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Posts Tagged ‘Baking’

Bombananza… a little Bob Schneider reference for you.  Or in the words of Apu from the Simpsons, “Celebrate the independence of your nation by blowing up a small part of it.”  Don’t worry, I’m not blowing up anything.  But I did make an Independence Day (ice cream/cake) bombe.

The 4th of July is not exactly my favorite holiday.  It’s a reminder of mistakes I’ve made and also the fact that I’m still living in the US.  I have more excitement for St Patrick’s Day.  However, with a family gathering on the 4th, I decided that it would be the perfect occasion to make my baking challenge of the month, a Swiss swirl ice cream cake with an Independence Day twist: red, white, and blue.

I talked to my mom the morning before to brainstorm.  The necessary components of the cake were the Swiss roll cake, two different (and homemade) kinds of ice cream, and a sauce.  So what’s red?  How about strawberry ice cream.  And blue?  Hmm… blueberry ice cream.  White?  Vanilla ice cream of course.  But the example for the challenge used a chocolate cake, and my mom didn’t think blueberries should mix with chocolate.  Okay… so back to blue.

After a few more ideas thrown back and forth, the verdict was out:  vanilla swiss roll cake with strawberry ice cream (red/white stripes), vanilla ice cream, strawberry ice cream, and a layer of blueberries for a bit of crunch.  So the blueberries are kind of replacing the sauce, I just didn’t know if a blueberry compote would be gross if frozen.

Upon making the sponge cake for the swiss roll, I decided to color part of it blue.  Then when I cut the swiss rolls up to make my bombe, it’d have all three patriotic colors showing.  Once the cakes were out of the oven, I rolled them up in a towel to cool and drove off to the grocery for a carton of eggs and a large bottle of heavy cream.  I’ve had an ice cream maker for probably about 5 years and have only used it once.  But lucky for me, the bowl was still in the freezer, ready to churn.

Once home, I went to the trusty allrecipes.com site to search for ice cream recipes.  Nothing really appealed to me.  So I chose to use the recipes in the cuisinart booklet that came with my maker.  The most exciting part of this challenge was to finally use the vanilla pods I bought.  I’ve never used one before but they provide such a good vanilla flavor.  I made the vanilla ice cream first and since the recipe contained tempered eggs, I let that sit in the fridge while I whipped up the eggless strawberry ice cream.  Since that one was quick, I let it churn in the ice cream maker first.  It produced a deliciously creamy and flavorful strawberry ice cream.  I scraped out the bowl and rinsed briefly so my vanilla ice cream wouldn’t taste of strawberries and set that one in the mixer to churn.  It would not freeze.  Damn.

All is not lost, I put the bowl with the liquid in the freezer for an hour while I worked on filling my vanilla swiss cake with strawberry ice cream, then I tried again.  Shit.  Still wouldn’t freeze.  I thought maybe ice cubes in the liquid could help.  Note to any of you who may have the same idea, it does not help.  So I removed the cream and put it back in the fridge and put the bowl back in the freezer.

I thought maybe I should try to make the cream again since version number one now had trace amounts of water in it from the ice and that could cause ice crystals to form.  This time, I used another egg-based recipe courtesy of David Lebovitz.  With that completed and put in the fridge, I made some dinner and watched Harry Potter 3.

Tick, tock, tick, tock.  Four hours should be enough time for the ice cream bowl to freeze, right?  Note to those who may be thinking the same thing… it’s not.  Thirty unsuccessful minutes of churning and I finally called it quits for the night.  I’d just have to try again in the morning and if it still wouldn’t work, then I’d have to buy vanilla ice cream since there’d be no more time to try again.

Up at 8 am on July 4th, here goes vanilla ice cream take four.  The bowl had had eight hours of freezing time and I could hear the liquid inside slush a little bit, but it wasn’t too bad and I didn’t have time to wait any longer.  Hallelujah, the Ice Cream God was with me!  It froze.

I grabbed my blue swiss roll and it was pretty hard.  I let it sit in the towel all day and all night.  It cracked and crumbled and I fussed and cried.  Okay, I didn’t really cry, but I was pretty frustrated at this point.  In a desperate attempt to still have red, white, and blue on the outside of my bombe, I put blueberries in the little spaces between my cake slices.

