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Archive for August, 2009

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve wanted to make pineapple upside-down cake.  It’s been years since I’ve had any and I almost forgot what it tasted like.  So I went on good ol’ All Recipes.com and found one with rave reviews.  Again, not a dessert for dieters.  Lots of sugar, butter, and eggs.

Everything started smoothly enough.  I separated eggs and let them get to room temperature, melted the butter in a cast iron skillet, and layed the pineapple rings neatly in the pan.  Oops!  Brown sugar gets sprinkled over the butter BEFORE laying the pineapple down.  Seriously, when did I get so careless with directions?  No problem, that was an easy mistake to fix.

Once the bottom layer to become the top was picture perfect, I whipped up the egg whites to stiff peaks.  Now this recipe didn’t call for any lemon juice, but I still had a fresh lemon in the fridge from the souffles, so I figured the egg whites could use a starter.  I also added cream of tarter because what are egg whites without that?  I let those sit a few minutes while I beat the egg yolks.  Without any sugar, they did not want to do much, but I got them to a little bit thicker consistency and to a nice pale yellow.  The egg yolks and cake flour (I even had the right kind of flour this time) were folded into the egg whites, but since the egg whites were pretty stiff, I pretty much mixed them in so the batter was smooth.  I poured the batter over my pretty pineapple display and stuck the skillet in the oven.

Now like I said, it’s been awhile since I’ve had pineapple upside-down cake, but I almost thought the end result should be moister.  There certainly was enough butter in it.  But nonetheless, it wasn’t bad.

With the help of the cake recipe and another for pumpkin cookies, I wrote my first ever recipe, Pineapple Upside-Down Cookies.  I used the one for pumpkin cookies because I remember it producing a cakey cookie, and I felt that was more true to Pineapple Upside-Down Cake texture.  And with the cake recipe from All Recipes, I assembled my ingredients in such a way as to capture the taste of the cake in cookie form.

After my first tray of cookies came out of the oven, I got to play the role of taste-tester.  One bite and I knew that I was pretty close to the real thing.  Not bad for a first attempt.  But I felt like it needed just a bit stronger pineapple taste, so I added more pineapple juice concentrate.  Second tray came out and it still needed more.  I added crushed pineapple to the batter and tasted yet another cookie from the third tray.  Not bad, but next time I may try candied pineapple in the dough.

I was still very impressed with my pineapple experiences and, kitchen intact, even more impressed with my first ever Cookie Kelly written recipe.  It needs some tweaking until it will be featured on Food Network’s “Unwrapped” though as “America’s Favorite Cookie.”

The following morning, I took the cookies to work with a notebook for the brave taste-testers to leave feedback.  They weren’t very constructive, just said they were “yummy.”  I think I need a focus market research group that is a little more subjective and unafraid of hurting my feelings.

Grade:  V (That’s an A- upside-down)

pineapple arrangement pineapple upside down cake pineapple upside down cake Cookie Kelly with cake pineapple cookies

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Sunday morning, after dreams of sugarplum faeries dancing in my head all night, I woke up to the clock reading 6:30 am.  I am not a morning person (yet I want to be a baker!), but I thought about those nice, spotted bananas on the kitchen counter and figured I’d get up and attempt Alton Brown’s recipe for banana bread/muffins again.

You’re probably thinking that I was off from work and had all the necessary ingredients this time, right?  Wrong!  Do you not know me yet?  I never learn… which in a self-study is probably not a great quality.

One and a half hours until work, I whip out the metric scale to weigh my ingredients and find that there are no eggs.  At this point, I was already in baker’s mode, and I even got out of bed early for these damn muffins.  So eggs or no eggs, I was making banana muffins.

Then, a light shone down from above, and the florescent refrigerator glow illuminated a clear tupperware containing four egg yolks, leftovers from the previous chocolate souffle lesson.  Score!  Alton Brown says you can substitute 1 tablespoon water per egg white.  Well, I don’t think he exactly meant that you could replace egg whites with water, but that was essentially what I was going to do.  And maybe throw in a bit of cream of tarter for good measure.

