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Sweet Design Company: Staples Back To School Dessert Table

By Catherine McCulloch, Photography by Adam Rodricks from Staples

The first time I saw the classic Staples Back To School commercial of a dad cheerfully buying school supplies with "It's the most wonderful time of the year" playing in the background - I burst out laughing. I'm the camp councillor at our house for 9 weeks (63 days but who's counting). Swimming, amusement parks, baseball, beach, basketball, lake, camp, road trips, body surfing, sleep-ins, biking, barbeques, tag, friends over, sleep-overs, birthdays, movies, campfires, s'mores, ice cream......... it's fantastic. But by the end of August, I'm out of party tricks! Back to school - bring it on.

While it's fun to buy school supplies for the kids to go back to school, it's even more fun to be designing those supplies into a dessert table. Sweet Design Company created a Back To School dessert table for Staples' Media Event at their Leaside location in Toronto. Must have items for students from Junior Kindergarten to University were playfully incorporated into the design. Yellow pencils and pencil crayons in 24 different colors were used to decorate bright risers featuring cake pops, double bubble lollis and an assortment of candy. Red pens were lined up around the outside of jars featuring Easy button sugar cookies on a stick.

As red is the primary color in the Staples logo we used that as the anchor color for the table and then accented it with bright bubble gum colors. Gigantic 36" red balloons with collars in multi-colored smaller balloons created a backdrop for the table set up against a wall of binders in the middle of the store. Thick ribbon in different widths and colors added a little whimsy.

We used iconic symbols of school on the table; a jar filled with bright red apples, favorite children's novels as risers, and traditional Kraft paper lunch bags as take-away containers. Another popular symbol, the black board, was used as the table topper and blackboard imagery was incorporated into custom graphics for cupcake toppers, candy jar labels and take-away tags.

Dessert treats included kid's favourites like chocolate chip cookies, whoopie pies, crinkle cookies, cupcakes in chocolate, vanilla, lemon and red velvet. Perfect sugar cookies featuring the Staples logo were created by Patisserie V. Marie who also made the Easy button cookies.

The most popular school supply on the table for the kids - the EASY button. No locker should be without one!

Photo Credits



Sweet Design Company: For The Love Of Donuts

Donuts are a bite of happiness. Personally I love powdered cake donuts. Dense and fresh, with a smooth fruit zing of flavour in the middle. A thing of beauty.

My husband on the other hand, is smitten with Krispy Kreme Chocolate Iced Donuts. (There aren't many Krispy Kremes in Canada and none are around the corner from us.) Depite the fact that my husband is fit and athletic and eats a healthy balanced diet - if we're vacationing in the US, it's a Krispy Kreme extraveganza because Krispy Kremes are everywhere - Walmart, convenience stores, gas stations, grocery stores as well as stand alone Krispy Kreme locations.

When driving across the state of Florida on a recent vacation I noticed we were getting low on gas so we pulled into a self serve gas station. Before any gas can be pumped at the US automated pumps, a zip code must be entered. We tried to enter our Canadian postal code but the machine wouldn't accept it. My husband went into the gas station store to prepay for gas. He came out with a box of Chocolate Iced Krispy Kreme donuts. Who was happier than him!?!??!?! (OK maybe the kids.)

About 20 minutes later I noticed a flashing red light on the dashboard indicating the vehicle was almost out of gas. How could that be when we'd just left the gas station? And then it became clear. He had walked into the store, prepaid the gas, bought a box of donuts and was so eager for that first bite of Krispy Kreme goodness that he forgot to pump the gas. Eat slowly kids - every bite of happiness is worth about $11.95!


Sweet Design Company: Cherries and Roses - Joy and Friendship

By Catherine McCulloch

In the long days of summer, afternoon tea is a lovely way to get caught up with a friend. Fruit themed morsels of sweetness and herb infused cookies seem like a natural choice for the season. 

I bought these gorgeous yellow cherries to garnish tiny lemon tarts, but was so struck by their fresh color I decided they should be served in all their natural glory in a couple of vintage glass candy dishes.

My friend brought with her a bouquet of red tipped yellow roses - a really lovely gesture. My go-to arrangement for roses would be a pretty vase with some thick grosgrain ribbon but sometimes the simple beauty of each rose gets lost when they're massed together in a traditional vase. Instead, I placed single blossoms in individual china tea cups. The cup provides a frame, drawing attention to the perfectness of each petal

Apparently the meaning behind yellow roses is joy and friendship. I think the two sentiments go hand-in-hand.



