries if desired.

 

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Thai Iced Tea Ice Cream with Sesame Brittle Swirl

Thai Iced Tea Ice Cream with Sesame BrittleMy teaching load is pretty heavy this semester, so I’m doing much less of all of the things I love – spending time with friends, cooking, making things with my hands, blogging, and the list goes on. Still, it’s good work, a paycheck, and it makes me really present when I am able to put time into things I enjoy. Last week, in the middle of a major tech glitch in one of my online courses, a student meltdown over confronting their own homophobia, and the realization that I had scheduled papers due in all of my classes on the same day, I quit. I closed my school’s loaner laptop for the first time in four straight days, shut my desktop off for a few hours, and just thought about what I wanted to do with my sudden window of freedom…ahem, I mean self-care!

Thai Iced Tea Ice Cream with Sesame BrittleI’ve been knocking around the idea of making Thai iced tea ice cream since last summer when I saw someone’s photos on Pinterest of it. Big, round globes of soft orange ice cream, piled on top of a waffle cone – I already knew what it must taste like! As the thought stayed in the back of my mind, though, I’ve continually thought about what I could add to give it a different spin or add some texture. When it comes to ice cream, I’m usually a purist, but I saw so much potential here for doing a little more. I had a clear winner in mind, but when I went to my pantry in order to get some serenity last week, the cans of coconut milk I thought I’d find there were nowhere to be found. Did someone make a delicious curry while I wasn’t looking? Who’s to say? But with that idea down the drain, my eyes fell on a bag of sesame seeds I had bought a few months back wanting to make one of my favorite candies of all time – sesame brittle.

Thai Iced Tea Ice Cream with Sesame BrittleLike magic, the two ideas melded and it was just the undertaking I was up for - multi-stepped so that I could successfully avoid work and give myself the break I needed and yet not so cumbersome that I’d be sorry I started halfway through. For someone not looking to cook the day away, you might want to split this up over two days, making the brittle and the ice cream base on the first day and churning and assembling the ice cream on the second. When I have the time, I prefer to make ice creams over two days anyhow because it allows the base to get really, really cold in the refrigerator overnight so that it churns faster and gets thicker once you introduce it to the machine.

Thai Iced Tea Ice Cream with Sesame BrittleSince I wanted to start and finish this ice cream on the same day, I began with the base and then put it in the back, coldest corner of my fridge and let it sit there for several hours while I made the brittle, allowed it to cool, and broke it up. Breaking the brittle to the point where it is about the consistency of store-packaged toffee chips is a tough job (so is not eating all of it before you crush it), but I relied on a trusted, vintage ice crusher to do the job. You’d have just as much success putting the brittle into a bag and crushing it with a rolling pin, of course.

Thai Iced Tea Ice Cream with Sesame BrittleThe brittle itself is nutty from the toasted sesame seeds and then sweet and caramelized from the honey. I add a little cinnamon and a little cardamom to add a some extra warmth and spice, but you can leave those out if you don’t have them on hand. The brittle is, obviously, great in ice cream, but it’s also perfect on its own. I was so bananas over it that I plan on making a bunch at Christmas and handing it out with cards. Here’s where I’d go into detail about how I accidentally semi-burnt a batch, but nibbled at it until it was suddenly gone anyway because it was sugar and butter and honey and, thus, still delicious.

Thai Iced Tea Ice Cream with Sesame BrittleIt adds a great crunch and texture to the ice cream, which tastes, as you might imagine, just like Thai iced tea, but creamier. The flavor of the tea is really pronounced, but that’s what I love about this recipe. If it seems too strong to you the first time you make, go a bit lighter on the steeping time and that should help. Without the brittle, I’d worry about the tea flavor being a little overwhelming and the base not sweet enough, so keep that in mind if you decide to make this sans brittle; you may want to increase the sugar and/or decrease the steeping time.

Such a beautiful, delicious dessert and one that is definitely worth the time spent. When chaos, inevitably, strikes this week, at least I’ll still have some ice cream to get me through. It wound up being just the thing to take my mind off classses and allowed me to enjoy being back in the kitchen with just an idea and some time on my hands.

Thai Iced Tea Ice Cream with Sesame Brittle
Yields about a pint & a half

For the Brittle
 (adapted slightly from here)
Ingredients:
3/4 cup of sugar
1/4 cup of honey
Pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon of ground cardamom
1 Tbsp water
1 cup raw sesame seeds
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 teaspoons of butter
1/4 teaspoon of baking soda

Directions:
In a heavy-bottomed pot, add the sugar, honey, salt, cinnamon, cardamom, and water and stir to combine over medium heat. Cook for 2-3 minutes stirring occasionally, then stir in the raw sesame seeds. Cook the mixture, stirring often, until it turns an amber color. This can occur anywhere between 5-10 minutes and it is very important you not only keep watch for the color to change, but that you also use your sense of scent. When you can smell the sugar caramelizing and the sesame seeds toasting, check on the color and wait until it reaches a rich medium brown. If you have a candy thermometer, the temp should be around 300°F. Once the sesame mixture has reached the desired color and temperature, remove the pan from the heat. Immediately stir in the vanilla extract and butter. Once the latter has completely melted, stir in the baking soda. This will cause the mixture to foam up a bit, but don’t be alarmed. As you stir, and as it settles down, the foam will subside. Pour sesame mixture onto a baking sheet that has been lined with a silpat or parchment paper. For the ice cream, I like to spread it out a bit so that the brittle is about 1/8″ thick or even less. If I was serving it on its own, I’d spread it to about 1/4″ thickness. Once the brittle has completely cooled and hardened (about 25 minutes), break it into pieces and enjoy or grind it up for use in ice cream.

For the Ice Cream
Ingredients:
1/2 cup of Thai tea leaves – I used these
1-1/2 cups of whole milk
2 cups of heavy cream
1-1/2 cups of sugar
3 large eggs

Directions:
Consult your ice cream machine’s directions and plan ahead to freeze the insert if necessary. In a heavy-bottom saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the milk and 1 cup of the heavy cream. As small bubbles form around the edges, pour in the tea leaves and stir gently for about three minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and allow it to sit and cool for about 20 minutes so that the tea leaves steep into the mixture. While this is cooling, measure the sugar into a medium mixing bowl and add the three egg yolks. Beat with a whisk until the mixture is a pale yellow and the texture is almost like a paste. In a separate heavy-bottom saucepan, add the remaining cup of heavy cream and allow to warm over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Bubbles around the edge will form indicating it is getting hot. When this occurs, pour in the egg and sugar mixture and mix thoroughly until combined. Turn the heat down to medium and stir the mixture gently, but consistently, for about 10 minutes. You’re creating a custard here and while this isn’t difficult, your attention is key in making sure it doesn’t cook too far, or get too hot too quickly, creating a curdled texture. As the heat rises, the mixture will thicken into a custard. As soon as you sense this happening, remove the pot from the heat and continue to stir for a bit as it begins to cool down.

