Saturday, December 27, 2008

Mountains of Christmas Cookies



Hope everybody had a merry Christmas. Or is having a joyful Kwanzaa. Or is continuing to have a good Hanukkah. Just happy freakin' holidays, okay?

My mom took full advantage of the combination my explosive Christmas cheer and baking habits and put me to work making Christmas cookies. We picked out a few cookie recipes that were supposed to yield ridiculous amounts of cookies: 6 dozen per recipe. And for some reason it was decided that it would be a good idea to double those cookie recipes. And that we should probably make a couple single batches of other cookies, you know, just in case there was a tragic cookie shortage in the near future. All together we made:
- 2 batches of molasses thins
- 2 batches of pecan praline cookies
- 1 batch of my fig pinwheels
- 1 batch of chocolate turtle bars
- 1 batch of pumpkin cookies

Resulting in about a billion dozen cookies.

It took two days and in the end we had an appalling amount of cookies (I spelled 'appalling' wrong the first time and when I tried to choose the correct version, I accidentally chose 'Appalachian' instead. Appalachian cookies!) despite the fact that the recipes were a bit misleading on how much they would make. The reason you were supposed to get 6 dozen cookies out of each recipe was because you were supposed to use teaspoon amounts of dough when you usually roll out tablespoons. So you did indeed get tons of cookies, albeit teeny tiny ones. If you were catering to a party of elves, they would probably be appropriate.


These were the molasses thins, they were slice and bake. I liked them, they had a good molasses flavor and the addition of crushed walnuts was a nice change from regular molasses cookies.


These are the pecan praline cookies. These were probably my favorite. It was a brown sugar chewy cookie topped with pecan and drizzled with praline-y sauce. Did I mention that I don't have the recipes for any of these? I just like to torture you guys.


Here are the pumpkin cookies that we made with the leftovers of my mom's weird organic canned pumpkin. I'm kind of obsessed with canned pumpkin actually, just ask Joe how many jumbo cans of pumpkin he's lugged home for me in the last few months. I stir it in with yogurt or or oatmeal or just eat it plain with some sweetener and cinnamon thrown in. It's freakishly healthy and a half cup counts as a vegetable serving! But I couldn't stomach this weird organic canned pumpkin, it was totally the wrong texture and just tasted like off squash. It fared way better in the cookies though, they were pretty tasty. I've made soft pumpkin cookies that I liked better than these. Though I can't remember what recipe I used so I'm fairly useless.

No pictures of the fig cookies because I forgot. Or the chocolate turtle things, though I can pretty much tell you how to make those: you take a ridiculous amount of crushed graham crackers and dump them in a pan (9x13?) and then pour melted butter over the crumbs and press that all into the pan for the crust. Then you sprinkle chocolate chips and pecans over the crust and top all that with a small can of caramel sauce. Pop it into an oven at 350 until the chocolate chips melt.

I thought they were a little too sweet but I'm not going to lie and say I'm too sophisticated for them or any such nonsense. I would probably skip the caramel sauce though. My favorite part was the buttery gram crust, which I probably could have eaten with a spoon (and possibly did). The recipe did say to assemble the bars in an ungreased pan but after watching my mom pry them out of the pan with a knife while quietly swearing, I'd say you should probably grease the heck out the pan.

After giving away cookies to everybody within a 30 mile radius, we still had a giant platter of assorted cookies. Last time I checked anyways, as I am currently in Hawaii. Don't worry though, I wrote this while it was raining outside, I'm not so sad that I spend my vacations reminiscing about baked goods I made two weeks ago. Though I am tempted to bake when I am not busy slathering myself in SPF 500. My skin is about as pale and delicate as tissue paper and though I tan better than my sister with red hair and freckles, my body still hisses and recoils in direct sunlight.

On a similar note, time to go find a spray tan facility! Am trying not to blind others with my blinding paleness on the beach.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas, Good Will to Chinchillas


Have you met my chinchilla yet? She's a very sensitive creature. Also, she has t-rex arms. Happy holidays!

Teeth Extracting Caramels

Weeks ago I was killing time on the Martha Stewart website, where I now spend an alarming amount of time, when I stumbled upon her recipe for gingerbread caramels. I drooled on myself a little a bit and filed the recipe away in my 'to make' file. With Christmas coming up, I decided they would be perfect to make for gifts. Providing I didn't screw the whole thing up. But I'm a risk taker.

Not really. I hate risks. I nearly pass out from fear every time I go on an airplane and I've only been on them about eight billion times.

Regardless, I did make them. Things nearly went horribly wrong but it worked out in the end, which is the way it often goes in my kitchen.



