Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Éclairs and Brownies

Last week, I was feeling a bit adventurous. I came across a recipe for éclairs, and decided to give it a go. The breading is a cream puff in elongated strips. The directions say to use a pastry tube, which I had never heard of. J looked it up for me and the results were identical to my cake decorating set. The pastry tips would substitute for this pastry tube. However, I was out of pastry bags. So I made a makeshift one out of a ziplock bag, which is always recommended and NEVER works. The bag always splits from the pressure of pushing out the batter/icing. Did I mention cream puff batter is SUPER messy? It is. My kitchen looked like a disaster zone. I finally made the appropriate shapes, but they were much too big. After baking, your supposed to split them. I couldn't find ANY source that explained how or when to do this. So I guess-timated, and failed. They were on the cooling rack (since the recipe said "cool then split") when I walked back in and they had collapsed. I still stuffed them with a chocolate mixture, but it ended up being something you need a fork to eat.

As for the filling....it was a failure filled day. I tried to make a custard filling, but the milk scorched and then the egg scrambled itself in the mixture instead of gently mixing in (this is why they tell you to put some batter in a bowl with the egg, mix it, and then return to the pan. Because if you don't you've got scrambled egg in your custard. This is the one instance where I've cut a corner to avoid dirtying an additional dish and it has failed me). So the custard (and sadly, after much scrubbing, the pan) went to the trash. Thankfully, there is a recipe for "quick" filling in the book, so I used that. This consists of making instant pudding, but using less milk. I had less pudding mix than the recipe called for, but didn't feel like doing the math and made the filling per package directions. After chilling for ten minutes, my pudding was the proper filling consistency. They may not have been super pretty, but they were pretty good. And 2 recipes down :)

Last night, J told me, in his subtle way, that he really wanted brownies. Although I still have some brownie mix in the pantry from the pre-baking odyssey days, I decided to knock out another recipe and make them from scratch. Ironically, a couple months ago I really wanted to make brownies from scratch. I searched the web and couldn't find a single recipe that didn't call for something pre-mixed. Little did I know there are 6 brownie recipes in the BH&G cookbook. So last night I made Chocolate Syrup brownies, which calls for 1.5 cups of Chocolate syrup. It's an insane amount of chocolate. They turned out well, even have that flaky top crust, but they're cake-y. Instead of being dense, they're fluffy. I prefer box brownies right now, but I do have another 5 brownie recipes to try which will probably change my mind.

3 recipes down, the Baking Odyssey continues.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Cupcake Update, Apple Dumplings

The cupcakes have been tackled. And I learned an important lesson.

Last Tuesday, my friend Jill joined me in the Baking Odyssey. We only had to make one emergency grocery store run, and that happened (surprisingly) after the batter was made: we needed more cupcake liners. The batter went smoothly, we made Fudge Cupcakes, except the only baking SODA I had in the house was in the refrigerator (this issue has since been resolved). And so, I used baking POWDER, thinking the two basically interchangeable. As it turns out, they are not. The cupcakes still turned out yummy, but they were slightly denser than expected, as well as not rising a whole lot.

On the bright side, while they were baking, we made 2 kinds of frosting! Which means 3 recipes down in one day.  We made both fluffy white frosting (which tastes exactly like marshmallow fluff) and lemon butter frosting. The lemon butter frosting should have come with a warning: it's really more of a glaze than a frosting. It did give a little zest to the fudge cupcakes though.

It was also really nice to have someone baking with me. What I love about baking is that it can be an either solitary or social experience. It was nice to have Jill around to help translate the recipes as well. I love BH&G for their vagueness with phrases like "sprinkle generous amounts of sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg", but I'm not such a fan of it when the recipe is too vague even for me. Jill and I spent a good 20 minutes throughout the couple of hours she was over trying to figure out what exactly they meant. But in the end, it all worked out swell. :)

For Father's Day, I decided to make my dad Apple Dumplings. I have never made Apple Dumplings before, and was quite excited to try it. I had a certain picture in my head of what they were supposed to look like, which it turns out, was quite wrong. The majority of the recipe went snazzy, and then the time to actually put the dumplings together came. You roll out a just-made dough, cut it into squares, fill with apples, top with spices, moisten edges and bring edges together. When I read "bring edges together", I thought, upwards. So I brought all the edges up into a point at the top, which of course didn't work, and then I just smooshed it all together, thinking it was just the first one and the next one would be prettier. Repeat for 6 dumplings.  As I was falling asleep, after they had baked and been taste-tested (I wasn't going to give Dad something that might not taste good!), I had an epiphany. I should have made a square, or even a triangle, but not an upright smooshyness. And that was my error. But in any case, they were yummalicious. Which is what's really important, right?