I didn’t take the dry ingredients for a spin in the food processor this time cause I wanted the least number of dishes to wash as possible.  Didn’t have enough time to bake AND wash a ton of dishes before work.  And without those razor sharp blades, I substituted the oat flour for more all purpose flour.

I pretty much followed the rest of the recipe the same way, but this time I had enough bananas where I didn’t have to scale down ingredients and mess up the math.  I also remembered to add the sugar.  I wasn’t going to forget that again.

A couple other things I did differently this time:  I used a hand whisk to mix up the batter, which for whatever reason, I didn’t use last time, and I grated fresh nutmeg though the recipe didn’t call for it.  I’d never used fresh nutmeg before and had been wanting to use the stuff since I bought it last week.  The hand whisk was very effective.  The nutmeg, not so great.  Maybe I just don’t like nutmeg.

The muffins baked nicely, and the crumb test proved to be very successful.  No weird worm-like holes.  I forgot to add the cream of tartar in, which was my own idea anyways, but the egg substitution seemed to turn out fine without it.  And I was able to throw the muffins in a ziplock, wash dishes, and make it to work, this time with my stomach satiated.

The only mystery behind muffins that I want to figure out now is why they get a bit sticky and wet the next day.  They’re like the equivalent of weeping meringue.  I know most baked goods are best the day they’re made, but there’s got to be a way to keep muffin skins looking fresh the morning after.  No walk of shame for my muffins!

Final Project:  A- (good use of substitutions)

banana muffins take 2 muffin crumb

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I say, you say, we all say, “Souffle!”

Yesterday, I looked in my cabinet and saw two bars of gourmet chocolate, 60% cocoa and 85% dark.  Combined, they’d make the perfect chocolate, right?

So I remember watching “Because I Said So” with Diane Keaton and Mandy Moore, and Mandy’s character was making chocolate souffles.  They made it look all hard and then she messed them up when she was having a bad day.  Okay, well I was having a good day (Hell!  Any day when I’m off from work is a good day) so these should be easy as pie.  Ooh pie!  I’ll have to make one soon.

Anyways, I looked up a recipe on my favorite site, All Recipes, and reviewers raved how good and easy they were.  Alton Brown says their difficulty is exaggerated, and I know I’ve seen Curtis Stone (he’s tasty!) whip them up on “Take Home Chef.”  This should be no problem.

I got all my ingredients out and prepped.  Eggs were separated, lemon juice was squeezed, and chocolate was finely chopped with a fork (I didn’t want to wash a cutting board too).

I melted the chocolate with the butter in a double boiler and then whipped up the egg yolks and hot water.  I was told to whip them until ribbons formed, but after five minutes, the ribbons were more like the ones with wire in them that can be bent and shaped, and they were bent to look like peaks.  Hmm…

After folding the egg yolk “ribbons” into the chocolate, I moved on to the 7 egg whites and 1 tablespoon water (Alton told me to!), added a half teaspoon lemon juice, and let Mr. Kitchenaid do his thing.  When it got a bit foamy, I added the sugar…. well, you know how meringues go.  They formed beautiful stiffies (peaks, that is) and then I folded them into the chocolate mixture as well.

The ramekins were waiting patiently in the freezer, lubed and coated with cocoa powder.  I filled them up to the brim, leveled off the tops, and even ran my thumb around the sides creating a ditch like Alton told me to do.  They went in the 400F oven and the kitchen became quarantined, nobody in or out.  Yes, a bit superstitious, but I wanted these to turn out.  And like a certain black labrador looking out the window all day, I watched through my little oven window as the souffles rose, cheering them on all the while.

After about 21 minutes, the mighty souffles and I deflated.  I didn’t want to undercook them, but I also didn’t want to open the oven door.  I was warned against doing that.  But I took them out and dusted them with powdered sugar and they weren’t that bad… that is until about 5 minutes later.  I successfully made chocolate craters.

