Photographing Sweet Treats in the Kitchen
Updated: Apr 30
Spring has finally sprung! And I have been busy in the kitchen trying new recipes and photographing them (…and also eating them.) Over the winter, I have collected a number of new recipes that I was interested in trying. I found these recipes mostly online, on Facebook, Instagram, and on websites about baking and/or cooking, but also on TV and other sources. I accumulated so many of these recipes that I now have 2 large binders – one for meals, and one for desserts. I am now at a point where my binders are so full, that I can no longer add any new recipes to these books, so I figured it was time to switch gears and stop collecting recipes and start making some of them. Of course, I chose dessert first! Just in time for Easter, I dove straight into the binder full of sweet treats. Over the last few weeks I made squares, bars, a pie, cupcakes and more.
By combining several of my interests, in this case baking and photography, this allows me to continue to experiment and create – keeping things fresh and interesting, while having an open mind to come across new discoveries in both photography and baking. Lately, I have been focused on food photography and Baking new recipes. When I am baking a new recipe, I need to pay attention and really focus so that I don’t make a mistake because I have not made this dish before. While the dish is in the oven baking, I often think about the final presentation of the dish, how I imagine it will turn out and what props I might need to photograph it when it is finished. I think about colour palettes, what is associated with the dish and how I will shoot the photos, such as close up detail shots, at an angle, from above, etc.
I started first with Cinnamon Roll Blondies. Similar to brownies, but with the absence of chocolate, they are known as blondies. This was a very rich, sweet treat indeed. Best enjoyed with a cup of tea, this blondie consists of 3 parts – the blondie base, the cinnamon swirl mixture and the icing on top. There was no shortage of cinnamon, sugar or cream cheese in this recipe. In the end, the cinnamon roll blondie did taste like a cross between a cinnamon roll and a brownie, in the sense that it had the form and texture of a brownie with all the flavour of a cinnamon roll, including the icing. Although it was a lot of effort to make, it was delicious and it's highly likely I will make it again sometime. To photograph this dessert I chose to keep it simple, stacking a few squares in a baking tray on a wooden table with a dark grey, out of focus background. This ensured that the food was the main focal point of the image with no other distractions present. I used natural light from a nearby window and shot the food at a few different angles for a variety of different perspectives to see the layers in the blondies. I used darker grey, cool tones in the image to match the baking tray and to contrast the colour of the cinnamon roll blondies while also generating a mood in the image.
Next up was a Guinness experiment. I have seen a number of recipes over the years that use Guinness, most of which are desserts. I often make a Shepard’s Pie that calls for Guinness, but I have never made a dessert with the famous Irish Stout. I decided to try Guinness and Chocolate Cupcakes, a recipe found on the Guinness Instagram page. These cupcakes were a dark, chocolate brown in colour with light, white icing on top. The batter was a very mousse-like consistency that once baked, became a soft, spongy cupcake. The icing was also light and airy, as it was made with whipped cream. The recipe uses cocoa powder and Guinness, which gives the cupcake a bit of a chocolate flavour with the Guinness coming through as an after taste. It wasn’t too rich or overpowering in the chocolate flavour and I found the cupcake paired well with vanilla ice cream, especially if the cupcake was slightly warmed. I enjoyed the cupcake, but not everyone who tried this dessert, shared the same opinion as me. I will keep this recipe, but I don’t know how often I will make it. There are a number of other desserts made with Guinness that I would like to try, so it is highly likely that I will experiment with a few of those, before I consider making this again.
For this photography shoot I used a very similar set up to the Cinnamon Roll Blondies. I kept it simple, using once again the same wooden table and natural light. There was a nice contrast between the white of the bowl and ice cream against the dark of the table and cupcake, giving enough separation that you could really see the dessert without it blending into the dark table. The texture of the icing, cupcake and ice cream was the focus of the image. This colour palette uses warmer tones to compliment the browns in the image and gives off a bit of a vintage or aged appearance.
