Posts Tagged ‘Alton Brown’

So, I’m a bit behind on my blogging.  Shocker, I know!  In my defense, I spent most of November on vacation, visiting family and friends in the US, Portugal, and France.  But fear ye not, I have been baking.

With winter finally hitting Phoenix (as much as winter does here), the lovely aromatic spices start to fill the air.  To kickstart the season, last month I made Bobby Flay’s pumpkin bread pudding.  There are quite a few components that go into it, but after reading reviews of its sweetness, I omitted the caramel sauce and opted for vanilla ice cream rather than creme anglaise.  I was excited to finally use that can of pumpkin that’s been sitting in my pantry for a year.  So you can imagine my disappointment when I discovered it was a can of pumpkin pie mix.  Not the same.  I reduced the sugar in the pumpkin bread and the custard since the mix contains added sugar, and I also reduced the liquids since it contains water.

The end result wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t phenomenal like I was expecting.  If it gets made again, I will use my own pumpkin bread recipe that doesn’t contain vegetable oil.  I always can taste that in breads.  And I’ll mix in normal bread cubes as well seeing as how the pumpkin bread soaks up the custard so much, it’s really just a pumpkin mush.

Then came Thanksgiving.  I have decided that when I turn 30, I am going to take over cooking the meal for my family.  That gives my mom one more year of doing it.  Yikes!  I’ve only got a year and 4 months left of my 20’s!  Anyways, I did help her this year by taking on some of the dishes.

My hatred of pie dough is starting to dimish.  I’m finding it’s getting easier and a bit more manageable to make.  I made two pies this year, the normal derby pie, and Alton Brown’s pecan pie with a pecan crust.

The pecan pie gave me no problems at all, thanks to the incredible Alton Brown.  It used golden syrup (which I had in my pantry) rather than corn syrup.  Gives the pie a bit more complex, nuttier taste.  Thanks Alton!

I didn’t have many liberties with the derby pie because my family can’t stand change.  But I used three different kinds of chocolate for the bottom layer since the recipe we have “floats” the egg custard on top.  I discovered that using good quality ghiradelli chocolate chopped may taste good, but doesn’t look quite as good.  The pieces weren’t heavy enough so they floated to the top of the custard.  The only other change I made was to substitute half of the corn syrup with golden syrup.

My other Thanksgiving duties included making corn bread muffins, rolls (which ended up being a loaf of bread thanks to my bread machine), cranberry sauce, and a garlic cauliflower side dish.  What I’m realizing is that I’m really bad at timing multiple dishes.  I thought it would all just come together at the same time, but then the pies didn’t get done quick enough so I had to wait to put the corn bread in, which delayed the cauliflower.  Good thing I didn’t make the whole meal this year because dinner would have ended up being 4 hours late and dishes would have had to be reheated.  I’ve got just under 2 years to sort out my timing issues before I take over the reins.

Speaking of reins, Christmas is just around the corner.  Last weekend I went to Tampa to see the Script (with cookies, of course) so I haven’t done any Christmas shopping yet.  And I always bake for my coworkers and that hasn’t even started.  Ooh, so much to do!  This year for my coworkers, I’m not going to make tons of different cookies.  I’m cooking up a great idea, but you’ll have to wait and see so it doesn’t leak out to the masses.  With that project, shopping, and baking other little treats, I’ve got my hands full until Christmas.  We shall see if I can pull it all off.  Until then, I hope you, my readers, have a very lovely and happy holiday.


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Tis the season to be jolly.  Fa la la la la… la la, la, la.

Christmas spices are in the air, and something else.  What is that?  Oh, must be the humungous bowl of drunken, dried fruit.  Ah, brandy.

Every December, I like to fire up the oven (not literally) and bake delicious goodies for friends and coworkers.  Cookies beat a Christmas card with candy canes attached any day.  And my original idea this year was to make about 8 different cookies that symbolize Christmas around the world.  There’d be spritz from Sweden, melomakarona from Greece, shortbread from Scotland, springerle and lebkuchen from Germany, etc.

I baked cookie #1 on the list: alfajores (pronounced alpha whores, I believe) which are traditionally a South American Christmas sandwich cookie.  I doubled the recipe because past experience with sandwich cookies told me that they don’t turn out very many.  And I have about 25+ people to give these cookies to.