Time was just not with me on this challenge.  I had two hours to assemble everything and take it to the family gathering.  And when you’re working with two different kinds of ice cream and not wanting them to blend in with each other, you have to have a bit of time in between the layers for freezing.  I just said “screw it,” (actually, I think I said something else) and layered up everything and hoped for the best.

It was a hit for all, except my dad, who seems to find fault in everything, didn’t like the frozen blueberries.  They weren’t that hard, but maybe his old man teeth couldn’t handle them.  Unfortunately the layers wanted to mingle with eachother, but the bombe still tasted delicious.

Grade for Swiss swirl ice cream cake – B

The July 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Sunita of Sunita’s world – life and food. Sunita challenged everyone to make an ice-cream filled Swiss roll that’s then used to make a bombe with hot fudge. Her recipe is based on an ice cream cake recipe from Taste of Home.

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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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This is the exciting lesson I was talking about in Lesson 8; lots of firsts.

First of all, my fondant cherry, nicely colored red and made out of sugar paste, has been popped.  Secondly, there is a first and last time for everything, and fondant may be on the latter list.  I won’t discount it completely, but I’m not too fond of fondant.

To fill you in, my grandpa’s birthday (a big one, but I won’t reveal age) was approaching and my mom came to me to discuss how we would make it extra special.  My grandpa, I’m sure, would rather skip his birthday entirely, just delete the day from the calendar.  Though I sympathize, he is not old and therefore a birthday celebration cannot be bypassed.  My grandparents are probably more active and in shape than a lot of people my age are!

My aunt Kay suggested that I make a bull cake.  Hmm… an idea.  But I couldn’t just make the head, it would have to be the bull standing up.  Or upon further thinking, my grandpa watches the western channel all the time.  Maybe I could make a TV cake, complete with antenna and remote, with a sugar printed image of John Wayne.  But the winning idea, straight from the left side of my brain (or is it the right side that houses creativity?), was a golf bag cake with a stand so that it would lean.

This cake was to be special in two ways.  One:  I wanted my grandpa to really enjoy it, have it be something that he remembers and causes him to recall good times with family.  Because the best aftertaste of a cake is the memories of whom it was shared with.  Two:  I was going to attempt a cake in which I had never tried before.  In the words of Duff Goldman, I was going to “make it bigger, make it badder, make it awesome.”

After hours spent of studying, which means watching a lot of Cake Boss, Ace of Cakes, Challenge, and Ultimate Cake-Off, I was ready to put my idea into motion.  A sketch was drawn up and the pantry was stocked.  I decided to go with the good ol’ chocolate cake and yellow cake recipes that my mom and I use religiously.  They’re delicious and I didn’t want to compromise flavor.  Normally, big cakes are made with pound cake, or any other kind of cake that could, literally, take a beating.

The portion of the cake that I decided to trust the masters on was the icing and frosting.  This cake would be too large to store in the refrigerator the night before it was served, so I needed a frosting that would be okay in room temperature.  In addition to multiple hours glued to Food Network and TLC, I bought a couple books on cake decorating.  The Culinary Institute of America, one of the best culinary schools in the world, had a book of recipes and techniques.  I’ve self-studied one of their books on baking science (basically chemistry on ingredient reactions to eachother) and thought it was excellent, so I put my trust in them again and was not disappointed.  They provided me with the recipe for buttercream frosting and modeling chocolate.

The cakes were made Tuesday and Wednesday (3 1/2  batches) and frozen for a few days.  I did the other prep work on Friday, which involved cutting the cardboard rounds to size and cutting the cakes accordingly, and also making fondant from scratch, using Wilton‘s recipe.  Those who know me know that I NEVER use pre-made or boxed mixtures.

I put my blood, sweat, and tears into that fondant.  Not literally of course, but I sure was sweating and swearing profusely.  After spending about half an hour mixing up the ingredients (including disgusting things like glucose, glycerin, and powdered animal bones, AKA gelatin, which I think is one of the nastiest things ever), I kneaded that damn thing for over an hour and a half.  And because the cake was going to be so large, I doubled the recipe, making it even harder to knead due to its size.  Even after all that time spent on it, I couldn’t get all of the 4 pounds of powdered sugar incorporated in.  I just hoped it would be good enough and not too sticky.