Gingerbread Caramels from Martha Stewart

INGREDIENTS:

  • Vegetable-oil cooking spray
  • 4 cups (2 pints) heavy cream
  • 2 cups light corn syrup
  • 4 cups granulated sugar
  • 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Coat an 18-by-13-inch rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray. Line with parchment, leaving a 2-inch overhang on short sides. Coat parchment.
  2. Bring cream, corn syrup, sugar, butter, and molasses to a boil in a large pot over high heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Clip a candy thermometer to side of pan, and continue to cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until mixture reaches 248 degrees (firm-ball stage), about 20 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat, and stir in vanilla, salt, and spices. Immediately pour onto prepared sheet, without scraping pot. Let stand, uncovered, at room temperature for 24 hours without moving.
  4. Coat a large cutting board generously with cooking spray. Pull up parchment to unmold caramel, and invert onto the cutting board. Remove parchment. Cut into 1-by-1 1/4-inch pieces. Wrap each in cellophane or waxed paper. Caramels can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

Nekkid caramels

I made these at my mom's house and while she didn't have a candy thermometer, she did have a meat thermometer. So I plunked that in my batch of caramel. Except that it registered 248 degrees within minutes of being on the stove, causing me to panic and dump all the spices in. Then I stared at the mixture, which was totally thin and soup like. I cocked my head, considered it a while, and decided that there was no effing way that mixture was going to firm up to resemble anything remotely close to caramels. I decided the thermometer was off and cranked the stove back on.

Having never made caramel candy before, only caramel syrups, I didn't really know what in the fresh hell I was doing. I was planning on trusting the thermometer but clearly that wasn't going to work out. So I basically cooked it until it felt right: thick and hard to stir. I did keep a mug of cool water nearby to test to soft ball/firm ball stage but having never tested that either, I just went by what looked and felt right.

The directions for the caramels said not to scrape the caramel pan after pouring the caramels into the greased pan. But I come from a family that covets leftovers, where a tablespoon of food is meticulously wrapped and put back in the fridge. The thought of wasting the caramel dredges made me hyperventilate a little, I just couldn't do it. What harm could it do, right? I scraped the pan.

Wrong. Don't do as I do. The caramel at the bottom of the pan cooked a lot more than the rest of the caramel, so some of my caramel pieces had a top layer of toffee-like caramel instead of soft gooey caramel. It wasn't necessarily a bad thing, you just shouldn't give any of those pieces to your toothless great aunt Nannerl. I was pretty confident my aunt, uncle and cousins, who I gave the caramels too, had pretty secure teeth so I went ahead and gave them some of the toffee-caramels.


And oh, maybe it was because I accidentally added all my spices right at the beginning but I had to add at LEAST four times the amount of spices called for the caramels to taste even remotely spicy and gingery. I was just dumping spices in by the truckload and kept tasting it until they tasted good. They were still pretty mild flavored but tasty none the less: a little molasses-y, gingery, and a little spicy.

I only let them chill a few hours before cutting them, they were plenty firm by then. I dipped some in chocolate and topped a few with crystallized ginger. Though I thought they were kinda ugly with that so I stopped doing that. Than I wrapped them in parchment paper, which took forever and a half.

Here they are all wrapped up.

They tasted really good though, it was worth it. But really, could anything with that much cream, butter, and sugar taste bad? The correct answer is no, in case you were wondering. My family liked them, I think my cousin ate about a dozen. I can't pay for your dental bills though, sorry David.

Then my mom and I decided it would be a good idea to bake about 12 dozen cookies. More on that later.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Get Your Fat Pants on: Carrot Cake Cupcakes


Joe requested I make carrot cake cupcakes with cream cheese frosting recently and I happily obliged. I don't think I had made a carrot cake prior to this and to make matters more difficult, Joe wanted the cake to have pineapple and coconut in it in addition to the usual raisins and nuts so I was a bit nervous that I would have more chances to mess things up. Apparently I had a bit of a carrot cake phobia.

It worked out well though. I let Joe pick the recipe out of the two I had it narrowed down to and he picked the Barefoot Contessa version because he trusts her. She does look like she knows how to bake a cake, I'm always a bit untrustworthy of skinny pastry chefs. Giada DeLaurentes, for example. How are you so skinny? On the other hand, Paula Deen creeps me out a bit. I once saw a show in which she made a breakfast sandwich with eggs and bacon and used two doughnuts instead of bread. That was just an abomination and my fat cells swelled a bit just watching the show.

In any case, I altered the recipe a bit to make it closer to how Joe likes carrot cake but it still turned out.

Carrot Pineapple Cake

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/3 cups vegetable oil
  • 3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 pound carrots, grated
  • 1/2 cup diced fresh pineapple

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Butter 2 (8-inch) round cake pans. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.

For the cake:

Beat the sugar, oil, and eggs together in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light yellow. Add the vanilla. In another bowl, sift together 2 1/2 cups flour, the cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Toss the raisins and walnuts with 1 tablespoon flour. Fold in the carrots and pineapple. Add to the batter and mix well.

Divide the batter equally between the 2 pans. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool completely in the pans set over a wire rack.

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Changes I made: I replaced 1/3 cup of the oil with applesauce since A) carrot cakes can be oily and heavy and B) I had a huge jug of applesauce I needed to use. I also toasted my walnuts briefly, used about a cup and a half grated carrots and about a cup chopped, drained canned pineapple. Even if I had thought to buy a fresh pineapple, I think I would feel a bit weird eating one in December. It doesn't feel right. Oh, I also used 1 cup flaked coconut which I threw in at the end.