The poor mixer groaned with the mass of the dough, but barreled through.  What a trooper!  Once the cookies were baked, they are filled with a dulce de leche creme.

Per instructions on The Recipe Girl, I poured a couple cans of sweetened condensed milk into an 8×8 pan and set that inside a larger pan filled with water.  Put in the oven at 425F for an hour, the outcome was said to be a delicious caramel.  Hmm… mine burnt on the top, and I mixed it in rather than skimming the top off.  In my defense, I like burnt things.  I figured it’d be like a creme brulee.

I beat the cream in my trustee mixer again and spread them on half of the cookies, sandwiching the other halves on top.  They weren’t bad, but the cream wasn’t caramelly (is that a word?) enough.  My mom didn’t like them, and she loves caramel.  And upon thinking about my project more, I realized that making 8 different types of cookies, doubling or tripling every recipe, would be way too time consuming for my schedule.  Therefore, those cookies went to work for a potluck.  (Everyone there enjoyed them!  So there, Mom!)

On to plan B.  I’ve had this idea for a few years but never put it in action.  Mini Fruitcakes!  And it was perfect timing, because Martha Stewart just made mini fruitcakes on her show.  I reviewed the episode on my DVR (yes, I record Martha fairly often, especially around the holidays) and looked up the recipe.  Simple!  I should definitely have enough time to make batches and batches of mini fruitcakes.  And I want to set out to prove that fruitcake shouldn’t be dreaded and that they can actually be quite tasty.  To be honest, I’d never tasted a fruitcake before.  But I’m sure they can be good.

Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to the grocery I go.  100 ounces of dried fruit, check!  6 cups of walnuts, check!  One extra large bottle of decent brandy, check!  $120 later, ouch!  This shit is expensive!

I soaked a couple cups of chopped dried fruits and nuts in the brandy overnight, like Martha said.  I decided that I definitely needed a trial run before I made 20 fruitcakes.  But since I am committed now (because what else am I gonna do with all that dried fruit?), I also chopped the remaining 18 cups of dried fruit and 5 cups of walnuts and let them macerate (my new favorite word) in the 5 1/2 cups of brandy.

I whipped up 1/3 of Martha Stewart’s recipe last night and subjected my hesitant taste-testers (fellow poker players) to try it.  It had just come out of the oven so when I cut it up to take some with me, it crumbled into a mess and resembled ground meat, or so I was told.

Like Martha did on her show, I kind of poured brandy over the cake when it came out of the oven.  It drank it right up and reminded me of watering a flower pot.  I seem to always over-water flowers because they seem so thirsty, just like this fruitcake.  And boy was the fruitcake drunk, or at least my taste-testers were after one bite.  Martha, I love ya, but damn!  I can’t give my coworkers seriously juiced up fruitcake.  I might as well just bring them red/green jello shots.

Fruitcake, Take 2!  When in doubt, trust Alton Brown.

I took Alton’s recipe and also cut it down to a third for a trial.  Unlike Martha’s recipe, Alton gets leavening from baking powder and baking soda than just the creaming method of butter and sugar.  Of course, both recipes have eggs in them which also help with leavening.

Alton’s recipe also cooks the fruit with apple juice for a bit, before making the batter.  Hopefully that will help cook off more of the brandy so it’s not as strong.  I did have to alter the recipe a bit because my fruit is already macerating in brandy, not rum.  And the nuts were mixed in with the fruit, so I couldn’t fold them in at the end.

This cake bakes at a higher temperature, and it did rise more than Martha’s, so my guess is that it’s a little less dense.  I also brushed instead of poured the brandy on it.  I’ve been typing this blog while it cools, so as not to cut into it and have it resemble ground meat again.  I think it’s cooled enough, so it’s time for the verdict . . .

Holy crap!  It’s delicious!  We have a winner.  Thank you, Alton Brown.  Wow, that’s good.

Now I must be careful with the packaging.  If I label it “Fruitcake,” it probably won’t get eaten.  Instead, I think I’ll call it “Christmas Cake” or “Plum Pudding” like the British.

Mmm… off to eat another slice, and make 24 of these yummy cakes.

Martha Stewart’s Fruitcake:  D+

Alton Brown’s Fruitcake:  A+

Alfajores:  B-

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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?


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…


bananamuffins bananamuffincrumb

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