Saturday morning, my day to sleep in, I got up at 7:30 am.  The night before was just like Christmas Eve.  I was restless with excitement about decorating the cake.  I whipped up the buttercream (1 1/2 recipes of vanilla and 1 recipe of chocolate, totaling 2 1/2 pounds of butter, which caused major drooling from my golden retriever) and split each cake in half, preparing them to be stacked.  All together, the cake had three tiers, same in diameter but separated so that they wouldn’t succumb to gravity and sink, which amounted to 14 layers, alternating between chocolate and yellow cake, chocolate and vanilla buttercream.  I cut dowels and placed them in the bottom two tiers for support.

Once all the tiers were stacked, the cake stood an impressive 13 inches tall.  I crumb coated it with vanilla buttercream and prepared the fondant by kneading it some more (I have a theory that Popeye didn’t get strong from spinach, but by kneading fondant) and colored it blue.  My hands were also colored blue in the process and I flashed back to that episode of Ramona, based on the books by Beverly Cleary, where she dyed her hands blue.  I thought it was with liquid detergent or something, but I can’t remember.  I’m sure my sister knows what I’m talking about.

Fondant was just as hard to roll out as it was to knead.  It was dry and cracked.  After two unsuccessful attempts to roll it out large enough to cover a 13-inch tall cake, I did the unthinkable and added some water to the fondant.  Yes, water dissolves sugar, but rubbing a little vegetable shortening into it wasn’t helping.  And you know what?  Water totally helped!  I rolled out a piece, deciding just to roll out the back and front separately in hopes that I could smooth them out without too much notice, and draped it over the cake.  I managed to cover it with two pieces but it wasn’t very pretty.  But after all the work, and money on ingredients, my fondant was going on the cake, dammit!  (Shhh… I also smoothed out the cracks and pieces with water, which again proved to be very helpful).

That concluded my Saturday.  Doesn’t seem like a lot, but splitting the cakes, cutting the dowels, filling, refrigerating, stacking, and covering was very time consuming.  I had my work cut out for me on Sunday.

First thing I did the next morning was make the modeling chocolate.  They had to set up in the refrigerator for at least an hour.  Then I looked at the cake and was not too pleased with the cracks and disfiguration of the fondant.  Everything is fixable, so my solution was to paint the fondant which would conceal some of those flaws.  I got out my new paint brushes and painted it with food coloring gel paste in an argyle design.  I also put my parents to work.  My mom was in charge of making the royal icing and washing dishes (I told her it was because I didn’t have time to wash them, but I just really dislike washing dishes).  My dad was in charge of making the bull headcover once I made the rice crispy treats.  That was a little trick that I learned from Cake Boss and Ace of Cakes.  The treats would be covered in modeling chocolate.  It’s not cheating since they’re still edible (and they were my brother’s favorite part to the cake).

Time out.  You may be wondering why one of the edible golf clubs would have a bull headcover.  My grandpa is nicknamed “Bull” because my sister couldn’t pronounce his real name, Bill.  Bull dislikes birthdays and getting older, and being called “Grandpa” definitely made him feel old.  I also put the name “Bull” on the cake.

After the cake was entirely painted and the golf clubs were molded out of rice crispy treats and covered in modeling chocolate, I realized that I had an hour and a half before party time.  I went into hyper mode, running around the kitchen and multitasking like crazy.  The cake stand wasn’t even constructed yet.  I tore my dad away from his computer games and brought out the power tools.  We made the cake stand out of some scrap wood that the employee at Lowes gave us for free and some wooden dowels.  I had my mom inside coloring the royal icing green.  I really felt like I was on Ultimate Cake-Off.

I got the cake on the stand and prayed that it was leaning enough to let gravity take over and hold it back in place.  Then I covered the “legs” of the bag with modeling chocolate.  And other visible wood on the stand was covered with royal icing.  I finished just as my grandparents car pulled in the driveway.

Bull walked in and looked at the cake, really examined it, and was speechless.  It was probably the best reaction I could have gotten.  He was so happy with it and it really set off the celebration.  Of course I’ll remember the cake, I’m really proud of what I accomplished, but what I’ll remember most is a wonderful day with family, laughing, joking, and being merry.  Too sweet for you?  Too bad!  This is a baking blog, it’s supposed to be sweet.

