Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010 Year in Review

Well, another year has passed. A year of experimenting in the kitchen, pretending I know something about cooking science, and generally playing with my food. I didn't do as much baking as I had hoped. I don't even know what that means. Is it possible to EVER do as much baking as you really want to? Unless you're a full-time, professional baker? At any rate, it's probably for the best. My expanding waistline needs to be halted. (And no, I'm not going to start baking "light" desserts, I just don't see the point. I'd rather have something real once a month than something light twice a week. Truly.) I did have some great successes and some equally great failures this year. Here are my favorites:





I don't have any idea how I neglected to photograph Hillman's Challah.


Most epic failure:

Shout-outs/thanks for sharing/inspiring me:
  • The BAKED boys--always and forever. I'm going to tattoo your buttercream recipe on my arm. I love your style. I love your commitment to bringing back classic American desserts that have been lost and/or forgotten/forsaken. I'm looking forward to baking EVERY RECIPE in Explorations.
  • Priestess/Hillman--when I'm senile and arthritic will you come take over my kitchen?
  • Smitten Kitchen--if I'd cooked like you do when I had a young one...I'd be a superhero like you.
  • Mir--your food snobbery truly does inspire me. :) And you share awesome recipes.
  • The folks at allrecipes, King Arthur Flour, Epicurious, and Food Network--simply because you exist.
  • Romina at Les Madeleines--not only a great teacher and sharer of recipes, but a reliable source for amazing baked goods when I'm not in the mood to bake them myself.
  • My little chefs, Prima and Seconda--for helping me to remember to slow down in the kitchen and let them help. The rewards are well worth the extra time.
  • Frankie Pistlekahk--for sharing your baby starter. I am trying to tend to it appropriately.

Looking back at everything I've baked this year, I realize I've gotten a little more bold. I've been adapting more recipes, and forayed into making up my own recipes. It's hard work, but it's so rewarding to be able to say it's mine. And double bonus when it tastes delicious.

2011? Wow. Lots I want to do:
  • Figure out how to make bread. I mean really figure it out. The way I focused on figuring out pies. That's a big goal. It's a lot more difficult than people make it look. I don't know if I'm plagued by altitude issues or climate issues or both, but the unpredictability is getting to me. In addition, a good amount of my bread baking will need to be whole wheat because I accidentally bought a 25-lb. bag of whole wheat when I thought I was buying all-purpose flour. So, now I have 50 lbs. of whole wheat flour. That's a lot of bread!
  • Take a cake decorating class. For real this year. And now that I've found this place, you'll always know where to find me.
  • Start in on my ever-growing list of ideas of baked goods to try, not to mention my library of cookbooks that I have only begun to crack.
  • Do more baking with friends. If nothing else, I can send goodies home with them so I won't have to eat them all. I might even film some of these events and start my own youtube cooking show. MIGHT.
So, in short, there's lots more to come.

First up: You're in for a glut of goods from the new BAKED cookbook.

I bought the book when it first came out in October, but thisandthat have kept me from trying any of the recipes. Until now. mr. makes homemade doughnuts for breakfast every Christmas morning, and this year he's decided to try their recipe for Farm Stand Buttermilk Doughnuts. And then, on New Year's morning, I'll be trying the Monkey Bubble Bread recipe. Can't wait!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Bakemas!

Every year on Christmas Eve, since I was a little kid, we've had a family gathering with a talent show followed by a feast of desserts. A feast, people. And it seems to get bigger every year. There were new things this year, and all of it was delicious. I come by my penchant for baking quite honestly, you see.

I hope whatever holidays you celebrate, they are filled with loads of yummy baked goods!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cupcake #2 Attempt #1

So, I've done away with the idea of doing three cupcakes recipes for the Scharffen Berger Chocolate Adventure Contest. My plate is full of holiday baking. And my stomach will be soon. HA!

2 cupcake recipes will have to do. Especially because #2 was super yummy, and if the judges don't decide to bake it and eat it themselves...they'll be missing out.

I call this one a Coffee Shop Cupcake. It's a chocolate cupcake, filled with rich milk chocolate pudding, frosted with coffee buttercream and topped off with a small pie crust cookie. I wanted to recreate the flavors of a chocolate pie and cup of coffee, like you would have in a coffee shop. And, in one try, it's right. I did a lot of tweaking and research to figure out the problem with the chocolate cupcake of #1, and improved on it greatly. 2 minutes less baking time would make it perfect. I'm still working on getting enough filling into the cupcakes using my new Bismarck pastry tip, but I'm getting there. And the coffee buttercream. When I post the recipe you'll see--it's beyond delicious. Great texture, great taste. The coffee flavor is good, but not too strong (both my kids gobbled the entire cupcake down). And even with the combination of coffee and chocolate, I managed to avoid the whole thing tasting like a mocha, which was the goal. I wanted the two flavors to GO together, but not BLEND together. It's a pretty rich cupcake, all told, but who wants something light in the middle of winter anyway?!