To celebrate the first day of spring, I chose to make a Key Lime Pie to mark the occasion. Early on during the COVID-19 pandemic, I followed Bread Ahead Bakery on their Instagram page where they posted a new, live baking video tutorial every single day. I made a lot of the recipes they posted, except for this Key Lime Pie, which I didn’t have time to make, until now. The pie has a digestive biscuit crumb crust, a rich and creamy lime-flavoured custard filling, and a whipped cream topping, complete with lime zest and a few thinly- sliced limes for added decoration. The taste was surprisingly similar to that of a rich cheesecake with the addition of the lime flavour, which balanced nicely with the richness of the custard and cream. The digestive crumb crust held together very well, supporting the wobbly lime custard and the fluffy whipped cream on top. The lime flavour was refreshing and not overpowering in its tartness, which made it that much more enjoyable and as a result, I was also able to taste the other ingredients present in the pie as well. This pie was also quite a lot of work to make, but it is well worth the effort.
My approach to photographing this pie was influenced by the limes in the pie. When I think about limes, I associate them with hot weather on a summer day and I am drawn to the vibrant bright green colour in the peel of this tropical fruit. I shot this pie in its pan from above and I also took detail shots of the topping. Again the background was simple, I shot the pie on a table with a white tablecloth, but this time I used artificial lighting above the pie and slightly off to the right. I did two versions of this shoot in the editing phase – A vibrant bright, almost neon, green version and a more subtle version that focuses on the white cloud like cream and the fresh, healthy green colour in the limes. Both styles would work well depending on what the images are used for. I wanted the image of the pie to really grab your attention on my Instagram page, so I used the super vibrant green option. The muted version might be more appropriate for the food photography portfolio on my website, as the tones are similar to other images in that same portfolio.
To follow up this recipe, I decided to try something that puts a spin on a classic. Fancy Rice Krispy Squares with an added cinnamon flavour and topped with drizzled white melted chocolate. Basically, it is the same original Rice Krispy Squares recipe that you find on the inside of the cereal box, except you add 1 tsp of ground cinnamon into the melted marshmallows and after the pan of squares has cooled in the fridge, melt down some white melting wafers to a smooth consistency and drizzle it on top of the squares. Return the tray into the fridge to set the chocolate on top. The result is a Rice Krispy Square that is brown in colour (from the cinnamon) with a white chocolate topping. It is a nice change from the original recipe. I did notice that the original recipe can be eaten straight out of the fridge, but the fancy version was best after it was left at room temperature for a few minutes as the Rice Krispies are brittle and the chocolate topping is pretty hard if eaten straight from the fridge. As for the taste, again very similar to the original, but an added depth in the presence of the chocolate and cinnamon in this sticky treat. I will likely stay with the original recipe, but it is nice to know that I can dress it up if I choose to do so.
These treats were photographed on a bed of loose Rice Krispies in a variety of different arrangements and camera angles. It was lit with artificial light from above and once again, I kept it simple in the set up and the background. The loose cereal was a bit messy to work with, but it gave me the background I was hoping for.
Last but certainly not least, is a dessert I found on the Food Network’s website, which is a great place to find some new recipes and ideas for meals. Peanut Butter Incredibles are as they suggest…pretty incredible. These bars are a sweet peanut butter and chocolate treat that remind me of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. These bars consist of a crunchy peanut butter and graham cracker crumb base, topped with a marble swirl of chocolate and butterscotch. The ingredients are melted and combined on the stove top and afterwards the bars set in a dish in the fridge. They are pretty easy to make with no need to use the oven. I cut these bars into small squares because they are very sweet and can be overpowering. They are very good on their own but again, I prefer them with either a cup of tea or a scoop of vanilla ice cream to help cleanse the palette. Otherwise, I find these bars almost a bit too sweet for my taste.
For this shoot, I photographed a few bars on a birch wooden board, where the wood grain replicated the marble swirl pattern on the surface of the bars. Lighting was artificial and off to the right, casting shadows on the left. Again, I used simple and subtle details in the background to complement the dish.
Over the last few weeks I have really enjoyed spending time in the kitchen creating new treats for my friends and family to enjoy and as an added bonus, I can work on my skills in food photography, capturing images of all these dishes. These days I have been extremely busy with my job and planning projects like these, to make new dishes and to photograph them enables me to practice, build skills and share my imagery (and my baking) with others.
Cinnamon Roll Blondies:
Peanut Butter Incredibles:
Cinnamon and Brown Butter Crispy Rice Treats:
Guinness and Chocolate Cupcakes:
Key Lime Pie:
unfortunately the recipe has been taken down from social media and is unavailable.