Golf bag cake grade:  A+

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before the “jump” or “cut”

Puff the magic pastry is flaky as can be.  And frolics in the oven’s heat in a land that’s buttery.

So I found an online baking group, which you may have noticed the link on the left, called the Daring Kitchen.  They have a cooking side and a baking side; I obviously chose the latter.  Every month, a challenge is set.  And my first challenge was vols-au-vent.  The recipe can be found here.

I have never made puff pastry before, nor was it high on my to-learn list.  Not because it isn’t delicious, because I think we all agree that it is.  But because of the high fat content (1 pound of butter!).  Nonetheless, I am not one to back down from a challenge.

The recipe to follow was put up and it went completely over my head.  Something about a lot of butter, and making turns, and fold the dough like a book… what???  Thank God for YouTube.  I found an excellent video on making puff pastry from two girls who studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.

I figured out how to incorporate the butter with a series of six “turns,” and to fold the dough in thirds like a book, keeping the butter cold the entire time.  This process keeps the flour mixture and the fat layered to achieve maximum rise in the oven.  What genius came up with that?  Brilliant!

Once the dough was made and well chilled, I rolled some out and cut them in circular shapes to make my vols-au-vent.  A little docking here and a little egg wash there and they were ready to rise to fame and glory.  I found myself watching through the window in the oven and cheering them on like a sports match.

The puffs puffed perfectly (try saying that 5 times fast) and didn’t deflate like my failed chocolate souffles.  Not only did they turn out great, but they were actually really fun to make.  I may not want to eat a whole lot of it (actually I do, but I must practice willpower so I don’t puff up too), but I can foresee making many batches of puff pastry in the future.

The vols-au-vent weren’t finished until they were filled.  Rather rushed, I put some melted chocolate on the bottom inside of the shells and topped with chocolate whipped cream.  I also put a dollop of vanilla icing on the tops to adhere chocolate designs to.

The pastries were buttery and flaky and reminded me of France, but the cream was a little subtle.  I froze half of my puff pastry dough to make millefeuilles, or napoleons, another day.  Mmm.. millefeuilles.  I drool like Homer Simpson when I think of those.

September Daring Bakers Challenge:  A

Make sure to stop by at the end of October for another baking challenge.

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Since my last post, I’ve been traveling a bit and working a lot.  And Cookie Kelly actually had cookies baked FOR her.  That’s unprecedented!  A very nice gesture indeed, it certainly won some “brownie points.”

Things have slowed in the kitchen, but they’re about to pick back up.  I have a couple of exciting lessons planned, all new and never been attempted before.  You don’t want to miss this!

Good pitch?  I hope so.

This last week, I took it fairly easy.  But I had a craving for banana pudding.  I also wanted to make one of my favourite recipes from my Irish cookbook for potato and leek soup.  –Did you catch the “u” in favourite?  —  So imagine me (and when you do so, please imagine me in an adorable Nanette Lepore dress with Christian Louboutin shoes, and maybe 15 pounds lighter), stirring potato and leek soup with my left hand and whisking vanilla pudding with my right.  Now that’s multitasking!

I noticed the vanilla pudding get to the thicker stage and decided that it was much needier than the soup, so I focused my attention on that.  The lumps that were starting to form were fortunately repairable.  But the pudding was a little thicker than I wanted it . . . must have been the dash of cornstarch I put in it.  But what’s a pudding without cornstarch?

I layered the pudding with the ‘nilla wafers and bananas and voila!  My first banana pudding.  It would have been better with a meringue on top, like my mom always makes, but the soup was starting to fuss.  You know how it is.  Once one gets attention, you have to give it to the other one too.

That was really the extent of my baking week:  two craving’s satisfied.  And it’s getting harder to imagine myself 15 pounds lighter while doing this baking project.  Help Wanted:  Taste testers in the Scottsdale/Phoenix area.  Unpaid.

Banana pudding grade: B+ (needed the meringue and a thinner pudding)

Banana pudding

Banana pudding

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“Hey there Eclair, have you gained some weight?  You’re looking a bit doughy around the middle.”

That is exactly what I said to my cream puffs on Labor Day.  Okay, not really.  But I thought it . . . just now . . . not then . . . cause I’m not THAT quick-witted.  And I guess it wasn’t really THAT witty anyways.