I submitted my recipes on Monday. Now I wait...until February 27 (or thereabouts) to find out my cupcake fate. I won't win the contest, so after that date, I'll post the recipe here. And you can tell me how much you love it.

TGIP Rating--Coffee Shop Cupcakes--DELICIOUS. Could be a contest winner. Provided the judges have some good sense and good taste. :)

Next up: 2010 Year in Review.

2/27/13 update: Just realized I never linked the recipe. It's there now, just click on the link up there ^.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Midweek Ruminations: The Most Dangerous Gift

This is the most perfectly delicious substance on planet earth.

Perfect for dessert, for breakfast, for lunch. You get the idea. Which is why...

THIS is a very dangerous idea.

If making pie becomes too easy, EVERYONE will do it ALL THE TIME. And people will eat nothing but pie. Egads! Or is it just me that would eat pie 3 meals a day if I had one of these? Because I would.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Cupcake #1 Attempts #1 & #2

It's no secret that I'm working on at least 2 (probably 3) cupcake recipes for this contest. The recipes themselves ARE secret. Top secret.

Not really.

#1 is a Meyer Lemon Truffle Cupcake. I wanted to mimic the flavor of See's lemon truffle.

So, it's a dark chocolate cupcake, filled with a Meyer lemon pastry cream, dipped in dark chocolate ganache.

Lemon and chocolate are an odd combination. I like the combination in the See's truffle, so I figured I could make them work together for this contest. It's complicated to try to balance the flavors--the tart and the sweet, the acidic and the creamy. What I've produced thus far is not perfect, not by a long shot. In fact, Attempt #1 was an epic failure on all fronts. But with Attempt #2 I got closer to the final product, and I will use at least one of the elements in my Cupcake #2, so I should be able to get all the parts working together by the time I need to send in the recipe.

Once I find out that I have not won the contest (which I'm confident will be the case), I'll post the recipe here. And you can tell me what you think of it. And how it can be improved.

TGIP Rating--Meyer Lemon Truffle Cupcakes--stay tuned.

Next up: Cupcake #2. It involves Sumatra coffee beans. And pie crust. And I have great faith in the idea.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday Ruminations: Creating and Choosing

1. Creating recipes from scratch is hard work. Obviously, I don't have enough training to TRULY do it from scratch. So, I'm referencing some recipes that work well for me, making some changes, adjusting for high altitude, etc. It's scientific and mathematical makes my brain hurt. But it's also fun or I wouldn't do it. Instead of baking I should start calling it testing hypotheses. And this is what my lab looks like:

2. I have no less than 100 cookie recipes I would like to try. I have to choose 3 to make for Christmas this year. This will also be hard work. The choosing part, that is. The eating of the final product will be delightful.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Copycat Berger Cookies

I am not from Baltimore. I have never been to Baltimore. Well, maybe I was in an airport there once. But I definitely have never had the pleasure of eating an original Berger Cookie. Just wanted to make all of that clear. So you know that I can't, with any authority, tell you how close these cookies are to the real thing. But I can tell you, with some authority (because I ate several) that they're very delicious. And when I use them to make a Berger Bomb Pie, that too will be delicious.

They're unlike any cookie I've ever had. In fact, they're almost like a snack cake (apologies to those who can't stand the combination of those two words).

The cookie is very soft and cakey, and the icing is not just fudge-like, it IS fudge. Once it sets up, it is thick and sweet and like a true layer of fudge on top of the cookie. A layer that is easily as thick as the cookie itself. Which is, apparently, the way it's supposed to be.

They're also surprisingly easy to make. Beginning to end only took me about an hour and a half. I thought they would be much more difficult because of the icing factor, but that part was really very simple. On some of the cookies in this batch, I got a little hasty adding icing on after the dipping step, and it dripped off the side. But, it only happened to a couple of them. Even before it sets up, the icing is so thick, it pretty much stays put.

Can you imagine how these cookies will behave when crumbled up and baked into a pie? I can. The fudge icing will get sort of melty and infuse the whole pie with a wonderfully rich chocolate taste. And the soft cookies will give the pie a lovely texture. I can't wait to try it. Should I do it for Thanksgiving? Hm. Will have to ponder.

OH!! AND!! I also made chocolate chip cookies. Didn't have time to cook all the batter, so I scooped it into portions on parchment paper and froze it, then bagged it up, all ready to pop in the oven like the kind you buy at the store. Except...well...homemade!