Even more importantly, 9 recipes down. 279 to go. I can totally do this (though I may not eat, or even try to eat, the Prune Whip recipe that is one of the 279 remaining.... Ew. Really-- Ew. It will also be interesting to ask for Gooseberries at Publix).

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cheesecake Supreme: Recipe 5

Sunday felt like one of the hottest days of the summer, though I know it will only get worse. July in Florida is always worse than June. And what does one do on one of the hottest days of the year? Why, bake a cheesecake of course!

I had a wonderful plan for a cool dinner. A nice full salad, composed of cool romaine lettuce, ripe tomatoes, fresh cucumbers, a little sprinkling (or lot of sprinkling) of medium-sharp cheddar cheese, a few croutons and some nice grilled lemon pepper chicken. And for dessert: a nice chilled cheesecake topped with strawberries.

The one thing I didn't consider? Cheesecake Supreme bakes in the oven at 400 degrees for ten minutes, then you drop it down to 300. Either way, my kitchen got HOT. That was not part of my plan.

Also not part of my plan? Using 5 hours of prep and baking time to make the darn thing. 5 hours of my life for a cheesecake? I think not. So here's what I cut:

1.5 hours called for to heat the cream cheese to room temperature--> 30 seconds, power level 1 in the microwave accomplishes the SAME THING! So instead of waiting for cream cheese to soften for 1.5 hours, I saved 1 hour, 29 minutes and 30 seconds.

2 hours chilling in the refrigerator --> I just popped it in there while we ate. When we were ready for dessert a little while later, I cut and arranged the strawberries atop the creamy white surface and voila- dessert. Though not thoroughly chilled, it was still magnificent.

I'm quite proud of myself for achieving the proper cheesecake texture on my first attempt.

Aesthetics were not so easily achieved. My wacky oven is 75 degrees hotter than it tells you it is, and though I baked for the minimum suggested time, it still cracked. However, I used the sliced strawberries to cover the crack. This coincidentally ended up in a peace sign. Sort of.

In any case, 5 recipes down, 283 to go.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Odyssey Continues: Peach Pie

Continuing the Baking Odyssey, I made two miniature peach pies on Friday. I had two not quite ripe peaches, and I really wanted them out of my refrigerator. I love peach; the color, the fruit, the cheesy phrases. It's odd, I know, but I just love all things peach. In an effort to use as many recipes at once as possible, I decided to make a crust recipe actually in the recipe book (as opposed to my great grandmother's crust recipe which I've faithfully used my entire life, not even looking at another crust recipe). While preparing said crust, I apologized to her out loud (this is made even more weird by the fact that she passed away quite a long time ago...which only makes me feel worse).

Now that I've betrayed my great-grandmother, I fear what will become of my future crusts. However, this crust was lacking somewhat when compared to my GG's crust. But how could it not? Her crust recipe always wields unbelievably soft, flaky crust. This crust was tender, but not nearly as flaky. However, GG's crust does not stand up well to being used as a lattice crust, and this one did. So although some flavor was lost, the look was achieved. This also saddens me. Now that I've successfully made this crust, and therefore can check it off the list, I can now alter it to make it taste better for the other lattice-topped pies.

Also, just a side note, the modern kitchen and the 1976 kitchen-- not stocked with the same appliances. Exhibit A: I do not have a pastry blender. Nor do I know what a pastry blender is. I do know that it was supposed to help me cut the shortening into the flour mixture. So I used a fork. And you know what? It worked just fine. Although I did have to use shortening, which I hate with a passion, because it's sticky and gooey and basically a mess waiting to happen. However, I will have to overcome this hatred, because about every other recipe in this book calls for shortening.

Because I had only two peaches, I decided to make two personal-sized peach pies. However, I do not have two pie-appropriate matching dishes...so I mismatched. Martha Stewart would be thoroughly disappointed. Yet my husband did not even comment, because he was too busy devouring the delicious pie. Haha--take that unpretty peach pie. Take that.

Since I halved the crust recipe, I should halve the pie filling recipe too, no? Well, that was my intent. Then I got unreasonably distracted by Toy Story showing on the Disney channel, and ended up creating the non-halved proportions for the filling. Twice as much as I needed. Possibly more, because the recipe calls for more than double the two peaches I had. I realized this right before putting my medium-cubed peaches into it. Did I dump half that sugar-flour-spice mixture into a plastic bag so I could have the proper proportions? Nope. I super-coated those peaches (which were supposed to be sliced, but eating pie with sliced peaches--not easy. Also, slicing not-ripe peaches-- not easier. ) I'm not sure if it was the unripe peach juice mingling with the excessive amount of sugar and spices, but those little pies were absolutely amazing. Probably the best thing I've ever baked in my entire life. The phrase scrum-didlie-umpcious comes to mind. I don't mean to brag on myself, but these were seriously amazing. Insanely sweet, but amazing. If only we'd had some vanilla ice cream a la carte, it may have lessened the intensity of the sweet. But alas, we did not. Yet those dishes were empty super fast.