I was self-assigned to dessert on Labor Day for our lil’ family BBQ, and rather than make the always classic chocolate brownies, I decided to make profiteroles which are pretty much cream puffs with a chocolate ganache, or I guess they’re pretty much eclairs.  I figured that would please the masses (because I have such a large family: mother, father, brother, grandmother, and grandfather) and it would be something I’ve never tried before.

The recipe was so simple it surprised me:  butter, flour, eggs, and water.  I added sugar too because, come on, this is dessert!  I got the recipe out of my British cookbook.  Don’t start . . . British food is fine.

When the profiteroles were mixed and baked, they had a nice golden brown doneness to them.  Perfect!  Or not.  When I whipped up the whipped cream and cut a puff to fill, I saw dough.  Now some people in my family (ahem, Mom) like undercooked baked goods, but a taste-test proved that these were unacceptable.  The shells were tossed in the garbage and the whipped cream was placed in the refrigerator for another day, another lesson.

Our guests had arrived and there was no dessert.  So much for learning a new skill; brownies to the rescue.  I quickly mixed up some brownie batter and got that baking while we ate lunch.

The brownies were delicious, but it’s old hat.  This blog is not intended for me to bake things I already know how to bake well.

Later that night, I brought out the sugar cookie cutouts I had baked a few days ago in order to decorate them and take to Scottish musician Paolo Nutini.  I had my assistant (friend) Lindsey help on the assembly line to get them done relatively fast.  I did a base coat on each cookie with buttercream frosting, because it just tastes better than icing, then spread icing on top which gave it a smooth, shiny finish, and also hardened a bit so that the cookies wouldn’t stick together if they got a bit warm.  They did have to make the trip to Tucson with me.  The worst thing that can happen to sugar cookies with buttercream frosting is to spend a lot of time on detail work and then find the cookies stuck together and smudged after packaging and transporting.

The cookies turned out nice, and they were successfully delivered — I found a man standing by Paolo’s tour bus who had a Scottish accent.  Next time, Paolo requests weed cookies.  He was just kidding!  I don’t want to get the kid in trouble.

Next order of business was to thaw out the failed chocolate cake from the previous lesson.  Yeah, I didn’t trash it.  I figured it needed a fair chance and not just a little taste from a silicon cupcake mold.  I cut a small piece off the end of the cake and added a dab of chocolate frosting to find that it was actually pretty good.

Buttermilk chocolate cake re-evaluation:  B+

Well this just worked out great.  I had one chocolate cake and one bowl of whipped cream.  I put two and two together, literally, and added some chocolate frosting on top to make a chocolate layer cake with a light whipped cream filling.  Half of it got eaten by my family and the other half went to work with me.  I just can’t keep up with the eating part of this baking project, so my coworkers get to help.

Overall, not a bad baking week.  The profiteroles were pathetic, but I know next time that I need to bake them longer.  Next lesson may be slightly delayed due to a possible mini trip to Los Angeles.  But I know that puff pastry is in the cards because I am taking part in the monthly baking challenges from the baking club The Daring Kitchen.  I have never made a french pastry like that before, should be interesting.  I better stock up on butter.

Profiteroles – F

Brownies – A+

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I think I’m starting to get lazy and careless.  This is not good seeing as how I’ve only been at this for a month.

I went to open mic night a week ago and decided to make some chocolate chip cookies to take to Walt, the man who runs it.  He’s been requesting more ever since I made him some over a year ago.  So I g0t out my favorite recipe for it and started mixing.  When I got to the part about adding the sour cream (yes, it uses sour cream as the acid that counters with the baking soda), I decided to substitute lowfat plain yogurt since I had made a point of buying it, yet letting it nearly spoil in the refrigerator.  I had already added the sugars though, but didn’t feel like the addition of a LITTLE more sugar would cause harm.

I also added the additional one cup of flour more than the recipe calls for so as not to end up with chocolate chip flat-as-a-pancake cookies.

First tray comes out of the oven and what do I have?  Chocolate chip flat-as-a-pancake cookies.  No problem, those will be the reject cookies set aside for my family (They can’t complain.  The cookies still tasted good).  I stirred in more flour and the next batch was better.  Still a little flatter than I like, but I once added a lot of extra flour to the batter and ended up with high and dry cookies.  The extra sugar from the yogurt made these pretty sweet, but not in a bad way.  The gold-star cookies went to Walt, with a few leftover for Matt the Electrician‘s wingman Scrappy Jud Newcomb.

