Wednesday, December 23, 2009

December Daring Bakers Challenge: Inedible Houses of Joy

I was happy to see that the December Daring Bakers challenge was something I wanted to do. Last month’s challenge was to make cannolis and I am so not into cannolis. Plus, you have to deep-fry the cannoli cookies, which sounded like an excellent way to give myself more third degree burns. The month before that the challenge was French macaroons, which I did want to make but in October my immune system decided to go on vacation and my energy was spent trying not to die. Last minute I tried to make them but I completely messed up the recipe and ended up with almond hockey pucks. Mmm! Let’s blame it on my fever. So I gave up on those and went to sleep instead.

December's challenge appealed to my inner three year old. Make a gingerbread house! The only gingerbread house I can remember making is the kind in which a first grade teacher helps you glue graham crackers to a milk carton. Making a real gingerbread house is more difficult in that um, you use gingerbread instead of graham crackers and can't use empty pints of milk as a support system. Tricksy!

Blurb-o-ze-month: The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

I decided to go with a gingerbread log cabin in tribute to my home state of Alaskan. Gingerbread Sarah Palin and gingerbread Russia not included.

I used the Good Housekeeping gingerbread recipe which worked really well -- all I had to do was add a little more water than called for because that sucker would not roll out. I'd recommend halving the recipe unless you're making some sort of gingerbread fortress because it makes a ton. I halved the recipe and had more than enough for one house.

The 'glue' in gingerbread houses is usually royal icing or hot caramel and I went the royal icing route. Trying to glue the house together with boiling sugar water sounded like a Fear Factor challenge and I'd like to keep the use of my hands. Make massive amounts of royal icing, you'll need it. And try not swear as much as I did while trying to glue on the roof. See why caramel would've been a bad idea?

BJ came over while I was finishing up the house and he thought I had been driven to insanity by finals. I was making a cabin? Out of gingerbread? On purpose? And then I made a snowman out of icing as a finishing touch and BJ suggested I be institutionalized. But BJ works in a restaurant in which the 'shrimp nest' in a popular item so let's save our judgment, shall we? If BJ had his way I would've made a gingerbread army base filled with gingerbread soldiers and candy cyborg zombies.

Yeah, this took forever and the gingerbread house tastes like ginger scented stale cardboard. And royal icing tastes like sweetened rocks. But I like baking and holiday decorating so why not? It was worth covering the kitchen and living room with powdered sugar and hardened icing. The cabin is currently sitting in my apartment back at school, where BJ is watering our plants while we're on vacation. I predict if he gets drunk enough he'll eat it. Or smash it. Or smash it and then eat it, it's a toss up really.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Magic Mint Brownies

I’m back in Alaska for the holidays and I would like to thank my neighbor for letting me ‘borrow’ their wireless internet. Now if you could refrain from stealing my identity, dear neighbor, that would be great. I spent most of this Saturday traveling to be here which means I became very friendly with xanax and its friend ativan and don’t remember anything. Though I do remember having a dream in which Dr.Oz was actually a woman and pregnant and I was trying to convince him to come clean to the world about it. Just TRY to interpret that.

Before traveling, Joe preformed in his senior recital and I was excited because I got to bake treats for the reception. Invite me to any major life event and I’ll be like CAN I BAKE SOMETHING?? DO THEY NORMALLY HAVE BUFFETS AT FUNERALS??

Joe requested I make the chocolate chip cookies from The Sweet Life. They’re not your typical choco chip cookie: they’re super thin and taste like toffee. They’re best right out oven when they have that magical ability to be both crunchy and chewy and chocolate-y and toffee-y. But they’re also good cold, just not as magical.

I wanted to make something besides cookies as well so I browsed through my baking books and settled on chocolate mint brownies. I’d developed an intense passion for peppermint hot chocolate and living above a Starbucks was not helping the recovery process. So naturally I was attracted to the chocolate mint combination.

I grabbed this recipe from my Fine Cooking cookie magazine I bought last year and this may be the first recipe in the collection I actually really liked. Plus I got to do the swirly icing thing that I had never tried before and I'm all about pretty swirly icing. Both treats went over well at the reception, though I think some were put off by the appearance of the cookies. “I think you forgot to put love in these ones” said BJ. Of course this did not stop him from making multiple trips to the cookie tray.

The brownies went over well too, though the recipe called for ground dried mint and next time I think I’ll just use mint extract as there was a trace of leaves in some of the brownies and I don’t want anybody to think I’m sneaking them ‘special’ brownies. Besides, if I were to do that I would feed them BEFORE Joe’s recitals. Then everybody would really love German song cycles.

I'm still hesitant to post the chocolate chip cookie recipe since it can't be found online. The brownies are on the Fine Cooking website though so check those out. I would post the recipe but the website has some good pictures demonstrating the swirly icing thing.