If you're making this as cupcakes, you'll have to change the baking directions. I tried baking them at 350 for about 20 minutes and while it worked, they came out flat and a bit ugly. I found another recipe that said to bake carrot cake cupcakes at 400 degrees for 10 minutes and then to lower the temperature to 350 until they finished baking, about 10 more minutes for me. These came out much cuter with nice domed tops.

This was a great cake to bake since I got to snack on all the tasty elements while putting it together. I love raisins, pineapple and even carrots. I also adore coconut, something I inherited from my coconut-loving mom who used to make us fork over our Almond Joys every Halloween as kids. Though I guess it must have been the almond coconut combo, she shunned our Mounds bars.

For the frosting, I used a delectable Orange-Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting recipe from good ol' M. Stewart. I would gladly live off this stuff the rest of my life, this stuff is amaaaaaazing.

Orange Ginger Cream Cheese Frosting

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 bars (8 ounces each) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 3 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
  • Pinch of salt

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Place butter in bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and beat on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add cream cheese, and beat until well combined and fluffy, about 2 minutes more. Add sugar, orange zest, ginger, and salt, and beat for 5 minutes.
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I scaled this recipe back some because I never read recipes before going to the store and only bought 2 blocks of cream cheese. It still made plenty of frosting though, I had just enough to ice the 27 cupcakes and enough to sample liberally while making it.



I am now officially on Winter Break and survived my freakishly long plane ride back to Alaska. My standard coping mechanism of surviving plane rides consists of Xanax and chick flicks. It almost never fails.

After I get some supplies, I'll be making a few things for friends and family for Christmas. Stay tuned.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Of Sleeptalking and Cyborg Zombies

I fly home tomorrow. Which is awesome but means I have to go on an airplane, my mortal enemy. So humor me and let me distract myself from the thoughts of the metal death machines.

Joe is rather flighty and often instead of throwing away empty containers when they're done, he puts them back wherever they once belonged when they actually contained food. It is not uncommon for me to discover empty Wheat Thins boxes in the pantry and empty bags or abandoned tupperwares in the fridge. It doesn't annoy me that much except when the one thing in the world that will make me happy is a triscuit and for one glorious moment I think I'll soon be eating a triscuit before discovering the box is empty. Sometimes this happens during midterms and I have a nervous breakdown.

So when I found a bag that once held couscous in the pantry, I wasn't that surprised. It was the same pantry which usually holds sesame oil, which I was looking for and couldn't find. This ensued:

Me: Hey Joe, I found an empty couscous bag in the pantry.
Joe: Really? I thought I threw that out.
Me: No, definitely not. Have you seen the sesame oil? I can't find it.
Joe: Oh, it's in the cabinet. I just used it.
Me: I don't think it is.
Joe: Let me look. Hm, I guess not. Where did I put it?
Me: *jokingly* Maybe you threw it out.
Joe: *looks at trash* Oh. I did.
Me: So instead of throwing out an empty bag you threw out a perfectly good bottle of oil?
Joe: Yes.

We can clearly never have children. He'll lose them or trade them for beans and forget to tell me.

Here's a slightly more endearing Joe quality: he often talks in his sleep. A lot of times it's pure gibberish but he pronounces it with such passion that it almost sounds like he's saying something really profound. Like he's trying to say, "This morning I woke up and the sun was the most perfect shade of peach!" but instead he says, "Zammboga blar mumble dom!"

While we're at it, here's your very last BJ quote until next January:

BJ: Just you guys wait until I build a cyborg zombie. You'll be all, "Oh, that's not scary, a zombie can't run fast." WRONG. And you'll say, "Don't worry, zombies can't punch through walls." WRONG.

BJ really loves cyborg zombies. Merry christmas?

Cookie Party Extravaganza (Or 6 down, 95 to Go)


I am positively bursting at the seams with Christmas spirit this year. I've been playing Christmas carols and have baked Holiday related baked goods since mid-November. Which is all fine and dandy except that my boyfriend is Jewish and I have a sneaking suspicion that he may murder me in my sleep if I play Mariah Carey's All I Want for Christmas is You one more time.

Luckily, I think I caught a lot of my holiday cheer from my best girlie pal Katie and so I invited her over to have a Christmas cookie party. She picked a couple recipes from my cookie magazine and it was decided we would make half a batch of plain sugar cookies, half a batch of chocolate sugar cookies and part of a batch of vanilla-chocolate swirl sugar cookies. Why? Because I sure do love destroying the kitchen.

Before we made cookies and made my kitchen look like a war zone, Katie gave me my Christmas present since we won't see each other again until January. Knowing that I collect all things cupcake related, she gave me this gloriously tacky backpack, meant for small children:

The sad thing is I'll probably use it because it has drink holders on the sides and I really hate carrying a thermos or water bottle. And because I like to pretend I'm four years old. Thanks Katie!

The cookies turned out well but I won't bother typing up the recipes because neither was spectacular. Also, I'm lazy. The regular sugar cookie recipe was way easier to work with, the chocolate sugar cookies kept flaking everywhere. I figured they would probably still bake up okay but the first batch spread everywhere, bubbled up up in a strange manner and basically looked like we had made the cookies drunk and blindfolded. Luckily, I am cookie MacGyver and decided that the dough needed more binder, as it didn't have any eggs in it. So I dumped the dough back in the KitchenAid, added an egg and more flour and viola, the dough saw I meant business and cooperated. BOW TO ME, FOR I AM THE COOKIE QUEEN, BWA HAHA.

