Posts Tagged ‘cooking club’

New year, new challenges.  First on the agenda was to complete January’s Daring Bakers Challenge over at the Daring Kitchen.  Seeing as how last month was such a cop-out, I wanted to get this month’s challenge done early.  The name of the game?  Graham crackers and nanaimo bars, hosted by Lauren.

Well, I’ve certainly never tried to make graham crackers before.  I didn’t try the optional version to make them gluten-free, however, because I just couldn’t bring myself to buy ingredients that I would never use again.  Times are tough and money is low (but that’s mostly because I love buying high heels), so I went with the good ol’ wheat version.

Graham crackers, you say?  Can’t one just buy those for $2.50 at the local grocery store?  Well, yes you can.  But what’s the challenge in that?  So I put myself to the test (or at least my arm since I was too lazy to bust out the food processor and thought I could just do it all with a pastry cutter and elbow grease) and mixed up the dough.  After it chilled in the fridge overnight, I rolled it out and very carelessly cut out strips and sprinkled with a sugar/cinnamon mixture.  Yes, I’m doing the challenge early.  No, I’m not really putting THAT much effort into it.  Into the oven they went for 25 minutes.

Ooh, what’s that smell?  It smells just like a pop-tart that was left in the oven too long so the crusts are all black, which happens to be cooked to perfection, based on my tastes.  Unfortunately, they weren’t perfect for the sake of graham crackers.  I tried to cut edges off, but they were simply unusable.

The next tray came out perfect, and fortunately I still had enough to make the second part of the challenge:  nanaimo bars (recipe), a treat from Nanaimo Canada.

Step 1:  Crush graham crackers.

What?!  After I went through the effort of making them?  Yeah, I think I’ll just pay the $2.50 next time and buy a box of graham cracker crumbs.

The rest of the recipe was fairly simple.  Bottom layer was like a dense, chocolate crust, middle layer seemed to me like vanilla frosting that’s been refrigerated, and the top layer was just melted chocolate that would harden.  It wasn’t exactly my favorite recipe in the world, but my devoted taste-testers (co-workers) enjoyed them.

There wasn’t a whole lot of room for creativity with this challenge, so I used my creativity another way and bundled myself and my goodies up (the nanaimo bars!) for a good old fashion photoshoot.  Cheers!

Graham Crackers – A (for the ones that didn’t burn)

Nanaimo Bars – A

The January 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Lauren of Celiac Teen. Lauren chose Gluten-Free Graham Wafers and Nanaimo Bars as the challenge for the month. The sources she based her recipe on are 101 Cookbooks and www.nanaimo.ca.

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So I know I haven’t blogged in awhile.  I have been baking, I just need to get caught up with the blogging.

In the mean time, I was challenged by the Daring Kitchen to make cannoli.  The recipe can be found here.  I’ve never fried anything in my life and as yummy as cannoli are, I wasn’t too keen on hot oil, unless it’s rubbed over my back in an extremely relaxing massage (actually, I haven’t had one of those either).  But this definitely qualified as a new experience, so I bought the vegetable oil and marsala wine and got to work.

The making of the cannoli dough was actually quite simple, I didn’t even have to whip out a mixer.  I chilled the dough overnight and put the ricotta in a cheesecloth over a bowl to drain.  I’ve also never drained ricotta so when in the morning there was only a small amount of liquid in the bowl, I thought I must have done something wrong.  I dumped the liquid and pressed the remaining ricotta through a strainer, thinking that was supposed to be done to lighten the texture.  That was 20 minutes of needless activity.  Note:  do not strain ricotta.  It didn’t ruin it or anything, it was just pointless.

For the actual frying, I wanted to do this right.  So I bought the cannoli forms from Sur La Table and greased them up a bit with butter.  Then I started rolling out the dough very thinly and cutting rounds that immediately shrunk in to be a little thick circle.  I re-rolled the circles thin again and wrapped them around the cannoli forms and lightly egg-washed the overlapping part to seal.

Now for the frying part.  The only thermometer I had that would work for frying was from the 50’s.  I got the oil so hot that it read over 400F.  It was only supposed to be around 350F.  But the oil wasn’t boiling or anything, I couldn’t understand it.  Well, I thought I’d give it a try anyways.  So I turned down the heat a bit and dropped a couple of cannoli in.  Whoa!  There goes the bubbling of the oil.  And though the cannoli are supposed to be in the oil for about a minute each, these two were beyond burnt in 20 seconds.