Sweet Design Company: Strawberry Shortcake

By Catherine McCulloch

I started the day with a plan to make New York style Black and White cookies. It was a first attempt at these cookies but the recipe seemed simple enough. I had all the necessary ingredients and utensils. I knew how I'd ice them. I'd figured out a way to display them. I'd even thought through how I'd photograph these lovely circles of contrasting colors. How difficult could it be?

And yet something went badly awry. Too much dough heaped into one cookie? Too much baking soda? Too many eggs? Probably more like too much multi-tasking while trying to bake. They ended up as dense blobs of cake. Too large and too thick to be cookies. Not pretty enough to be whoopie pies. What to do with these lumps of dessert disaster?

I started by trying to make them look slightly more appealing. I cut them into perfect circles - either a cookie cutter or a round glass works well. Then I sliced off the bottoms which were a little hard (as in I-could-have-cut-raw-carrots-with-the-edge-of-the-cookie-hard). And suddenly they looked like sweet little shortbread rounds.

From there I went to my 'fix-any-dessert' ingredient - whipping cream. Liquid gold. Whipping cream solves everything. Red velvet cake a little bland - whipping cream. Apple pie too thin in the middle - whipping cream. Someone less competent than you got a promotion - gobs of whipping cream.

All I needed were the strawberries. Usually I find the sweet red strawberry juice to be the one downfall of strawberry shortcake. Unless you eat it immediately the cake gets mushy and falls apart. My cookie disasters turned out to be the perfect solution. They absorbed the juices yet still maintained their cake like texture.

These individual shortcakes are striking assembled onto crisp white platters and topped with a few mint sprigs. Or to add interest to your table, use mix-and-match silver candy dishes for a little sparkle without being over-the-top fancy. Pile the strawberries in one dish, the whipping cream and shortcakes onto others and let your guests create their own shortcake.

Sometimes, something special comes out of a mistake.


Guest Blogger: National Sugar Cookie Day

By Charlotte Elson

 July 9th is National Sugar Cookie Day.  A cousin to the popular chocolate chip cookie, the sugar cookie is often seen at holidays, cut into festive shapes and decorated.  Sugar cookies have a long and elegant history.  At teatime and garden picnics sugar cookies were served next to finger sandwiches and scones.  It was clear who was the star of the show!  Paired with tea, the cookies stood out because of their sweet, delicate taste and simple preparation. 

Originally called jumbles, sugar cookies are very versatile.  They can be stamped, colored, imprinted, decorated and also work well on a stick! (The cookie`s answer to the trendy cake pop.)  Sugar cookies that have been decorated with royal icing need no further embellishment or elaborate serving pieces. Plain sugar cookies however are great for highlighting an ornate or heavily patterned serving piece. These pale blue glass plates work well with both the iced cookies and the plain cookies as they provide a subtly colored backdrop.

Sugar cookies make a nice light afternoon snack, maybe with some strawberries or blueberries and a cup of tea.  Sugar cookies use basic baking ingredients like flour and butter but it`s the quality and amount of the sugar that creates the taste.  This recipe includes lemon zest, which adds a fresh, tart flavor that sends them over the top. 

Whether you`re a cookie aficionado or just enjoy a sweet treat, celebrate National Sugar Cookie day by baking up a batch of these delicious, buttery cookies!

Photo Credits: Charlotte Elson

Lemon-Infused Sugar Cookie Recipe

1 1/4 cups unsalted butter at room temperature

2 1/2 cups icing sugar, sifted

5 large egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Zest of 1 lemon

3 1/4 cups pastry flour, sifted

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg white, beaten

1 tbsp granulated sugar


Cream butter with a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Add icing sugar and cream until smooth. Add egg yolks slowly to butter mixture and blend until smooth. Stir in vanilla extract and lemon zest. Add pastry flour and salt and combine until dough comes together.

Shape into a disc, wrap and chill for 2 hours before rolling.

Preheat oven to 325 °F. On a lightly floured surface, knead dough slightly to soften (this will prevent cracking as it is rolled).

Roll out dough to ¼ -inch thick and cut out desired shapes. Place cut-outs on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet and bake on the center rack of the oven for 10 to 12 minutes.

 Using a pastry brush, brush the beaten egg white and sprinkle sugar on each cookie. Put the pan back in the oven for 2 minutes, or until bottom of cookies turn a light golden brown. Remove cookies from pan onto a cooling rack and cool completely.