After about 15 minutes, strain the custard through a wire sieve in order to remove clumps which may have formed during the custard-making face. Place in the refrigerator to cool down while you continue with the recipe. Take your pot of Thai tea and strain it. Allow this to cool as well. When both mixtures are cooled, combine thoroughly and then keep in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours before churning. When the Thai iced tea base is completely cold, pour it into your ice cream machine and allow it to process according to the manufacturer’s directions. In the final five minutes of processing, shake in about a cup of the sesame brittle crumbles and allow the machine to stir them in. When the ice cream has finished churning, transfer to a freezer-proof container and store.

 

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DIY Chalkboard Cake Toppers

DIY Chalkboard Cake ToppersWell, the semester has begun and though I wish I was creating blog content all the live long day, I’ve been back to teaching and guiding students through their first few weeks of gender & women’s studies classes. For the first time in a long time, I’m teaching some intro-level classes, which are my absolute favorite. Observing students as their minds are being blown is just the very best feeling as a teacher. These are the perks!

Before things really got underway this semester, though, I celebrated my birthday last week with a friend whose big day is just a day before mine. Surrounded by friends and loved ones, we drank champagne and ate an amazing Italian-inspired meal, al fresco, in our beautifully decorated side yard. It was quite a time! For dessert, I made us a giant cheesecake, covered in the season’s sweetest strawberries, and used these easy DIY cake toppers I had made the week before to make it extra special.

DIY Chalkboard Cake ToppersIf you follow my Instagram feed or checked out the highlights from Charlotte & Katie’s wedding feature, these may look familiar to you. I made Charlotte & Katie a pair for their wedding cake back in July and because they were just so easy (and almost criminally inexpensive), I followed up with a set for myself. What’s wonderful about them is that they’re reusable – the white paint that spells out your message of “Happy Birthday!”, or what have you, is written on a chalkboard paint background with a chalk marker! With a damp cloth, the slate is wiped clean and they’re ready to go for your next happy, cake-included, occasion.

DIY Chalkboard Cake ToppersYou’re limited here really only in terms of what shapes of wood you can find. While I’ve come across other shapes and sizes at Joann’s, these hearts are my favorite and are most applicable to a variety of holidays and events. Chalkboard paint, though, is available in so many different colors now and what you use as an accent color for the backs, edges, and skewers is entirely up to you. Now that I’m thinking of it, I wish I had tracked down a hot pink chalkboard paint because, paired with the metallic gold accent, it would have been a femme birthday dream come true!

DIY Chalkboard Cake ToppersThis is an easy craft that you can pull together in about an hour total, that costs only a few dollars, and will add a really personal touch to any future party. Arrange them on cakes, pies, cupcakes, and even stuck in the middle of a mound of cookies. They’re a sweet addition to any dessert and something you, or your loved one, can hang onto as a memory afterward or re-use in the future.
DIY Chalkboard Cake Toppers

DIY Chalkboard Cake Toppers

Supplies:
Two wooden cut outs in any shape; I used hearts from Joann Fabrics, which were under $1 each!
Chalkboard paint
Acrylic paint in color of your choice for backs, edges, and skewers
2 wooden skewers
Hot glue sticks & glue gun
Foam paint brush, about 1″ wide
Small thin-tipped paint brush, s square tip works best
Chalk marker, or regular chalk

Directions:
On a flat surface lined with newspaper, paint the backs and edges of your shapes with your accent color of choice; I used the foam brush for the back and the thin-tipped brush for the edges. If you get a slight bit on the front, just wipe it off as best you can, but don’t fret - the chalkboard paint will cover all. After the accent color has mostly dried – about 10 minutes – apply a second coat to backs and edges. When the second coat dries either move on to the following step or add a third coat if needed. Using the thin-tipped brush follow your shape and paint a perimeter on the front of the piece with the chalkboard paint so that you create a margin and don’t risk painting over the edge that you just painted with your accent color. Using the wider foam brush, fill in the shape with a coat of chalkboard paint and allow to dry. Follow this step for the front of the shape for at least three coats in order to get a truly opaque surface. Allow to dry completely. If need be, touch up the edge with your accent color.

When your shapes are completely painted and dried, heat your glue gun and ready your two wooden skewers. If you choose to paint the skewers in your accent color, painting them when you paint the shapes is the best plan, as painting them once they’re glued to the shapes is a bit awkward. Flip your shapes over so that the back side is facing up. Apply a small, 1/2″ or so line of hot glue to the back of the shape and press the top, non-pointed, side of the skewer into the glue. If the glue is not enough to encase the top of the skewer, apply a bit more glue over top so that it is covered. Do the same to the other shape & skewer and allow to dry completely. Hot glue is usually clear, so depending on your preference, you can either leave as is or, if you’d like, once the glue is hardened and cooled, you can use your accent color to paint over the glue and make it blend a bit more seamlessly. This step is optional.

Once the skewers are dried, the cake toppers are ready for use. Use a chalk marker for easy, seamless writing (or regular chalk if preferred) and spell out your message of celebration. Chalk markers can be easily removed with a damp cloth (avoid paper towel, as it catches on the paint and the wood). Allow surface to dry before re-printing.

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Easiest, Creamiest Stovetop Mac & Cheese

Easiest Stovetop Mac and CheeseAs I plopped down on the couch for dinner the other day over a plate of this awesome mac & cheese, I mused that nothing gave me a good ego boost like mastering a bowl of this stuff. On the one hand, I was kidding, but in a way it’s also kind of true. I mean, I’ve had - and made - a lot of mediocre mac & cheese. Sorry, family and friends! So many recipes underestimate the amount of cheese you should use and have you stick to just one kind, while others have you overcook the pasta until all that is left is a very gummy or, still worse, gummy and dry, mess.

While darling Bear claims there’s no such thing as bad mac & cheese, I have to disagree. It’s real and it’s a tragedy. So, let’s start anew with this recipe, which is easy as much as it is tasty. It’s, in my opinion, the easiest, creamiest stovetop version, so whether it suits you just right, or it acts as the base for your spicier, more garlicky, ham and broccoli version, for example, then that’s just fine, too. What matters here is that we’re saving mac & cheese from all the horrible things that have been done to it and making a classic version that is worthy of all the accolades people give it as a dish.