TGIP Rating--Copycat Berger Cookies--KEEPER.

Next up: As you probably know by now, my favorite pie holiday is next week! Yay for Thanksgiving! I still haven't decided what pie(s) I'm going to make. But cherry is on the shortlist. And a couple of days after that, I'm making up a cupcake recipe. Also have no idea what I'm doing for that. No worries, I'll figure it all out.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Midweek Kitchen Recommendations 4: Cooking/Baking with Kids

My one regret about my schooling? Although it's something I had virtually no control over? I wish there had been a food science class when I was in high school. The Home Economics classes I took hardly even involved anything that a person could call "cooking", let alone anything that would be considered "science". In an ideal world--the one where we're independently wealthy and I don't have to work in order to provide my family with health insurance...I spend my time getting food science classes into the junior high schools and high schools in our area. I just think there's no better way to get kids interested in science. In math. In environmentalism. In real food. In health. In life, for heaven's sake. Food is life.

I am doing what I can by trying to involve my own kids in the cooking we do at home. Prima is especially interested in baking, so for her 11th birthday we gave her her own cooking tools and a couple of cookbooks. From this series. She loves these cookbooks. She has been checking them out of the school library one by one for the past couple of months. And I love them for her. The recipes are written in a way that almost everything can be done by a child over the age of 10. Usually all a parent needs to do is help with getting things in and out of the oven and supervising the use of an electric mixer, if it's called for. The books also give historical context for the recipes. For example, in the Molly cookbook (Molly is a girl from the 1940's), there's a sidebar about food rationing and one about the use of margarine vs butter at the time. And more. That's just what I noticed on a brief glance through the book. And she has already done her first "by herself" cooking project: Ginger Cookies. She had a great time. I think it gave her a sense of independence and accomplishment. And bonus: they're delicious!

I have vivid sensory memories of cooking with The Pie Queen, especially around the holidays. I hope my kids find as much joy and comfort in our traditional home-cooked foods as I have my whole life. But, I also hope that cooking with my kids will eventually help my words of advice to sink in: that math is useful in everyday life; that science is fascinating; and that food cooked at home is infinitely more delicious than food at a restaurant (especially one of the fast-food variety).

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Salt Lake Bomb Pie

I completely stole this idea. From the folks at Dangerously Delicious via Duff Goldman. Sometimes stealing is good. And seriously, there is nothing at all wrong about this pie. It has such an interesting texture. A texture that is different throughout the pie, some areas are crispy, others are dense and cake-like, others are more soft and gooey. So many different layers of sweet and delicious flavor.

I crumbled Black and White cookies from Les Madeleines (my favorite Salt Lake bakery) into my pie crust (prebaked),

poured this Chess Pie filling over them, and followed the baking instructions for the Chess Pie. The only thing that could have made it better? More chocolate. time I'm making Berger cookies myself. I guess that will mean it's no longer a Salt Lake Bomb. Maybe that will just make it a Fossen Bomb. Annnddd...I'm also going to try it with chocolate chip cookies--a Nestle Toll House Bomb. And you should know, it's about the easiest pie you could ever make.

TGIP Rating--Salt Lake Bomb Pie--KEEPER. And then some.

Next up: Prima complained the other day that I don't make cookies anymore because I work full time. I shall remedy that. I'm going to try at least one recipe for copycat Berger cookies. And I'm also making good old-fashioned Toll House cookies. Cookies=Love.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Birthday Cake with Fondant

Whatever you do, DON'T look at the back of this cake!


I told you not to do that.

*sigh* Let's add "find a how-to video on draping fondant on cakes" to my to-do list, shall we? They make it look so easy on TV. They simply cut away after the fondant is first draped over it, and don't come back until it's all neatly smoothed on. What happens in between? Seriously, there's bound to be extraneous fondant (I'm sure there's some geometry proof I could use as evidence, but I've forgotten all of that), so what do you do with it? How do you get it smoothed out? *FRUSTRATED*

One side turned out okay, but then I got to the part where there was...excess. And there was much cracking and other nonsense. Which I tried to cover up with spider webs. Using storebought (and obviously very runny) black and white (with sparkles!) frosting. The results, as you can see...not aesthetically pleasing.
At least the birthday girl was happy.

In other news, although it didn't look particularly delicious, the cake tasted yummy. Could have been yummier, but my life is crazy right now, so I had to make the cake almost a week ahead of time and freeze it. I think that caused it to not be as moist as it should have been. But the frosting--so easy. Easiest frosting I've ever made (food processor!).

And super super delicious. The fondant, too, was actually nice tasting (I used storebought--Duff Goldman's new brand). But I'm too frustrated with it to give it high praise.

