Part of the thrill of entertaining is being able to present beautiful new ideas to guests, whether they be the home decor, flowers, music, table embellishments or, of course, the food itself.
Success does not necessarily mean top dollar for all party-preparation costs, but planning and some creativity count. With a small initial investment in a few pieces of bakeware, platters of pretty appetizers could easily set your party off to an impressive beginning.
Have you ever heard of canape bread molds? If you've browsed in cookware specialty shops lately, these cylindrical baking molds in shapes of star, club, oval, flower and heart may have stirred your curiosity and made you wonder: Will they or will they not work?
If you keep in mind a few rules, the canape bread molds do work, according to food consultant and cooking instructor Tomi Ryan, who was doing a product demonstration at The Times' Test Kitchen recently. They work beautifully for cocktail or tea breads, or for cakes for weddings, high tea, cocktails or just any gathering excuse.
Easy Tea Breads Whipped Up
Using the non-stick bread molds from Chef Major, J & F Imports, Ryan whipped up some easy tea breads in shapes of flower, heart and star and in swirled colors of blue, red, yellow and green, as well as in combination tints of creamy vanilla and chocolate.
The frustration that sometimes arises in these molds is when breads refuse to come out, Ryan said. She gave the following suggestions for fail-proof bread or cake baking using the molds:
--The inside of the molds should be completely sprayed with a non-stick spray even if they have the non-stick coating. Also, avoid using butter since it tends to burn because of its low kindling point.
--Fill the molds no more than two-thirds full. Before pouring in the batter, line the bottom lid with foil to create a tight seal and prevent leakage.
--Instead of setting the pan on its side when baking (as most people would do), stand it upright or vertically (this will fill up the pan more evenly) and bake without the top cover.
--Allow all baked goods to bake 15 to 20 minutes longer than called for in conventional recipes, judging doneness when the top gets a nice browning. Since steam cannot escape from the bottom of the pan, the bread takes longer to dry out.
--After removing the pan from the oven, remove the cover and foil, then wait 10 minutes before unmolding. To take bread out, tap one end very hard on a wooden board to loosen it. If it doesn't come out, repeat tapping on the board until the bread slides out.
Good Results With Cake Mixes
Recipes for yeast breads, quick breads or butter cakes may be adapted using the canape bread molds. High-volume cakes with more leavening will not work as well. Cakes made from cake mixes produce good results, and one of Ryan's favorite tea breads is a combination of any flavor cake mix with flour (the recipe is given below). "People like it because it is not as sweet, and when I spice it up, say with anise, fennel or quatre epice (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and cayenne), the bread becomes a whole new creation," she said.
Aside from cakes and breads, some people have successfully tried using the molds for gelatin salads as well as jellied cranberry sauce. The molds should again be sprayed and lined with foil at one end before covering, then a small amount of gelatin mixture is poured and then chilled to set before adding the remaining mixture. Ice cream, according to Ryan, can also be molded if packed hard enough into the mold. When molding mousses and pates, spray heavily with non-stick spray.
"For easier and uniform thin slicing, freeze the breads before cutting, if possible," Ryan advises. "Actually, they may be served partially frozen during a party. Spread cream cheese or other savory spreads on the non-sweet bread slices, and for banana, zucchini or date breads, I like to use orange butter."
Aside from the ultimate goal of serving bread and dessert slices with more pizazz, these canape molds, according to Ryan, "give people a lead to experiment or play with, or to be more creative."
TOMI'S TEA BREAD
2 cups cake mix
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/3 cups water
Thoroughly spray insides of canape bread molds with non-stick spray. Place foil on 1 end, then cover. Combine cake mix, flour, baking powder, eggs and water in bowl. Beat 4 minutes. Fill each mold no more than 2/3 full. Do not cover top end of mold. Stand upright on lower rack of oven and bake at 350 degrees 45 to 50 minutes or until top is golden brown.
Take molds out of oven and remove foil and cover. Let stand 10 minutes, then tap mold very hard on 1 end on counter to loosen bread (repeat tapping until bread slides out easily). Makes 2 to 3 molds.
Variations: Use white cake mix and flavor with 1 tablespoon vanilla and 1 tablespoon almond extract. Place 1 or 2 drops each of 2 to 4 food colors in batter and swirl lightly to create marbled effect. Or add any of the following: 1 tablespoon anise or fennel seeds, 1/2 cup candied fruit, 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel, 2 carrots, shredded.
The regular canape bread molds (designs of club, oval and star) that are made in Italy of tinned steel are available at Williams Sonoma stores at $5 each, with recipes included. Chef Major non-stick canape bread molds (flower, heart and star) are available at a suggested retail of $6.50 at What's Cooking in Manhattan Beach, Cookin Stuff in Torrance, Rudan's Gourmet in Westminster and Ryan's Company in Los Angeles , (213) 474-4175.