Easiest Stovetop Mac and CheeseI use four cheeses for this version. I know you’re saying, “whoa, girl!” but I swear it’s the blending of multiple cheeses that will get you, in part, to where you want to go. Mac and cheese, while a homey dish, doesn’t mean it’s beyond science. What kind of science, you ask? Well, the one that covers how cheeses work together, how they melt or crisp, add creaminess or thicken a sauce while adding a salty bite…and you said you hated science! This recipe relies on a blend of cheeses because we want a mac and cheese that isn’t just one note. You know why so many mac and cheeses are just blah and tasteless even though you’ve added 15lbs of cheese? Because you’re only using one kind and that, combined with a bunch of not-too-flavorful elbow noodles, is not going to bring all the boys to the yard.

Easiest Stovetop Mac and CheeseSo, here today we’re going to use the four cheeses of American, asiago, pecorino romano, and cream cheese. Did you see that last one coming? It’s so right for a creamy, smooth sauce. You’ll never make macaroni and cheese again without it! Both the asiago and the pecorino romano add the saltiness you need to bring the cheese sauce together, but also to add some more, much needed flavor to the noodles. All of the cheese melt into the sauce beautifully while also helping to thicken it. The main cheese is regular old American though and sneer all you want, but it melts like a dream and brings a delicious flavor that is familiar. Coupled with onion, hot sauce, yellow mustard, salt, and fresh ground pepper, this mac and cheese is complex in flavor without being difficult to master or snooty. It’s perfect for a weeknight dinner.

Easiest Stovetop Mac and CheeseTo keep it moist and creamy, this stuff never sees the inside of an oven and, really, it needn’t. Yet, how can you have macaroni and cheese without some semblance of a crunchy, buttery crust? You can’t! So, the topping is all done on the stove-top too and, in all honesty, I absolutely prefer it this way, as the panko retains all of its crunch and doesn’t sink into the macaroni like toppings tend to do when you bake it all together. Make way in your recipe boxes for this one, it’s sure to give other versions a real run for their money and, I’m guessing, will outshine most of the competition. Enjoy!

Easy, Stovetop Mac & Cheese
Yields 6 servings

Ingredients:
1lb of elbow macaroni
Water
Canola oil
1 small onion, diced
7 Tablespoons of butter, divided
4 Tablespoons of flour
4 cups of milk, divided (3-1/2 for sauce, 1/2 extra to thin, if needed)
Salt & pepper
1-1/2 Tablespoons of garlic powder, divided
12oz of American cheese, cubed
3/4 cup of asiago cheese, grated finely
3/4 cup of pecorino romano cheese, grated finely
4oz of cream cheese, cubed
Hot sauce
2 teaspoons of yellow mustard
1 cup of panko bread crumbs
2 Tablespoons of minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

Directions
Fill a large stock pot with water and add a few generous pinches of salt. Bring to a boil, add pasta and stir for the first minute so that the pasta does not stick together.

While the pasta is cooking, melt 4 tablespoons of butter in a sauce pan over medium heat and finely dice your onion. When the butter is melted, add the onion and cook for several minutes until the onions start to become translucent – about 5-7 minutes. Once the onion is cooked, add about a 1/2 teaspoon of salt and pepper each and 1 Tablespoon of garlic powder. Add 4 Tablespoons of flour and stir to combine. Allow this mixture (the roux) to cook for 2 minutes or so. Next, turn the heat up to medium high and add the milk. With a whisk, stir the mixture vigorously to break up the roux into the milk and allow it to dissolve. Allow to heat through, stirring it every minute. When the roux has dissolved and the heat rises, the mixture will begin to thicken, when you notice this starting to happen, stand watch and stir frequently so that the mixture does not burn or become too thick. When it reaches milkshake consistency, turn the heat back down to medium and add all of the cheese and stir to combine. Allow all of the cheese to melt slowly, stirring every minute or so to help it become incorporated. Once the cheese has melted entirely into the sauce, add a few dashes of hot sauce to your tastes and the yellow mustard; stir thoroughly. Taste for salt and pepper and add more if necessary. If sauce seems too thick at this point, you can add up to about a 1/2 cup of milk, though I suggest starting with a smaller amount, stirring to combine, and seeing if you need more.

Cook the pasta until al dente (it should still have some bite to it, as it will soften more as it sits in the sauce), then drain it and return it to the pot. If you are still readying the other ingredients, add a small drizzle of canola oil to the pasta, stir, put a lid on it and allow it to sit off the heat while you complete the other elements. If your sauce is ready to go, omit the canola oil step and add the cheese sauce to the pasta and stir thoroughly to combine. Cover with a lid while you prepare the topping; you may choose to keep it over a “warm” level flame if you’d like, though the lid should keep the macaroni and cheese hot since the topping doesn’t take long to put together. Be aware that even over “low” or “warm,” the sauce will continue to thicken, making the pasta drier.

In a frying pan, melt 3 tablespoons of butter with 1 teaspoon of canola oil over medium heat. Add bread crumbs, some salt and pepper to your tastes, and 1/2 a tablespoon of garlic powder. Stir together and toast the bread crumbs, stirring occasionally, until thoroughly browned, about 5 minutes total. Be sure to keep an eye on them, though, they go from light brown to burnt quickly! When the bread crumbs are toasted, remove from the pan and allow to cool for about 5 minutes. In the meantime, plate your macaroni and cheese either on individual plates or in a larger casserole-type vessel. When the bread crumbs have cooled, add the very finely minced parsley and stir. Top macaroni and cheese with topping and serve. To reheat macaroni and cheese after refrigeration, add it to a heavy-bottom pot with a splash of milk and cover with a lid. Apply medium heat and allow to come up to temperature, stirring every few minutes until the sauce has melted and become creamy again.