Alas, I failed on the prettyness factor. My half of the crust recipe was not enough for two full mini latticed pies. So photos? I have them, but I'm too embarrassed to share.

The pie chapter is kind of my comfort zone. I feel safe there, despite the near chocolate-cream-pie disaster. However, the gloves must come off. I have to move outside my comfort zone (and save some comfort recipes for later when the scary recipes are sure to make me need comfort recipes) so I must move on. I'm thinking cupcakes. I can ease myself into the harder stuff, such as fudge and candies.

So there you have it. 4 recipes down, 284 to go. I'm either going to complete this endeavor by the end of summer, or if I need an escape plan, by the end of the year. Watch out cupcakes; I'm on my way.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Baking Odyssey Begins: Day 1

The Baking Odyssey is my journey back into the world of baking. And I don't mean with assistance from Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines, where you only have to add eggs and veggie oil and pop it in the oven. I mean real, true, honest to goodness, made from scratch and terribly bad for you baking.

I used to bake ALL the time. One year I even entered the Bloomington Indiana Chocolate-fest with a friend. I made my pie crusts from scratch with my great-grandmother's recipe. At least I never compromised on that. But as the years have gone on, I've relied more and and more on Betty and Duncan and pre-made mixes in general. I always return to the same cookbook when I do bake from scratch, so I decided to go on a little quest. I'm going to make EVERY dessert recipe in that cookbook. What cookbook, you ask? The 1976 edition of the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. And it will be an odyssey...There are 288 sweets, divided into cakes & cookies, candies, desserts and pies.

Although I've always used this cookbook, I've also always been wary of a few recipes. After one too many frostings gone wrong (and a last minute emergency rush to the grocery store to buy store-frosting), I gave up on making frosting. That changes now. There's a whole section on frostings. And this time I'm making them all.

I've always stayed away from meringues, candies, anything with weird fruits or vegetables in the title (i.e. dates, prunes (bleh!)), but that changes now. So here goes. Wish me luck.

Day 1: Chocolate Cream Pie topped with Meringue

The Process: Fairly simple. Except for the whole boiling chocolate on the stove without it sticking to the pan bit. Also, I used semi-sweet chocolate chips instead of semi-sweet chocolate squares, but I don't think that made a big difference. I started out by making the crust-- from scratch, of course, but eventually I'll have to try the recipes in the book and not just use my great-grandma's (yummy as it is-- I have 288 recipes to go through!). However, the crust is baked before adding the filling, and then baked again with the filling and the meringue. I forgot to stab the raw crust with a fork to release trapped air until it had already baked for about five minutes, so I'm pretty relieved the filling covered up my delayed-stab marks. Also, although my crusts have always tasted amazing (and I don't mean to be a bragging Betty here, but I've only ever received the utmost compliments and thousands of requests from my sister to make it, just so she could it eat raw. It's THAT good.), they've never been especially pretty. I just kind of pinch around the edges to hold the filling. Well, since I'm making this many desserts, I've decided to try and make them pretty, too. So I made a beautiful decorative scalloped edge. Which looked wonderful... until I filled it with chocolate cream to the brim, topped it with meringue, and then it disappeared beneath a mountain of pie.

I also tackled my first meringue. Despite the intimidation of topping a perfectly good pie with beaten raw egg whites and sugar, I went for it. Then I baked it 13 minutes, and pulled out a picture perfect pie.

The Result: The recipe merely said "Cool", not "Chill x hours" or "refrigerate", so I let it cool on the cooling rack for a couple hours. Yet when I went to cut into it.... It was soup. It was chocolate pie soup topped with meringue. I was crushed. Years before, I'd tried to make this recipe and failed. Having blocked that out, I followed the directions nearly exactly. So to have pie soup was devastating. My poor husband, who had been quite looking forward to chocolate cream pie-- notice the lack of soup there-- was also disappointed. He recommended we pop it in the fridge or freezer for a few hours and then see if it set properly. An hour or so in the fridge helped a little, but the filling still collapsed to fill the void left by the pieces we put on our plates (despite the gooey consistency, using bowls would have been surrendering. And you just don't surrender on the first day, soup or no).

Yet after sitting in the fridge over night, a small miracle occurred. The pie set. This afternoon, when I sadly pulled it out of the refrigerator and pulled a slice out...there was no collapse to fill the void. There was just...a space. It was beautiful.

You know what this means? I finally conquered chocolate cream pie AND meringue on the same day.

And you know what else? 2 recipes down, 286 to go.

Wish me luck ;) And come over and eat some of this pie, because really.... I don't want to get fat. And I have very little self control when it comes to chocolate.