I’ve never had a souffle before, but I thought they were supposed to be kind of gooey.  Mine weren’t.  The fall, the dryness, I believe all were caused by over-cooking.  I probably should have removed them when I didn’t think they were done.  Isn’t that like most things?  You’re told not to over-mix, but… but… what if the ingredients don’t get properly incorporated?

I suppose I should give the recipe another go, master it before I move on.  These are expensive buggers to fudge (get it?) though, $6 on the chocolate alone.  Actually, they tasted pretty good.  The bigger ramekins weren’t as overdone and reminded me of rich brownies.

Before these get another chance though, I spot spotted bananas on the counter and a banana bread recipe from Alton Brown that also needs another take, this time with sugar.

Chocolate souffle grade:  C-

forked chocolate eggs separated folding egg whites into chocolate

ditched souffles rising souffles powdered chocolate souffles

puffed souffles deflated souffles

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Okay, after the last failed lesson, I decided to revisit primary school (in the baking sense) and redeem myself, and Alton Brown, with peanut butter cookies from his book “I’m Just Here For More Food.”  This time I had all the ingredients and a day off from work.  Back to basics.

I weighed all the ingredients, even the peanut butter which Alton highly encouraged, but opted not to get out my food processor to sift the dry.  One thing you should know about me is that I really dislike washing dishes.  The less I use, the better.  And until someone comes up with disposable food processors, or I hire a dishwasher, I will refrain from using one to sift.

I’m happy to report that no problems arose, but the cookies did.  Alton created a good balance of ingredients and leavening.  Though not a huge fan of peanut butter cookies (definitely not part of a low fat diet), they turned out not too hard and not too soft.  The smell alone provoked massive amounts of drool to issue from my black labrador’s mouth.  Of course, he gets peanut butter in his kong every day and considers it to be one of his favorite treats.

Reassured with this last success, I’m ready for another challenge.  The grade?

A

IMG_3993 IMG_3991

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For the last few days, between calls and during my breaks, I’ve been studying Alton Brown’s book “I’m Just Here For More Food” where he explains some of the science behind baking.  I’d really like to make my own recipes, therefore I need to know how ingredients react with eachother.

One morning I woke up a couple hours before work and decided to put the old banana’s on the counter to use.  Due to limited time, I took Alton’s recipe for banana bread and made banana muffins.

After weighing the flour (Alton hates measuring cups; measures everything in grams), I realized that two bananas weren’t going to be enough for the recipe, so I cut the recipe down a third… in my head.  I’m good at math, but didn’t feel the necessity to get a calculator out for exactness.  Well, I’m sure you know what happened next.  I forgot I was scaling the ingredients down and didn’t cut down the baking soda.  But phew!  I caught my mistake before I ran the food processor (Alton’s favorite method of sifting) and pinched out some of the soda.  I also didn’t have oat flour, so I figured I’d just toss in some oats.  They’d become flour in the “sifting” process.

With the batter spooned into the silicon muffin pans and in the oven, I jumped in the shower, where I do my best thinking.  Many grand plans have been formulated in there.  No brilliant ideas this time, but I realized that there was no sugar in the muffins.  I know Alton likes his muffins not too sweet, or he’d just label them cupcakes.  Well, I’m sure Alton knows best.

Muffins out and cooled.  Okay, time for the test.  I broke one in half to inspect the crumb.  And just like the picture in the book with a big X through it, there was my muffin with worm-like holes in it.  That is what Alton believes happens when the batter is over-mixed.  But I purposely stopped mixing earlier than I thought I should.  And I’m sure I tasted some of the baking soda in the taste test.

Disappointed and hungry, I trudged off to work.  I really don’t think it was Alton’s fault.  I scaled down the ingredients carelessly and made some substitutions.  And looking over the recipe again while typing this blog, I see “sugar” in the ingredient list.  How did I miss that?