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Strawberry Lime Yogurt Cake

Strawberry Lime Yogurt CakeI love the overabundance of fruit and veggies in the summer. Not only because it means there are more options of what to make, but also because it’s a challenge to discover new recipes and create your own in using up what you have on hand. Some of my tastiest dishes have come out of staring into the deep abyss of the refrigerator, or at a dwindling fruit bowl, and thinking, “What am I going to make with these remnants?” or, shamefully/more realistically, “What should I make with all of this before it’s past its prime?” The latter is exactly what occurred a few weeks ago when I overbought on strawberries thinking I was making shortcake for a party and then changing my mind at the last minute. It’s not like it’s hard to just eat strawberries – they’re my favorite of all the berries – but they take a turn for the worse so quickly that having them around, without a plan, makes me fret. Those red beauties aren’t cheap! Strawberry Lime Yogurt CakeSeeing them looking back at me from their front-and-center spot in the fridge made me start hunting around for flavors that pair well and before I knew it, I had limes and was on my way to a baked good of some sort. Inspired by all of the gorgeous strawberry buttercream-topped desserts I keep seeing online, I knew I wanted to make a cake, but didn’t have the energy or the ingredients to go in that direction. Instead, I thought a loaf cake of sorts would be just the ticket and with the added bonus of having some yogurt on hand, things quickly took shape. The yogurt and sour cream combo in this cake keeps the crumb super moist, but also lighter than if you used only sour cream. The tang of both plays well with the sweetness of the berries and mirrors the lime, which makes everything feel so fresh and summery. Because when I think “lime,” I almost always think of “coconut,” I substituted coconut oil for the vegetable oil and put some unsweetened flakes in the batter too; the result was subtle, allowing the strawberries and lime to shine, but present enough that it gave the cake a bit of a tropical feel.

Strawberry Lime Yogurt CakeServed with a dollop of fresh whipped cream, ice cream, or just on its own, this cake is the perfect light, refreshing end to a summer meal. It also makes a great gift to welcome a new neighbor or to say “thank you!” to a friend because it’s a small, easy-to-transport cake with not a lot of frills to make it messy. Plus, it’s pretty as a picture. What a keeper!

Strawberry Lime Yogurt Cake
Yields one loaf cake; adapted from here.

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (if you’re skipping the fruit, you can also skip the last tablespoon of flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plain yogurt (whole-milk is preferred, but non/low-fat works well too because of the sour cream addition)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons grated lime zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup melted coconut oil, plus 1 teaspoon or so for greasing the pan
1 1/2 cups chopped strawberries
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Using approximately one teaspoon of melted coconut oil, grease an 8 1/2 by 4 1/4 by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper and set aside. In a medium-sized bowl, sift together the 1-1/2 cups of flour, baking powder, and salt, and add the unsweetened coconut flakes. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the yogurt, one cup of sugar, eggs, lime zest, vanilla, and coconut oil. Slowly add the dry ingredients, a bit at a time, into the wet ingredients and whisk gently until all is combined. Toss the strawberries in the remaining tablespoon of flour and fold gently into the batter. Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf pan and bake for approximately 50 minutes or until a cake tester is inserted into the center and comes out clean. While the cake is finishing cooking, cook the 1/3 cup of lime juice and remaining one tablespoon of sugar together in a small pan until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. Remove from heat and set aside. When the cake is finished baking, allow it to cool for 10 minutes and then gently flip it out onto a cooling rack. Put the cooling rack over a sheet pan or cutting board to prepare for glazing. While the cake is still warm, poke a few holes into the top with a fork or a skewer and then pour the lime-sugar syrup over the cake and allow it to soak into the cake. If desired, sprinkle with some additional coconut flakes – I would have done this, but ran out! Allow to cool thoroughly before serving.

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Charlotte & Katie’s DIY Wedding Feature!

DIY Wedding JarsCharlotte and Katie’s beautiful DIY wedding has been wonderfully featured this week on the blog Lesbian Wedding Style Guide! There are photos there to showcase some of the projects we took on and an interview with yours truly.  I’ll have another post or two here on some of the elements we made, but here’s a chance in the meantime to learn a bit more of the story and see some photos of their beautiful day. Won’t you check it out?

Here’s a sneak peek…

Charlotte and I met through our Ph.D. program. She’s since left Minneapolis for a visiting assistant professor position in Ohio, but because it’s not permanent, her partner Katie has stayed in Minneapolis working on her electrician apprenticeship. My priority for their wedding was to stay within their budget while maintaining all the details that would make it beautiful and worthy of them.

Read the rest of the full post here!

Photo courtesy of Ethan Ethan

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DIY Photo Confetti

DIY Photo ConfettiOnce upon a time, I wanted to create a design element for my friends’ DIY wedding reception that would wow them and their guests. Knowing that the bride, Charlotte, wanted a way to integrate some photos of her and Katie from their wedding ceremony, which happened a few weeks prior, I wracked my brain thinking of how to do so in a fun, innovative way. That’s when I landed on what is probably my all-time favorite DIY idea to date: photo confetti! This was it! The party idea I had been searching for and after seeking out the right tools and templates, and selecting the perfect shades of coral and navy to match their colors, I was well on my way. Before I knew it, I had cups filled with varying sizes of their faces betwixt pops of color and a bit of gold glitter. I was stoked! This would be the perfect final touch on their wedding reception’s welcome table! DIY Photo ConfettiAnd it would have been…had I remembered to put it out. Wah-wah. Truth is that we were so busy finalizing appetizer trays, piping whipped cream rosettes, and readying ourselves that the final moments of party prep saw my lonely bag of confetti abandoned on a bookshelf, forgotten, until I was home, showered, getting into bed, and suddenly I remembered it! What followed was one of my best cursing streaks yet. Sigh. I guess Virgos mess up after all! DIY Photo ConfettiThis doesn’t mean that we can’t still have a tutorial though and, of course, there are still pictures to ogle and inspire your own varieties. This project comes together much easier than you might think and, truly, the only potential drama of the whole thing is that you’ll want to make sure you have full ink cartridges on your printer or ones very nearby. Or, better yet, you can skip all the at-home printing and upload and order photos fresh from somewhere like Shutterfly, which would definitely cut out the only time-consuming part of this project; I suggest ordering your prints first and then choosing the sizes of your dots. If you go the at-home, DIY route, you’ll need access to Photoshop or some kind of similar photo editing program that gives you the option to create patterns and fill images with them - I hear Open Office is good for this, but I’ve never tried it. I have access to Photoshop CS5, so my directions are based on that particular software and version; I’m happy to try and help troubleshoot in the comments if you run into any issues. There is also a pretty foolproof video made by someone much more qualified than me to explain this whole pattern/fill process we’re going to undertake, so I’ve linked to that below too. DIY Photo ConfettiI knew from the start that I’d be using some hole punches (you can’t even imagine the mess it would be if I tried to cut these out freehand! Oy!), which you can find in the scrapbooking section of your craft store or on Amazon, and decided on two sizes – 1″ and 1.75″. I used the 1″ punch for individual shots of Charlotte’s and Katie’s faces and then used the bigger punch for shots of them together. What I was less clear on was how I could print the images in a way that would allow me to easily punch out the areas (close-ups of the faces) of the photos I wanted to, within the dimensions I needed, and also without wasting a ton of ink printing out whole 4×6 photos. Tricky stuff – but easily mastered! DIY Photo ConfettiThank goodness for Bear who quickly suggested trying to find a Photoshop-friendly template for a button maker online so that I’d have the exact size I needed for the confetti dots and with an allowed rim for bleed – meaning, in case I cut a bit outside where I had intended, I’d still have a little room within the photo itself and wouldn’t be cutting outside it onto the blank photo paper. Admittedly, this wound up happening a few times any way just because when I initially started punching out photos I did so with the photo facing up, obscured by the punch, so my aim was sort of a guessing game. I soon realized, though, that if you flip the photo image-side down, you can see where you are about to cut by turning the punch over, as the underside of the punch is exposed. That observation made this project a lot easier. You’re welcome. DIY Photo ConfettiAfter a quick bit of searching, I found these templates to be exactly what I needed and once I lined up the image in the template through Photoshop, I was able to create a quick pattern out of it (more details below), and then fill a page with my image repeated over and over on it. Once the sheets of photos are printed, the punching out goes quickly. I supplemented the photo dots of the confetti with, as mentioned above, some coral and navy 1″ dots, as well as some gold glittered ones because glitter only increases the wow factor of all things, amiright? I also used my old, reliable standard 1/4″ hole punch to punch out some much smaller dots in order to bulk up the mix and make it a bit more like your standard confetti.