Ahem.




For decorations, I bought some sprinkles and various candies and made a couple of batches of icing to dye different colors. I based the icing off of this recipe, though it got all weird and seperated afterwards. It worked a lot better when I just dumped a bunch of stuff into a bowl and added stuff til it looked right. Go figure. But in case you want it:

Sugar Cookie Icing

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 5 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • food coloring

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, cream together the confectioners' sugar and shortening until smooth. Gradually mix in the milk and vanilla with an electric mixer until smooth and stiff, about 5 minutes. Color with food coloring if desired.
-------------------------


I thought our cookies came out adorable, though I may only think that because I spent like five hours making them and then a additional five hours cleaning up the kitchen. But considering we didn't use piping bags or any other fancy tools, I think we did a good job.

To make the marbled chocolate-vanilla cookies, I layered pierces of chocolate and vanilla dough and then twisted it around before rolling it out. They were pretty as is so we didn't decorate those guys. Here's a choco-vanilla snowflake:



Oh, we also made a few stained glass cookies in which you have a strong man smash a bunch of Jolly Ranchers and then place the shards in a hollowed out cookie before they bake. They look really cool when they work out but it's hard to get the right amount of candy in: too little and it crisped up and didn't form a pretty surface and too much and it overflowed. Also, while BJ was smashing the candy, some of the candy vaporized and turned into a sort of deadly candy gas that made everybody sneeze.


Neat though, right? Though Katie may have carpel tunnel from cutting all of the cookie innards out with a small knife.

I had to make an emergency butter run while we were making these since I used most of the other pack of butter making the cinnamon rolls. I told Joe where I was going and why and shortly afterwards heard BJ yell, "What?! How could anything have that much butter in it? Dammit Sophie, I ate like 10 of those!" and I soothed him with more baked goods. Easy fix.

We made approximately 19 billion more than what is pictured but I got really tired of editing photos. Just trust in me that they were all adorable. Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Fire Alarm Cinnamon Rolls


I had a sudden urge to bake cinnamon rolls recently, which is strange because I've never been a huge fan of them, for one thing they're usually way too huge for me to finish. Why are most cinnamon rolls bigger than my head? Besides being dinosaur sized, a lot are way too sickly sweet. And I am the Sugar Queen, it takes a lot for me to say that. But I figured if I made them myself, I could make them smaller and cut down on the sweetness. All the recipes I looked at called for a jillion cups of flour and made a thousand and a half cinnamon rolls, which freaked me out until it dawned on me that I could scale the recipe down. I go to college!

So once I established that BJ would eat the cinnamon rolls (I think his exact words were, "I would eat the shit out of cinnamon rolls."), I dug around and played with some recipes. I decided to try and infuse a maple flavor to the cinnamon rolls.

Maple Cinnamon Rolls

INGREDIENTS:

For the dough:
1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
2 heaping tablespoons white sugar
1 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 eggs
2 1/2 tablespoons melted butter

For the filling:

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp maple flakes, optional

For the icing: (I kind of threw stuff together, here's PW's maple icing recipe I based it on, however you will need to scale this back a lot since we're not making a billion cinnamon rolls)
1 bag powdered sugar
2 Tsp maple flavoring (I used maple syrup)
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 cup brewed coffee
1/4 tsp salt

In a mixing bowl, beating all ingredients until smooth.

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water. Stir in salt and 1 cup flour. Beat mixture for 2 minutes. Beat in egg and melted butter. Stir in the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, beating well after each addition.
  2. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 40 minutes.
  3. Roll dough with rolling pin into an evenly shaped 12-by-16-inch rectangle. Brush dough liberally with butter and sprinkle an even layer of cinnamon-sugar mixture, leaving a 1/2 -inch border along one of the long sides. Roll, beginning with the long side of the rectangle. Use both hands to pinch dough with fingertips as you go, sealing edges firmly to form a seam. (Do not seal ends.)
  4. Cut into 12 even pieces using dental floss (or serrated knife with cutting board) and arrange in greased pan (9x13 would work, or I used a springform pan and a pie pan for the rest).
  5. Cover loosely with plastic and allow to rise until double in size (rolls will touch), about one hour (or overnight in the fridge). When rolls are almost fully risen, adjust oven rack to center position and heat oven to 350 degrees.
  6. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. While the cinnamon rolls bake, make the icing (recipe above). Set aside until cinnamon rolls cool slightly, pour generously across the top of the rolls.
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End result: (pan one of two, but these guys were cuter)


The cinnamon rolls turned out well, though not exactly what I was going for. My favorite part of the cinnamon rolls was always the dough, there's a place in Alaska that sells giant cinnamon rolls (which my mom would buy, eat the most delicious center bite and then abandon for the rest of us) and the rolls are very chewy and... gluten-y? These rolls were very soft and light, which was good but not what I was hoping for.