TGIP Rating--Birthday Cake with Fondant--Meh. The cake and frosting I'll definitely use again. I would be perfectly happy to never use fondant again. Ever. I understand why people like it--the clean look for a decorating base. But I'm far from being a professional baker/decorator, so the look of something is less important to me than the taste. Now, to win my children over to my point of view.

Next up: Duff (twice in one post!) talked in an episode of The Best Thing I Ever Ate about a pie from the Dangerously Delicious bakery in Baltimore called the Baltimore Bomb Pie. They use crumbled Berger cookies and a chess pie filling. I'm making my own version and calling it the Salt Lake Bomb Pie. I'll be using black and white cookies from my favorite Salt Lake bakery, Les Madeleines. I think that's about as close as I can come--a cakey cookie with a fudgy frosting. But, really, it's all about the fact that I'm craving pie.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Pumpkin Muffins

A million years ago (approximately), when I worked at UC Berkeley, the department I worked for was full of people who appreciated food. We had food parties a few times a year where everyone brought a passage from a book, or a scene from a movie that involved food, and a dish inspired by that. It was always fun and always delicious. One of those foodie co-workers brought a loaf of the most delicious pumpkin bread to work one morning and the recipe to share. I made it once, way back then, and haven't made it since. But I've always remembered how delicious it was and have always meant to revisit the recipe. Well, now I've revisited AND revamped it.

The most obvious revamping is that I made it into muffins. So much easier to manage, store, take, and eat than a loaf, or even a slice of a loaf. I also replaced half the oil with applesauce to make it a tiny bit healthier. I have tried replacing all oil with applesauce in other recipes and I feel like it makes sweet breads a little too tough. I'm willing to eat a little oil if it means that the muffin is tender. There is still a good bit of sugar in the recipe, but I'm not sure what can be done about that. At least it's not HFCS. :)

You can use an electric mixer if you feel you must, but it's not necessary at all. And I don't know about you, but I like, sometimes, just for a change of pace, to make a recipe that can be done with a bowl and a spoon. So simple.

Pumpkin Muffins *click here for printable version*

adapted from “Joan’s Pumpkin Loaf” from an unknown source
yield: approximately 18 muffins, or ?? mini muffins, or 1 large loaf (10x5x3), or 4 mini loaves

2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1-1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
2 eggs
2 cups granulated sugar or brown sugar (firmly packed)
1/4 cup Canola oil
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 pound (2 cups) canned pumpkin--NOT pumpkin pie filling
8 ounces (1 cup) pitted dates, cut into pieces
4 ounces (generous 1 cup) walnuts, chopped or broken into medium-size pieces

Adjust an oven rack one-third up from the bottom of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a muffin tin, or use cupcake papers (if using a loaf pan, use 10-cup capacity, butter, then dust the pan with fine, dry bread crumbs, then shake or tap out excess crumbs).

Sift together the flour, soda, salt, cinnamon, and cloves and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs just to mix. Add the sugar, oil, and applesauce and beat lightly just to mix. Mix in the pumpkin and then the dates.

Now add the sifted dry ingredients and stir, mix, or beat only until they are smoothly incorporated. Stir in the nuts.

Fill each muffin cup about 2/3 full of batter. Bake for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle of one muffin comes out clean (for large loaf pan, bake 1-1/2 hours).

Cool in the muffin tin for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

When these are warm, they're obviously delicious with butter that gets nice and melty. And when they're cold, I like them with a little whipped cream cheese spread over them. Yummy. Cheesy. Spicy. Creamy.

TGIP Rating--Pumpkin Muffins--KEEPER. Still good after all these eons. Even better as a muffin.

Next up: Prima's 11th birthday is soon. She wants a cake. Of course. But with pink fondant. Yikes. I'll aim to deliver.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Canned Pumpkin: scarce?!

The Pie Queen mentioned something on Facebook recently about a canned pumpkin shortage. To which I replied, "What?!". Apparently, it's no joke. But then there's this article that says it's over. I don't know. What I do know is that there isn't even a spot for it in the baking aisle at my local Target. So, you be the judge. I suggest taking a casual look for it everywhere you happen to go. That's what I've been doing. Found a small trove at my Winco and snatched up 3 cans. Of course, I've already used two of them.

Whether the shortage will continue into this Fall or not, I guess it's about time I learned how to use the meat of a real pumpkin for a pie. Because I simply can't imagine Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie. Here's a site that details how to prepare the pumpkin puree (using either microwave, stovetop, or oven), for those of you like me who have never done it. And another. I will still use my own recipe beyond the point of pureeing, just because I like that mixture of spices.

Hopefully the Great Pumpkin will arrive before November and bless all the sincere pumpkin patches with a bounteous harvest.