This is such a sweet idea for wedding decorations, or even ones for an engagement or bridal party. I can see incorporating photos of the couple as kids, or awkward teens, to make them really fun! Outside of weddings, though, the confetti is great for pretty much any special occasion – birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, etc. It’s a great, inventive way to add a personal touch to a party and celebrate a certain someone(s). It’ll be the talk of the event – just remember to put it out and use it liberally! This stuff is made for fun!

Think you’ll try making some photo confetti of your own? Have you ever helped a friend or family member with their wedding décor? What did you make? Would love to hear from you in the comments!

DIY Photo Confetti

Supplies
Hole punches of varying sizes – I used 1/4″, 1″, and 1.75″
Scrapbook paper or card stock in your desired colors and textures
Photos printed to the size of your hole punch OR, if DIY-ing this, you will need:
An inkjet printer with both color and black & white ink cartridges
Several sheets of 8.5 x11 glossy photo paper for printers – I used this kind from Canon
Photo editing software, Photoshop preferred
Templates that match the size of your hole punches
Scissors

Directions
Download the templates you will need that match the size of the hole punches you intend to use for the photo dots. Once you’ve opened the templates in Photoshop, paste in your photo, making certain that it resides in its own, new layer below the layers labeled “cut line” and “face line.” The “face line” marks the edge of your image within the dimensions of the template. For example, if you select a 2″ template, the “face line” is the end of the 2″, so what you want to punch out with a 2″ hole punch needs to be within this circle and aligned accordingly. The “cut line” represents the edge of the bleed area in the event you cut a bit beyond the face line or, in the case of this being made to make buttons, the space between the “face line” and the “cut line” is what would wrap around the edge of the button. The video tutorial at Buttonmakers.net is a good resource for understanding this process better, as well as creating a pattern from the photo, which is our next step.

Once you have pasted your photo into the template and adjusted it accordingly to the “face line,” (you may need to change the size of the image in order to get it to fit) hide the “face line” by deselecting it in the layers frame so that it disappears from your image. Next, go to Edit >> Define Pattern and name your pattern something discernible, i.e. Char Face. Your pattern is now saved and ready to use! Open a new Photoshop document that is size 8″ by 10″ and set the resolution to 300 pixels/inch. With the new, blank image open, select Edit >> Fill and then on the “Use” menu, select “pattern.” Below this, you will have the option to choose your custom pattern. Select this drop-down and find your image within the library. Depending on how many patterns you have, you may need to scroll through to the bottom to find your newest one. Select your pattern and then click “ok.” The new, blank image will fill itself with as many iterations of your image it can to allow for on an 8.5″ x 11″ page. You may now print this on a sheet of glossy photo paper.

Once the photos are printed, you can punch out the images using your hole punch that matches the size of the template you used; as a point of reference, I got 12 1.75″ dots out of my 1.75″ template. After punching out all of the images on the periphery of the paper, you may need to use scissors to free up the inner area so that you can punch those dots out too; my hole punch couldn’t extend that far into the page from the paper’s edge. When punching out your photos, turn the image upside down in order to view it from the underside of the hole punch. This will allow you to see what you have lined up to punch, so that you can make sure your image is centered, within your margins, etc. Print and punch as many images and sizes as you desire and follow suit with some dots of scrapbook paper or card stock to integrate colors and textures in your custom blend. If your event is outdoors, you may want to stick with paper that has a heavier weight to it so that it does not blow away. Incorporate a sizable amount of 1/4″ dots in order to really stretch your confetti, but to also increase its tossability …that’s a word now, I swear.

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Eggplant & Bruschetta Napoleons

Eggplant NapoleonsYou know what is hard work, friends? Wedding planning! And, more so, wedding planning that includes creating all of the decor & various adornments alongside making most of the food. Phew! Luckily, it’s fun and creative work and all for a very dear friend, so it balances out.

Still, with so much going on, feeding oneself can feel like such a chore. While I am fortunate enough to get Bear-made meals each and every week, not just tough ones, I still long to get into the kitchen and cook – I just might not have my usual stamina once I get there. Here’s where this quick dish comes in!

Eggplant & Bruschetta NapoleonsEggplant & bruschetta napoleons are an easy summer dinner because there’s not a lot required of them and they can be made in pieces throughout the day; or even, in part, the day before if you’re anticipating a jam-packed tomorrow. What’s more is that you can tailor them to your tastes and your time commitments. Do you want to grill the eggplant slices instead of frying them? You can do that. Would you rather use your stovetop grill pan instead of trudging out to the patio or backyard? Done and done. Want to just roast them off in the oven and walk away for a bit? Still delish. When I made these recently, I topped the napoleons with an easy balsamic reduction. If that feels like too much for a busy weeknight, a light dash of extra balsamic on top will work fine too. I will say, though, that the added bit of sweetness from the syrupy balsamic reduction changes the flavor of the whole dish in a fantastic way.