They ARE tasty though, BJ proclaimed them better than Pilsbury. Which is good, I think I would've cried if they weren't better than something that came in a .99 cent can. But I think I'll try to find a recipe closer to what I was looking for. I also think the maple flavor could be more intense, I think I would try to find maple extract to put in the icing next time but I can't find it recently.

As per always, the recipe yielded twice as much as it said it would. I halved the recipe, which said it would yield 12 cinnamon rolls. Logically, I would come out with 6 cinnamon rolls. But no, with my magical baking powers I still came out with 12. Granted, 2 of those were mini sized because I ended up with a small amount of end piece dough that I decided to try and salvage. But the rest were pretty decent sized. Here's one of the baby guys:


Aw. They were like little cinnamon roll donut holes.

Oh, I almost burned the house down making these. While my cinnamon rolls were in the oven, I noticed the kitchen started to smell a bit like burning but I checked the cinnamon rolls and they were totally fine so I kind of forgot about it and wandered off. A few minutes later, the smoke alarm started to go off and the kitchen and dining room were filled with smoke. I checked the cinnamon rolls, which were clearly not on fire, and realized that debris at the bottom of the oven chose this day to spontaneously combust. Glorious.

So we opened up all the windows to air things out and shut up the smoke detector but there wasn't a lot that could be done until the cinnamon rolls finished baking. After I took out the cinnamon rolls, Joe decided that the best way to clean out the oven was to crank it up and let everything in the oven finishing crisping away before we clean it. Which is all fine and dandy except that means that the windows have to be open and it's 20 degrees out. My apartment is like a small arctic village at the moment.

On the bright side, I don't live in a dorm anymore, where if somebody burned a bag of popcorn the fire alarm would go off and everybody had to evacuate the building. Sometimes at 4 in the morning in the middle of winter, I wanted to kill whoever set that one off. The smoke alarm only temporarily rendered me deaf and insane, which I guess is better than standing in the cold for half an hour, waiting for the police to verify that the building is not actually on fire.

Hooray, college.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Best Name Ever and Music Class Shenanigans

It's Thursday night and I haven't baked since Monday. This is a long time for me. I am going through baking withdrawal and ate about 3 tons of oatmeal this evening to try to satiate my sweet tooth. I would bake but we really need to go grocery shopping, there may or may not be tumbleweeds in the fridge where butter and eggs should be. And dust bunnies where the flour should be. So unless you want some delicious tumbleweed-dust bunny pie, I'm kind of low on options for now.

Until I restock, here's some notes about the music class I'm taking. Joe, my music major boyfriend, somehow convinced me to take a music appreciation class as an elective. The class has been pretty good, actually, but there are some days when I'd rather kill myself than listen to atonal modern music for 75 minutes. You know the noise machine in the cartoon The Phantom Tollbooth? It all sounds like that.

Today was fun though. The entire class was full of weird nervous energy, probably because it was the last official class before the final and everybody gets a bit insane around finals. We played a Jeopardy style review game, with the class split into two teams. Naturally, my team was Team Awesome and we beat the pants off the other team, partly because I was the only one in the class to know the term "sprechstimme", which is a horrible, nightmare inducing, atonal vocal style. I only knew it because the example we listened to scarred me for life. It will probably haunt my dreams forever.

Anyways, since we kicked musical-history ass, my group could completely fail the final Jeopardy question and still win. So to answer the question, "Why did the premiere of the ballet The Rite of Spring cause a riot? (Name three examples)" we chose to answer:
The Rite of Spring caused riots because of the presence of:
1. Gypsies
2. Dragons (which usually don't appear in ballets)
3. Will Farrel

The gypsies were my idea.

Before I go to sleep, let's talk about my favorite person in music history. Mozart had a sister, who was a child prodigy as well and toured with Mozart until she grew up and was plopped in a kitchen and expected to do housework the rest of her life. The upside of this story is that her name is hilarious, I about died laughing when I heard it the first time.

Her name was Nannerl. Nannerl Mozart.

Is that not cruel? If that's not bad enough, I just found out her name was actually Maria Anna and people just called her Nannerl.

I, for one, would not stand for that. If somebody wanted to nickname me Noodly-Sqoudly I would swiftly poison them.

Nannerl. It puts a smile on my face every time. I may have to name any future daughters I have after her. Nannerl Blankensop. It kind of sounds like a skin condition. Cute.

Lack of baking and cramming for finals has clearly rattled my brain. I'll be back this weekend with some baked goods! I'll leave you with this picture of dear Nannerl.


Ha. Hahahaha.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

3 Down, 98 to Go: Mediocre Chocolate Cookies

My last rotation in the acute care setting I was working in was on Monday so I decided to bring some baked goods for the staff to thank them for tolerating me. The same day the hospital was going to throw my group a dinner and bribe us to work for them so I figured I could bring the rest of the baked goods to the meeting for everybody.

I decided on cookies, since they're relatively fast, unfussy and yields tons of goodies, unlike brownies or something where I would have to make multiple batches in order to feed everybody. So I flipped through the cookie magazine I'm baking my way through and settled on double chocolate cookies. Who doesn't like chocolate cookies? Untrustworthy fiends, that's who.