Next baking project was a bit more important because the result would be consumed by my friends.  I wouldn’t exactly call them critics, but I have a reputation to uphold.

Once again, a look in my fridge showed me a bottle of buttermilk nearing expiration.  So you know now that I don’t like to wash dishes (don’t worry, I DO wash them though) and I don’t like things that I’ve paid for go to waste.  So I found a nice little chocolate cake recipe that called for buttermilk.

Near the end up mixing up the batter, I went to add my dry ingredients and realized I only had about half the amount of cocoa powder that I needed.  Well crap.  I’m lazy and didn’t feel like making a grocery run, so I just added some hot cocoa mix.  Probably not the best substitution, but the label said it had cocoa powder in it.  To be on the safe side, I filled one muffin cup with the batter for taste-testing and baked it with the cake.

Um… the outcome definitely would have raised questions about my baking ability.  Not chocolaty enough, and no amount of rich frosting would have saved it.  Into the garbage it went and out came the no-fail recipe for a chocolate chip cake.  So I wasted the buttermilk and had to use even more ingredients.  Fortunately I had every thing available for this cake, just had to run out to the grocery to buy more cocoa powder for the frosting.  Alas, the trip was unavoidable.

At this point, I had wasted quite a bit of time.  Earlier in the day, I rolled out and baked all the sugar cookie dough I had made a few days ago.  Then I made a failed chocolate cake.  So once the good chocolate chip cake was baked and cooled, I didn’t have much time for decorations.  And decorating is my favorite part!  I love being creative.

To make it simple but pretty, I figured I’d frost it with a rich chocolate buttercream and then make a little white chocolate bow and ribbon to go on it to look like a gift.  I’ve made a 3D chocolate bow before by melting down chocolate and spreading it thin on waxed paper, then looping the paper so the chocolate ends touch eachother, and chill till hard.  Then I take the chocolate loops (about 4 of them) and arrange them like a bow with a couple straight pieces as the ends.  Bad explanation?  See the “Piece of Cake” section for a picture.

I melted down some white chocolate that was white/red swirled so that it would make a pink bow.  The color actually came out quite red.  Then to make it pretty and shiny, I added a couple drops of corn syrup.  Whoa chocolate!  What the hell?!  The chocolate totally seized up into a lump.  And it wasn’t even shiny!

Brilliantly, I concluded that if I added some water to the chocolate, it would be a nice spreadable consistency again.  After I mixed in some water, I went to the internet and googled “chocolate corn syrup.”  Immediately, pages about molding chocolate came up.  I flashed back to Ace of Cakes and Cake Boss and thought, “hmmm… I may have something here.”

I went back to my lump of chocolate which had stubbornly separated from the water.  Apparently, the two don’t get along.  I dried the remaining water off the chocolate just like I blot all the nasty grease off pizza.  Then I stuck the stuff into the freezer since I didn’t have two hours to chill it.

Ten minutes later, the chocolate was super hard and unworkable.  Back in the microwave it went, taking me right back to where I started.  I took the now warm lump and kneaded it a bit.  It still wasn’t very workable because it was kind of dry.  It definitely didn’t want to be pulled like the pulled sugar (see Lesson 1).  But like the pulled sugar, I got a rose made.  Yes, it took several attempts before I got the finished product.  But I proudly displayed the red rose on the cake and piped some white chocolate to say “Happy Birthday.”  Underneath, I formed rose petals out of the molding chocolate and arranged them to say “Ali,” who was the birthday girl.

All-in-all, pretty interesting day, definitely a long one.  With the sugar cookies, two cakes, and decorations, I had been going from 11 am to 9 pm.  But I think the birthday cake lived up to my reputation.  Cookie Kelly can hold her head up high… for now.

Chocolate chip cookies:  B+

Buttermilk Chocolate Cake:  F

Chocolate Chip Cake:  A

This little baker needs a few days off, at least until Monday, Labor Day.  I also need to bake something for Paolo Nutini to take to his show on Tuesday.

chocolate chip cookies chocolate chip cake

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