Eggplant & Bruschetta NapoleonsWith a green side salad – I’m thinking some light, lemon-y dressed arugala – eggplant & bruschetta napoleons are a delicious and satisfying meal that will make you feel gloriously rewarded for all of your hard work. Also, tomorrow’s leftovers make an awesome second round of this exact meal or an amazequake eggplant and bruschetta sub for lunch. Try it on crusty Italian or French bread with a little homemade basil mayo for the ultimate sandwich.

Eggplant & Bruschetta Napoleons
Yields 2-3 servings

Ingredients
5 plum tomatoes
1/4 cup of diced red onion
6 leaves of thinly sliced basil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Pinch of sugar
Salt & pepper
3/4 cups of balsamic vinegar, divided
1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil, plus more for pan or grill
1 large eggplant
1 16-ounce log of fresh mozzarella
Italian-style bread crumbs (optional)
2 eggs (optional)

Directions
Salt & drain your eggplant. Line a baking sheet with two layers of paper towels. Slice eggplant in 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch slices and place on baking sheet. Lightly sprinkle with salt and allow to sit a half hour. After time has passed, flip the eggplant slices and do the same to the other side for about 15 minutes. The paper towels will be damp with excess moisture and the bitterness sometimes associated with eggplant. Remove eggplant from paper towel and set aside.

Next, make the bruschetta. Seed plum tomatoes then chop and add to a mixing bowl. Add diced red onion, garlic cloves, basil, garlic powder, sugar, salt, pepper, 1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar, and 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil. Mix thoroughly and set aside. Allow to sit at least 2 hours before eating. If waiting to serve this, store in refrigerator. Bruschetta can be made up to two days in advance.

Prepare the eggplant to your desired liking. You can brush it (and your grill or grill pan) with olive oil and grill each side. If you go this route, cook it to the point where it has nice char, but still has some body to it. You don’t want it to be a mushy mess (technical term). Same goes for roasting. If you’re frying the eggplant, scramble two eggs in a bowl and then dip each slice in it until submerged, shake off excess egg, and dip both sides in seasoned bread crumbs. In a frying pan, heat olive oil over medium high heat and fry each slice of eggplant approximately 4 minutes on each side until done. Keep your cooked eggplant slices hot in the oven at its lowest level of heat; for mine, that  is 170°F.

While your eggplant is frying or grilling, pour 1/2 a cup of balsamic vinegar into a small pot and bring to a boil over high heat – watch this closely, as it can reduce entirely and burn quickly. Once boiling, knock the heat back to medium and cook about 5-7 minutes or until it becomes a thick syrup. When it reaches this consistency, immediately remove it from the heat.

When your eggplant is finished cooking and your balsamic reduction is ready, prepare your napoleons. Put down a wide slice of eggplant for the base and top it with a 1/2-inch thick slice of fresh mozzarella. Follow that with another slice of eggplant and another of mozzarella, then top your stack with a hearty helping of bruschetta. Drizzle balsamic reduction on top.

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No-Bake Double Blueberry Pie with Gingersnap Crust

No-Bake Blueberry Pie with Gingersnap CrustForgive my few weeks of absence, dear friends! I was off on a whirlwind of travel that brought me home to New Jersey to see family and then up to the North Shore of Minnesota for a cabin getaway. If you follow me on Instagram, you probably caught some of the photos. I’m back now and ready to take on summer with its bounty and its leisure in order to turn out some exciting content for you. Up first is this fantastic recipe from my grandmother, Hilda.

No-Bake Blueberry Pie with Gingersnap CrustIn the depths of summer, no one wants to turn on their oven, but almost everyone wants to still eat pie, right? The solution? No-bake fruit pies! They’re completely easy, homey, and taste just as delicious as their brethren who spend time baking in the oven. While blueberry is my personal favorite – and the one my grandmother makes for our family the most -  you could substitute peaches, strawberries, and combinations of all kinds of summer fruits in this. You may have to adapt the amount of fruit to switch it up, but play around and see; there’s no such thing as being grumpy over extra pie filling!

No-Bake Blueberry Pie with Gingersnap CrustWhile traditionally, I’ve made her no-bake blueberry pie in a standard, flaky pie crust, I noticed her original recipe called for a gingerbread crust; she, nor I, ever remember her making it this way. Visiting family in New Jersey a few weeks ago, hunting through a pantry for some graham crackers to start a crust, I came across a box of Anna’s Swedish Ginger Thins and thought, “Hey! Gingersnaps would work and would be even better than gingerbread!” And so it was.

No-Bake Blueberry Pie with Gingersnap CrustFor many of us, Anna’s are synonymous with Ikea because they’re sold there in such abundance. They’re thin and sweet with just the right amount of spicy ginger flavor and, you know what? They pair *so* deliciously with blueberries; cinnamon, ginger, and berries are natural friends. Of course, if you can’t find Anna’s, any gingersnap will do, just make sure you’re getting gingersnaps and not gingerbread, as I’m predicting the latter would be too soft and moist for this application. You want your cookies to be full of crunch and snap so that your crush holds up to the lusciousness of the berries and cream.

No-Bake Blueberry Pie with Gingersnap Crust

No-Bake Blueberry Pie with Gingersnap CrustThe filling comes together nice and quickly in this recipe and because you only cook one half of the berries, and then add in the remaining off the stove, the pie has the fantastic combination of textures from both the disintegrated, now jam-like, berries and the bright burst of ones just warmed through. It is so juicy, sweet and delicious and makes for a gorgeous, seasonal dessert.

No-Bake Blueberry Pie with Gingersnap Crust

No-Bake Blueberry Pie with Gingersnap CrustWhen the pie has cooled, I like to top it with a thick layer of fresh whipped cream, but ice cream, or even vanilla yogurt, will also do just fine. This is a great way to have dessert despite a summer swelter and make something that looks, and tastes, like a true labor of love.
No-Bake Blueberry Pie with Gingersnap Crust
No-Bake Double Blueberry Pie with Gingersnap Crust
Yields one 9″ pie

Ingredients
1-1/2 cups of gingersnap crumbs, about one 5.25oz box of Anna’s
1/2 cup of graham cracker crumbs
1 stick of butter, melted
3 pints of blueberries, divided in half
1/2 cup of sugar
2 Tablespoons of cornstarch
2 Tablespoons of water
Pinch of salt

Directions
In a food processor, pulse gingersnaps until you have 1-1/2 cups of crumbs, set aside. Repeat with graham crackers until you have 1/2 cup. Melt one stick of butter in the microwave. In a bowl, combine both sets of crumbs and melted butter thoroughly. Pour mixture into a 9″ pie plate and, starting at the bottom, in the middle, begin pressing the crumbs into the pan to form the base and sides of the pie. Be sure to press crust into the bend between the base and the sides of the pan and then press the crumb up the sides. Place crust in refrigerator to firm up.