I had to modify the recipe a bit because when everything was all mixed together, I had cookie dough soup. The dough was supposed to chill but I was not convinced that the liquid I had would firm up enough to make anything resembling cookies. I had to add a bunch more flour to make the dough come together but I didn't think to add more chocolate so I thought in the end the cookies were a bit lacking. They needed more chocolate flavor or something, I don't know. Plus, they were a bit on the cake-y side, which I was not going for. But I can't really blame the recipe, I guess, since I did alter it and maybe it would've been magically perfect without my additions.

However, the two dozen cookies I delivered to the staff were consumed alarmingly fast so I guess they weren't too bad, people seemed to like them. I'm just a cookie snob.

Double Chocolate Cookies

5 oz of unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup butter
4 eggs
1 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Melt the unsweetened chocolate, 1/4 cup of the chocolate chips and the butter over low heat in a saucepan. Set aside. Whip the eggs and sugar on medium-high speed until thick and light. On low speed, and the chocolate mixture and vanilla and mix until blended. Fold in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Fold in the remaining chocolate chips and the white chocolate chips. Chill until firm, at least 2 hours. Preheat oven to 350. Drop tablespoons of dough onto a cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes.


So if I were to make them again, which I probably won't since there's better looking chocolate cookie recipes in the magazine, I'd add more unsweetened chocolate, more vanilla and maybe some cocoa powder? Dunno, I just think they need a flavor boost.

I am nearing the ends of final exam hell and it hasn't been too bad so far actually. I need to cram my brains out for one more final for Thursday and then I'm pretty much in the clear. After I restock on baking supplies, I am free to relax for awhile and fatten BJ up with baked goods before heading back to Alaska for Christmas, where I can fatten others up as well. Life is good.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Gingerbread Pear Upside Down Mini Cakes



If Chronicle Books could just give me a stipend to write up about how awesome the recipes from their dessert cookbooks are, that would be great. I would even just take donations of said cookbooks. My sister (who works at Chronicle) gave me the recipe for a upside down pear gingerbread cake ages ago and I only just got around to trying it. It's from this cookbook:


And really, can anything from a cookbook with a title like that be bad? Doubtful. I'm kind of in love with Chronicle Book, besides making some awesome cookbooks (and, you know, employing my sister), there's a designer at the company that makes a bunch of awesome cupcake themed prints and I think I own all of the collection, including this stationary:

You may recognize it because I use her wrapping paper set under almost all the photographs in this blog, like these recent guys with the cute peppermint candy print:


You can see the bon-bon print under the caramel cake I posted the other day. Using the wrapping paper under the baked goods is a good compromise because I love the designs so much that it hurts me to see it ripped off of presents. My sister forwarded the designer a fan-girl-esque e-mail of mine to the designer in which I was rambling about hyperventilating upon seeing the new products and it was embarrassing.

Anyway. What I'm getting at is that I'm too lazy to type up the recipe for the cakes I made (and am also scared about accidentally violating some copyright law and being banished from Chronicle Books for eternity) but you should probably just buy the cookbook because the recipe is delicious and everything else you make from said cookbook will be delicious. And because I said so. While you're at it, pick up a copy for me as well.

The official name of the recipe is sticky pear and walnut upside-down gingerbread, which is quite the mouthful. BJ suggested I rename it but um, to what? SPWUDG isn't very catchy either.

The recipe makes one large cake but since I prefer mini sized things, I made 16 cupcakes. Cupcakes? Muffins? Small cakes. I followed the recipe as written but just used muffin tins instead one cake pan. The unmoldings was a bit tricky since I didn't really think that step through-- in a normal upside down cake you flip the cake pan onto a plate to unmold it and I realized I couldn't do that with a tray full of mini-cakes. But running a knife around each tin and then unmolding onto a cookie sheet worked beautifully, I was quite pleased.


The taste? These. Are. So. Good. It's really no surprise that I love them, since I have a long standing passionate love affair with pears. The gingerbread does overwhelm the pears a bit but pears have such a delicate flavor, its to be expected really. But at the same time, I don't turn up my nose at a gooey, brown sugar encrusted piece of gingerbread. I think these are actually better the next day, they managed to get even more moist, sticky and hggghlkfhg. I love them.

I did find a recipe online that is similar to the one I used, so I'll post it. Again, I didn't actually use this recipe so I can't vouch for it but the idea is there!

Not-The-Recipe-I-Used Pear Gingerbread Cake

INGREDIENTS:

For topping:
  • 2 1/2 firm pears (preferably Bosc)
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

For cake:
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup molasses (preferably mild)
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten

Directions:

Peel and core pears and cut each into 8 wedges.

Melt butter in skillet over moderate heat until foam subsides. Reduce heat to low, then sprinkle brown sugar over bottom of skillet and cook, undisturbed, 3 minutes (not all sugar will be melted). Arrange pears decoratively over sugar and cook, undisturbed, 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt in a bowl. Whisk together molasses and boiling water in a small bowl. Beat together butter, brown sugar, and egg in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until creamy, about 2 minutes, then alternately mix in flour mixture and molasses in 3 batches at low speed until smooth.

Pour batter over topping in skillet, spreading evenly and being careful not to disturb pears, and bake in middle of oven until a tester comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes.