The lesson?  Make sure all ingredients are there and don’t bake before work.  In the rush, mistakes will be made.  The grade is…

F


bananamuffins bananamuffincrumb

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There are few things I like to start at the very beginning of.  Books and movies pretty much make up the list, though I do know people who read the last chapter of a book before the first.

Take piano.  Who wants to play “Mary Had a Little Lamb?”  Sure, I could play it perfectly in five minutes, or I could try my hands at Chopin.  It may take me a month to learn eight measures, but I’d be much more satisfied with that than “Chopsticks.”  And is it just me, or does one learn faster that way?

Therefore, in my recent desire to become a pastry chef, I have decided that rather than pay up the ass for classes, I would just teach myself the skills I need with books and the internet.  I’ve always done well with self-studies, so I’m pretty confident that this will have a positive outcome.

The first task I set out to conquer was pulled sugar.  Have you seen those guys on baking competitions with those gorgeous cakes glistening with crystal-like sculptures?  They’re shown furiously pulling lava-like sugar as if it were taffy, then blowing pieces through a tube to make spheres that they can then shape into animals and such, similar to glass blowing and sculpting.  Sure, I could have started with buttercream roses, but where’s the fun in that?  Sugar roses are way cooler.

It all started out well.  I found a few different recipes for the sugar syrup and kind of meshed them together to come up with my own balance of ingredients.  Corn syrup makes finishes shiny, but one cup of it seemed entirely too much.  Therefore, the final recipe after my modifications was:

5 cups granulated sugar

1 cup water

1/2 cup corn syrup

1/2 tsp cream of tartar

I followed the instructions on: www.pastrywiz.com, stirring the water and sugar over low heat until dissolved, then bringing it to a boil.  I was then instructed to scoop out any foam to make the syrup more clear, however there really wasn’t a lot of foam.

I boiled that sucker and washed down the pan numerous times so sugar crystals didn’t form on the sides before adding the corn syrup.  Then when it reached 230F, I added the cream of tartar, jacked up the heat, and stepped away from the pot.  The instructions said to let it boil until it reached 300F and not to stir it anymore.  I immediately flashed back to a time a couple years ago when I tried to make a caramel sauce on the oven and severely burned the sugar so that it was a smoking lump that stunk up the house for days.  “Please sugar, don’t burn… please don’t burn” kept repeating in my head.

Alas, the sugar reached it’s desired temperature and was all hot and heavy, so I immediately plunged it in ice water.  Take that sugar!  Then I poured the very runny mass on a Silpat mat and crossed my latex gloved fingers that this would work.

I scraped the sides towards the middle until it wasn’t so runny anymore.  Then grabbed the lump and started pulling out, then back to center.  Other side . . . out, and back to center.  This shit was really coming together.  I might actually be successful at my first attempt.

Just like a sculptor, I rolled a bit of the sugar into a cone and then started pulling pieces like flower petals and put it all together.  One rose down, one large mass of hardened sugar left.  Damn, I probably should have gotten a heat lamp like the instructions said.  Eh, that’s what a microwave is for.  After nuking the thing twice, I was able to make another rose and some little twists to embellish them.

The remaining lump of pulled sugar sat on the Silpat looking defeated.  It was having no more of the microwave, so into the garbage it went.

The sugar roses were all decked out with no party to go to.  They would also end up in the trash a couple days later, after I admired my work each time I walked by them.

I’d definitely like to give the pulled sugar thing another go, maybe use a heat pad under the Silpat to keep it warm.  Next time, I’ll try for something a bit more difficult, like a shark, or the City of Lights.

Overall, I would say that my first attempt at pulled sugar was a success, despite a pair of burnt thumbs.  Therefore, I give this lesson a:

B+

Boiling sugar Hot sugar

Scraping sugar Pulling sugar

Drying a pulled sugar rose pulled sugar roses

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