In a mixing bowl, add 1-1/2 pints of blueberries, sugar, cornstarch, water, and salt, and combine. Add fruit mixture to a 3-quart pot and heat mixture, stirring occasionally, until boiling. Once boiling, allow to do so for 2 minutes, stirring constantly now until it thickens some and many of the berries pop and split open. Remove from heat and immediately add in the remaining 1-1/2 pints of blueberries and stir together gently.

Remove pie crust from fridge and gently spoon in fruit mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator until completely cold and firm. Top with fresh whipped cream if desired.

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Make Your Own Wedding Bouquet

DIY Wedding Bouquet | Femme FraicheIf you’re thinking about making your own wedding bouquet – or a hand-held bouquet for any occasion – but are concerned you won’t be able to hack it, I’m here to tell you to put fear aside and embrace the DIY! Making a bouquet, even a large one, even one for a very fancy affair, is not nearly as difficult as it seems. Truly, the hardest part is standing in front of a refrigerator full of flowers and deciding which ones work best together. Even then, though, I’ve got some tips to make that easier, as well.

Creating your own bouquet, or having someone in your wedding party make one for you, is so much more cost effective than going to a florist and shelling out at least $200. By making the bouquet yourself, you not only save money, but can really customize it to your tastes. With a few tips, some guidance, and patience, you can design a really gorgeous bouquet and for a price so small, you’ll feel like you got away with something really sneaky!

Charlotte's BouquetI recently created a gorgeous bouquet for my friend Charlotte’s wedding (above) and while it was far easier than I anticipated and came together really beautifully, my nerves were sky-high leading up to making it and throughout the process. Of course they were though, right? It’s a big job, and an important one, but also totally overrated in its presumed difficulty. You’ve got this!

Because I was focused hard on creating a beautiful bouquet, I didn’t enlist anyone’s help in taking photos throughout its construction. Curses! Fortunately, though, there were leftover flowers and the next day, I recreated a smaller version of Charlotte’s bouquet in order to lead you through the crafting of your own with some step-by-step instructions and photos. If you’re looking to make a larger bouquet, I’ll note in the tutorial where and how to continue adding flowers to make a very full, formal one like hers. At the end, I’ll also organize a list of some tips I figured out along the way.

I promise you that the hype – and expense! – of bouquets isn’t justified. With some patience and some know-how, anyone can make a stunning bouquet for any kind of special day.

Step 1: Select & prepare your flowers
The first thing you’ll want to do is select what flowers you’re going to use in your bouquet. Consider the head – or flowered section – of the bouquet as needing three distinct kinds of flowers – 1) those that make up the bulk of the head (this can be one or several different kinds of flowers), 2) those that give the bouquet some height or dimension, and 3) those that can be used as filler to bulk a section up or add some contrast. I chose to incorporate some bay leaf in this bouquet to create height and dimension to my bulk flowers – roses & carnations – and, if you look really closely, you might be able to tell that they’re artificial! For filler and stems, fake sprigs can add a lot of variety and drama for very little money.

DIY Wedding Bouquet | Femme FraicheTo prepare your flowers for the bouquet, remove all fresh leaves and thorns below each flower’s head and cut all stems on a 45 degree angle while under running water, then plunge immediately into a vase filled with room temperature water. Cutting the stems under water prevents an air pocket from immediately forming at the cut site, which will interfere with the flowers being able to take in as much water as they need; this is an especially important step when working with roses. As you work, keep your flowers in water and in a cool spot.

Step 2: Build your base
The first step to making a sturdy, tight bouquet is to build a solid base. As a foundation, this initial group of flowers will keep the center of the bouquet together, creating a strong neck by which to hold it. The base is important because it will be what you build out from in order to grow the bouquet to the size of your choosing.

DIY Wedding Bouquet | Femme FraicheCreate the base by pairing 4-5 flowers together in the pattern or arrangement that you like. Starting with the first flower in one hand, imagine it as the very middle of the bouquet. Add your second flower and hold the two tightly pinched between your forefinger and thumb, adding the third, fourth, and possibly fifth flowers in the same way, keeping them tightly gathered beneath the heads of the blooms. Don’t worry if, at this point, the stems are all pointing in awkward directions. All you want to be certain of is that the top of the flowers appears the way you’d like the middle of the bouquet to look and that the flowers are being held together tightly right below the heads.

DIY Wedding Bouquet | Femme FraicheNext, apply the end of a roll of floral tape no further than an inch below the flower heads and, while holding the stems tightly together,  wrap down the gathered stems about two inches. The tape doesn’t have to be perfectly wrapped or look very neat – you’re going to be adding more flowers and then ribbon to cover it all – it just has to be tightly wound, keeping your base very solidly together.

Step 3: Build out the head & tape
Once your base is solidly clustered and taped, the next step is to continue widening and building out the head of your bouquet. Here’s where you decide how big you want the bouquet and can continue adding concurrent layers of flowers accordingly to get the shape and size that you want. Employ the same tactics as above, adding and pinching the new flowers one-by-one around your base, holding them tightly. A loosely held bouquet will shift and appear sloppy, so keep those stems tight and, as needed, apply more floral tape to keep everything sturdy.

DIY Wedding BouquetIf you’re working with a mixture of different flower sizes – for example, in Charlotte’s bouquet, I used roses, carnations, and then large, white hydrangeas – consider symmetry when in doubt about how to further arrange the growing layers. Balancing one large flower on either side and then filling in the two remaining sides with similar, smaller flowers will keep the bouquet round and voluminous. If you don’t like how something looks, rearrange things. Nothing is set until you tape the final bunch and even then, you can unwrap and reassemble, or add additional flowers if they are needed.

DIY Wedding Bouquet | Femme FraicheWhen you have filled out the head of the bouquet to the point where you are satisfied, use the floral tape once more to begin tightly taping the stems together. Start, again, an inch or so below the heads of the flowers and wrap tightly, overlapping the tape, until you’ve reached approximately 2 inches above where you want the stems of the bouquet to end once you are prepared to cut them.