Okay, heat came down more and I let the oil sit for a few minutes.  Next couple rounds were about the same until I got the hang of it.  And unfortunately, I could not test the heat of the oil anymore because I lifted the thermometer out of the oil and hit it very lightly on the counter where it broke.  PANIC!  Broken mercury thermometer!  I had to take a little time-out to clean up that mess.  But there really wasn’t too much to clean.  The silver mercury that came out was hard, not a liquid like I thought it would be.  I wiped the counter down with a rag after I threw away the broken glass and contents.

The rest of the cannoli went pretty well.  I managed to salvage quite a few shells to fill with the yummy sweet ricotta filling.  I dipped a few in chocolate and pistachios as well.  Most of the cannoli’s were donated to my fellow choir members and friends, because there’s no way I could eat all that fried dough.  And the remaining ricotta filling (since I had so much left over) was put in the refrigerator so that I could squeeze a bit on my finger randomly for the next week.  Mmm….

I also now have two identical mercury thermometers from the 50’s because I felt so bad about breaking the one, I found them online at antique dealers as replacements.  I only meant to order one, but I ended up getting two by accident.  I thought the thermometer had been my mom’s cherished one that belonged to her grandmother.  Wrong.  It was my dad’s mother’s and my mom had no attachment to it.  Oh well.

I need to get myself a new thermometer that doesn’t contain mercury, and then I may try frying again.  But the house smelled sickenly like oil for 3 days, so I’m don’t think frying will become my specialty.

It was also later that evening that I looked up “broken mercury thermometer” on google and realized the danger I put myself in.  But seeing as how after 4 hours I wasn’t hallucinating yet, I felt I was pretty safe.  The trash got taken immediately to the dumpster after that though, it had still been inside the house.

Grade:  B-

The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele ofParsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100% verbatim from either book.

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Another month has come and gone, and the kitchen has not seen much action in October.  With training at work and a week’s vacation in France, I managed to barely scrape out this months Daring Baker’s challenge from the Daring Kitchen.

Macarons were the name of the game.  I was a little disappointed because I’ve made them a couple times before, and the point of this blog is to learn new things.  But in making them again, I’ve come to find that I could definitely spend more time perfecting these delicious french cookies.

Originally, I thought it would be a lot of fun to make the macarons during my visit to France.  My sister, whom I was visiting, didn’t think it sounded like a good idea.  And once there, I agreed with her because her kitchen is tiny (and, ahem, quite messy).

Therefore, I made the macarons the day after I got home from France.  I thought they would be a nice little gift for the coworkers who covered my shifts while I was away.  I had brought a couple bags of almond powder back with me and used them in addition to the few bags I already had.  And I made sure to study (consume) macarons while in France.

I’ve made vanilla macarons and pistachio macarons before.  I have numerous french patisserie cookbooks that I’ve brought back from my many trips to France and translated a few recipes.  It’s quite a bit of work.  And ironically enough, the best recipe I have for macarons is the one from Martha Stewart.  I used that recipe along with the recipe on the Daring Kitchen site to make a variety of macarons.

I basically just doubled the recipe and split the batter evenly to make pistachio, chocolate, vanilla, coffee, and pumpkin macarons.  The vanilla ones turned out to have the truest consistency to a french macaron, probably because it involved the least amount of folding and mixing.  The other variations had additional ingredients added like pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice, instant espresso powder, pistachios, and cocoa powder.  I had to mix those batches more thoroughly to incorporate those flavors, therefore causing some of the egg whites that I had folded in to deflate.

I also had a lot of trouble with the baking.  Some of the vanilla shells didn’t harden up so I had to bake them longer, the pumpkin shells never got a hard outer texture, and I simply forgot the chocolate shells which burned terribly and were inedible.

None of my shells obtained “feet,” as they call it.  Maybe it was the tray I baked them on.  Maybe I over-beat the egg whites.  I don’t know.  But I definitely need to try making these again, when I’m not jetlagged and rushed.

I filled the macarons with frosting flavored appropriately to the shells.  At least they tasted good, except the burnt chocolate ones.

Grade: C

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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?


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