Cool cake in skillet on a rack 5 minutes. Run a thin knife around edge of skillet, then invert a large plate with a lip over skillet and, using pot holders to hold skillet and plate tightly together, invert cake onto plate. Replace any pears that stick to skillet. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Why are you still reading this when you could be doing productive things such as buying me Christmas presents or teaching me the material that's going to be on my final tomorrow? Geez, some people...

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sunday Morning Breakfast


I love breakfast. At what other meal do people not only approve of eating sweets but actually insist you eat cake slathered in syrup/jam/fruit etc? Bliss, definitely my favorite meal. I haven't made pancakes in forever and was craving them so I whipped up a batch this morning.

My favorite pancake recipe is from The Joy of Cooking but of course I forgot to get that book from storage. I randomly stumbled upon an oatmeal pancake recipe which looked tasty and appealed to my obsession with brown sugar oatmeal. I modified the recipe some and it came out fine.

Oatmeal Brown Sugar and Raisin Pancakes

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup quick cooking oats
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons apple sauce
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup raisins, soaked in hot water

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Place all ingredients except rasins in a medium bowl and blend with a hand blender until smooth. Alternatively, place all ingredients in a food processor and puree until smooth. Fold in raisins.
  2. Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each pancake. Brown on both sides and serve hot.
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I thought the recipe was pretty good, I think I prefer my normal go to pancake recipe. Though that didn't stop me from eating half the batch. I served mine with maple syrup, jam, and homemade applesauce.



In sort of related news, Joe and I pet sat for some friends over Thanksgiving weekend. They brought over their two cats who promptly made themselves comfortable in our apartment and proceeded to show their appreciation by eating our plants, shredding the toilet paper and stealthily attacking our feet.

They weren't really nighmarish, actually. Or at least they were really cute, which somehow negates all other qualities.


See the one on the top? He was absolutely shameless in his pursuit of food. If we left out ANY dishes he would immediately waltz over and lick it clean, even if it was just a measuring cup with remnants of plain canned pumpkin (yum?).

So it shouldn't have been a surprise when I put the last of the pancakes on my plate this morning, went to the kitchen to get some water and then looked over to see the cat carrying a pancake in his mouth before making a run for it. He sprinted into the living room where Joe and I ran after him. BJ got a loving wake up call of Joe screaming, "BAD KITTY!" and me yelling, "What cat does that?!"

Apparently the pancakes get a kitty stamp of approval as well, he managed to eat a chunk before we got it away from him.

But he's so cute.


I have two finals this week but still have lots of baked goods planned. Or maybe that's why I have lots of baked goods planned. Must keep myself sane, after all.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

It's the Most Wonderful Time for a Sugar Coma

Here is the dramatic unveiling of my first Daring Bakers Challenge: Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting. Ta da!



I did not want this cake in the house, as the amount of butter in it is obscene and I really like caramel. I originally was going to cut the recipe in half and make cupcakes but I decided to take the cake to Thanksgiving dinner instead. It seemed like a good compromise, since that way I could bring a nice hostess gift and pawn off- I mean share- the near cup and half of buttery goodness with others. Cake travels better than cupcakes and since Joe and I were commuting about an hour to his family's house, cake it was. I apologize, no cupcakes after all this month. I'll have to make two cupcake recipes in December to make up for it. Twist my arm, I'll do it.

There are three components to the cake: the frosting, the cake, and the caramel syrup. Let's talk about the caramel syrup first since you'll have to make that first to use in the cake and the frosting. I started making this cake the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, mostly because I was going in to shadow a nurse anesthetist Wednesday morning and I was super excited about it. I love surgery and was giddy at the prospect at spending a whole day in the OR, I was like a kid on Christmas eve. So I made brown butter and caramel syrup to calm my nerves. What, you don't do that when you're stressed?

The caramel syrup recipe is very basic: you heat sugar and water in a pan and let it bubble away til it turns a dark amber, and then you stop the caramelization process by dumping in water. Then the mixture will spatter, covering everything within a 10 mile radius with caramel and if you're lucky, that 5 miles won't include any vital body parts.

No, it's not that scary. My oven is always filthy so while it did splatter, it wasn't awful and was an easy clean up. And I only burned my wrist a little! A big improvement from the pear-caramel incident.

A lot of the Daring Bakers were having trouble with the caramel but I've made caramel enough times to be pretty confident in making it. The trick is: don't mess with it. Stir the water and sugar together and after that don't touch it, you'll just mess it up and it will become a big crystallized mess. Check it constantly for color though, you need to watch caramel. Here's what mine looked like:


See this? Your caramel will hang out in that stage for seems like forever. Patience, friend. Leave it alone.













The second picture shows when the caramel begins to color around the edges: here's when you want to start watching it really closely. Stages 2-4 happen in a matter of minutes and if you're not careful, you'll scorch the caramel.









This is getting pretty dark: almost there, get your water ready!














This is what I judged 'dark amber' to look like. Here's where you dump in the water and hope that you survive.












If you do survive, here's what your caramel syrup will look like:


Pretty! Here's the official recipe:

CARAMEL SYRUP

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for "stopping" the caramelization process)

DIRECTIONS:

In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.

When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back.

Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.}

Note: For safety reasons, have ready a bowl of ice water to plunge your hands into if any caramel should land on your skin.
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See? I warned you. Caramel is serious stuff. I have scars on my toes to prove it from the pear incident. Joe made me wear shoes this time around. Apparently he should of had me wear mittens too since I burned my wrist. C'est la vie, I should just wear a full body suit when baking.

Now you can move onto the cake and frosting. Here's the cake recipe:

CARAMEL CAKE WITH CARAMELIZED BUTTER FROSTING

INGREDIENTS:

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350F

Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.

Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.

Sift flour and baking powder.

Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}

Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan.

Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it.

Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.

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I took issue with this recipe. It's vague, for one. And the proportions just aren't right. There's way too much sugar, the granulated sugar and the caramel syrup, and 1/2 tsp of leavener in an entire cake is a ludicrously small amount. You put more leavener in pancakes, for goodness sake. Technically I'm not supposed to deviate from the assigned recipe but um, hypothetically I would cut down on the sugar by at least a 1/4 cup and would add 2 tsp baking powder instead of a measly 1/2 tsp.

I also browned the butter the night before and chilled it to add that delightful toffee taste to the cake. Just brown the amount of butter called for, chill until set and then use as directed.

Next up: frosting!

CARAMELIZED BUTTER FROSTING

INGREDIENTS:

12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.

Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl.

In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner's sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner's sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.

Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.
To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light
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I cheated on this one as well. I had leftover buttercream frozen from the casatta cake and since it had all the components of the frosting ingredients, I dumped a bunch of it into a pan, browned it, and then whipped it with some powdered sugar and caramel syrup. Since I don't like American buttercream, mine was more of a caramel glaze than buttercream: I didn't add very much powdered sugar. But that suited me just fine.


To assemble, I cut the cake in half, drizzled caramel syrup over each layer, poured the glaze on top and then drizzled with more caramel syrup.I had left over maple cookie dough frozen so I made the rest of those for garnish (and snacking!). I was going to use royal icing to decorate the cookies but my powdered sugar supply was ravaged by this point. So I just glazed them with yet more caramel syrup to make them shiny and pretty and then stuck them on top.

Sugar coma much? I actually craved vegetables by the time I was finished making this.

The cake went over pretty well at Thanksgiving dinner. It was good but a small piece went a long way: this stuff is sweet. I would maybe make it for a caramel lovers birthday or something but other than that, it's too labor intensive and sweet to make very often. I did enjoy the first challenge though, bring on December's!

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Here's the standard blurb I have to post about who 'hosted' this months event: Shuna Fish Lydon of Eggbeater, who came up with the recipe (http://eggbeater.typepad.com/), Dolores (http://culinarycuriosity.blogspot.com/) , Alex (Brownie of the Blondie and Brownie duo: http://blondieandbrownie.blogspot.com/), and Jenny of Foray into Food (http://forayintofood.blogspot.com/). Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go (http://glutenagogo.blogspot.com/) for gluten free tips.


RECIPE SOURCE
Caramel Cake with Caramelized Butter Frosting courtesy of Shuna Fish Lydon (http://eggbeater.typepad.com/), as published on Bay Area Bites (http://blogs.kqed.org/bayareabites/). Shuna Fish Lydon’s recipe (http://blogs.kqed.org/bayareabites/2006 … he-recipe/)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire. Or closed in a Closed Oven.

I've never had a roasted chestnut before. Not intentionally, anyway. But I was watching a Food Network Thanksgiving special the other day, in which Tyler Florence roasted chestnuts to put in stuffing. Actually, he called it 'dressing' for reasons that are beyond me, maybe because he baked it separately and didn't stuff the turkey with it?

Anyways, I don't know why he called it dressing but I do know I was suddenly struck with an overwhelming urge to roast and eat chestnuts. I mentioned this offhand to Joe and today he surprised me with some raw chestnuts from Whole Foods. Success!

Since I wasn't really paying attention to how Tyler roasted the chestnuts (he is quite the dreamboat, it's a distraction) I googled how to prepare and roast chestnuts and went on my merry way. Here's what I did:



Turned oven to 425. My oven is ancient and most of the dial is worn off and there is no indicator to when it's preheated, you kind of just wait around for awhile and then decide it's probably at 425 by now. Then I dumped the chestnuts on a cutting board.


Next you score an 'x' on top of each chestnut with a knife. I read if you don't do this the chestnuts will explode, which is an exciting prospect but my ancient oven doesn't have self-cleaning capacity either.


Here they are all scored. You can see a couple of them I accidentally sliced nearly all the way through them. Don't do as I do, since I clearly don't know what I'm doing most the time.


Then you pop these guys onto a cookie sheet and into your (presumably) preheated oven for about 20-30 minutes, until the casing starts peeling back.


Here they are all popped open. They resemble small, pointy torture devices.


While they're still warm, peel off the rest of the skin.


They look kind of like brains when they're all naked, not very festive. Maybe for Halloween.

They are delicious piping hot though. Totally different than any other nut I've had before, they actually reminded me of butternut squash more than anything else. Which was good, just not what I was expecting. I suspect you can salt them too but I liked them just plain.

Off to go study... maybe.