Step 4: Incorporating filler
For some reason, filler is my favorite part of creating a bouquet. I think it’s because of how it takes an already beautiful bouquet to a completely different level, but also because there’s so much you can consider using to add height and texture. As mentioned earlier, I used some artificial options – a spray of bay leaves and a stem of faux white berries – but also incorporated traditional baby’s breath because it’s just so dainty. Consider overbuying on the filler, choosing lots of different varieties, and then experiment once your bouquet is in-hand. You can’t know for sure what kinds of leaves, sprays, or baubles, your bouquet will benefit from until you have everything in front of you. Filler is an opportunity to really add a little extra beauty that is specific to your tastes and aesthetic.

DIY Wedding Bouquet | Femme FraicheDepending on the length of your filler, you may be able to just nestle it between the blooms, as desired, but if the pieces are longer, or fall more on the outside of your bouquet, you may need to, once more, tape the length of the bouquet handle from one inch below the flower heads to 2 inches above where you will trim the stems. If you’re concerned about filler falling out, you can always add a drop of hot glue to the end before nestling it down into the head of the bouquet.

Step 5: Finessing the handle & trimming stems
The bouquet head gets all the glory, but truth is that the handle can also be really gorgeous and eye-catching too. For both Charlotte’s bouquet and this re-creation here, I used a thick navy grosgrain ribbon and pearlized pins for a clean, classic finish. You can use any combination of ribbons, laces, twines, etc. that you can think of, so long as you can easily cover the floral tape and find a way to inconspicuously secure the ends.

DIY Wedding Bouquet | Femme Fraiche
With this bouquet, I wrapped the ribbon tightly over all of the visible floral tape. When I reached the end of wrapping, I cut the ribbon about a half inch too long and folded it under, creating a finished edge, stretched it as far around the handle as it would go, and held it firmly against the handle with my thumb. Using my other hand, I pinned into the fold and then into the stems, angling the pin upward into the handle so that it was securely fastened and safely ensconced in the handle, free from poking through to the other side and injuring someone. I proceeded to do this with several other pins, equal distance from one another, up the length of the bouquet handle. Of course, if pearlized pins are not your style or you’re using a twine or something similar, you could always just hot glue the end and tuck it beneath an area where the handle is wrapped.

DIY Wedding Bouquet | Femme FraicheLast, but not least, trim your stems straight across about two inches from the bottom edge of the handle wrapping. Handle length is entirely personal and, fortunately, something you can customize. Just remember to err on the side of caution and trim less before more. No one wants a stumpy bouquet!

When finished, place your bouquet in enough water to submerge the ends, but not wet the wrapped handle (see tips below regarding flower food). Bouquets can be kept overnight in the refrigerator if made the day before or left in there to keep cool if made the day of the event. Before doing so, verify that the flowers you’re using can withstand the coolness of a refrigerator, though, and are not a variety that will wilt in lower temperatures.
DIY Wedding Bouquet | Femme Fraiche
Tips & Tricks:

  • When selecting flowers, consider sturdier blooms for the bulk, nestling more delicate ones inside the bouquet. For the DIY bouquet maker, erring on the side of stronger, less delicate flowers, will allow more room for rearranging.
  • Finding flowers that are easily accessible and financially within your means are key parts to DIY-ing your bouquet. Google around your area for wholesale flower markets, many of which are open to the public, and also start scouting friends with Costco memberships. Yes, Costco! Believe it or not, they have gorgeous fresh flowers and at really reasonable prices – $16 for 2 dozen roses? Boom. Also check out markets that fancy themselves more “gourmet”-type establishments – Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Kowalski’s, if you’re in the Twin Cities, are all examples. They always have fresh, beautiful flowers available and, often, a wider variety compared to a standard grocery store.
  • Remember that you can always supplement with artificial pieces. I’m not suggesting making a silk flower bouquet, but filler, embellishment sprays, and leaves can be hard to find if you’re working the grocery store circuit for your bouquet. Check out local craft stores a week ahead of time and stock up on all kinds of potential. Save your receipt so that you can return the pieces you don’t use.
  • Use Pinterest as inspiration ahead of time and gather ideas there for flowers that work well together and bouquet handle designs that match your tastes. Print pictures, or save images to your phone, and take them with you when looking for flowers or materials from the craft store.
  • Give yourself plenty of time. This is a new endeavor and while it’s really not very difficult, it requires patience, and deftness of hand; rushing through will end in broken stems and petals askew. Think the whole process will take you 2 hours? Block off 3-4 to be safe. No one wants to have to rush out the door to the ceremony, leaving their kitchen strewn with debris.
  • Pay extra close attention to pets while you’re creating your bouquet. Dogs and cats gravitate toward crunchy, fresh flora, so they may be circling beneath you like sharks or waiting for you to turn your back in order to steal a taste. Because plants and flowers can be really harmful to pets, consider keeping them in another room if possible until you are done with the bouquet and clean-up or enlist a friend or partner to keep their eyes peeled.
  • A bouquet can last well over a week if kept fresh with water and nutrients after the ceremony. Cut the stems on a 45 degree angle under water and then return them to a vase of water that has been fortified with the packets of flower food that come with loose flowers or make your own concoction by diluting half a teaspoon of bleach and half a tablespoon of granulated sugar into a half gallon of room temperature water. The bleach keeps bacteria down (the #1 cause of early flower death) and the sugar feeds the flowers. Keep this mixture on hand and empty, rinse, and refill the vase with new solution every day. Keep flowers in a cool place that receives indirect sunlight and that is far away from fruit, which releases ethylene gases and can cause flowers to shrivel up early.
  • Transporting a bouquet to a wedding venue can prove a challenge. Creating a stable holder, though, takes just a few minutes. Find a box that is wider than the bouquet (for stability), but that is still easy to carry. Next, seek out a jar that is nearly the same height as the box, but no shorter than an inch below, or longer than an inch above, it. You will want a jar that is at least 4 inches wide so that the base is not too narrow to support the top-heavy head of the bouquet. Wrap the mason jar with brown paper or newspaper in order to give it some padding and tape well. Place the mason jar in the center of the open box and fill all open space around it with filler or any kind – again, newspaper works well here. Fill it tightly so that the jar cannot slide around. Close the lids of the box and tape shut, then cut out a square around the mouth of the jar. If the jar is slightly taller than the box, cut the square before putting the mason jar in the box and taping down the lid. Fill the mason jar with water and flower food solution and insert bouquet. Before leaving, loosely wrap a plastic bag around the head of the bouquet to keep it clean. Check out the quick photos I took with my phone for a better idea of how to efficiently transport the bouquet – photo 1, photo 2, photo 3, photo 4.
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