Thursday, August 25, 2011

"Breaking The Crumb Curse" or "Strawberry Jello Cake Redux"

Cake and I had broken up. I'd tried for almost a year to get along with cake but it became clear that we had... issues. 

You might remember, the falling, the splitting, the ugly frosting, and the flavorless. There have been some vulgar slang terms, explictives, #$@'s between us and for a while I just told myself that cake and I were just ill suited to each other. That we should go our separate ways for now and maybe revisit our problems when we were older, wiser. It was an ugly breakup filled with heartache. I often thought about going back but I've told myself this many times, I even thought it was burned into my brain, AVOID CAKE! Cake's no good for you.
I thought I knew these words by heart. That is until I realized I had promised a friend from work that I would totally bake them a birthday cake, no problem.

What on earth was  I thinking?

So after a few hours of beating myself up I started thinking about just what it was that cake and I just couldn't work out. And then it hit me, if you want to get friendly with cake you have to play by cake's rules.  But I never want to do this. When I'm in the kitchen, I tend to run out of stuff, I sing at the top of my lungs, I may or may not be wearing pants and I don't have the patience for some bossyface recipe trying to push me around.

Cake doesn't want to let its hair down, it doesn't want to negotiate on ingredients, it wants you to do as you're told and not argue. I thought to myself I don't have time for this, I don't have the patience. But I was in a bind. We're talking about birthdays here. So I invited cake over to talk it out and see if we couldn't make peace for one day.

Okay, we'll try it your way first, just please... weapons down.

'Alright'. cake seemed to say, expressionless and unmoving. I took a deep breath, and with a heavy sigh I  went about whipping up batch one (cupcake style). Cake barked the orders and I baked it into existence. I did what I was told but I was on edge, irritated. Cake was really rubbing me the wrong way. I had to bite my lip to keep from screaming. I was so annoyed in fact, that I think I left out a thing or two. But cake didn't need to know.We set the batch in the oven, and glared at each other while it baked.

 A few minutes to cool, a taste and... Eh, a little bland I think. Needs a bit more of something.  Cake just shrugged, and flipped through the pages of a dust covered Gourmet magazine, ignoring me as I rambled about just what might be missing here, you know... flavor-wise...

 I'm thinking more strawberry. You know? Or vanilla? Okay, cake.  My turn! Let's try it my way, and... just see what happens.

No measuring spoons, just a dash here and an eyeball it there. We were out of this so I subbed in that. Dump in the strawberry, give it a taste. A mix, a dash, and another tasteAnswer the door, check the mail, baking times set by smell, and with an excited giggle and a few wrist burns, batch two was born. But...

Gummy. Crumbly.

 It wan't until after I tasted the syrupy sweet tang of failure, that I realized cake never actually agreed to this idea. Hm, tricksy. I looked across the room to spot smug eyes, casually avoiding mine. Silently laughing.

Ugh!  What is the problem?! It's only cooking!

'Baking. This is baking, that you're doing'

Whatever. Same thing.

'But it isn't. You need rules.'

*   *   *   *   *

After a break to clear my head and a run to the store for a little more butter, I cleaned up the kitchen and flicked on a Jazz record as the sun started sinking into a purplish dusk. I hummed to myself as I rummaged around in the fridge and readied the counter-top for strawberry battle (round three) when I noticed that cake... seemed to be looking at me differently.
'I love this song' cake seemed to say with a certain subtle twinkle in the eye, almost a glow.

Me too,... it's really great.

 I looked at cake quizzically but said nothing more and we worked in silence for a while.  I followed cake's instructions to the letter, and while crooning the wrong words to Diamonds On My Windshield I added just a little extra this and that to the batter as the mixer hummed and whipped, and cake... said nothing. Just nodded along with a toe tap and a stray lyric here and there.

Thirty minutes passed and the record stopped, we took the warm pastry from the oven and it was... just perfect. It slid out of the pan nice and easy. It cooled without falling, had just enough sweetness and frosted pretty and clean.

As I sliced a few strawberries to decorate the top, cake squeezed my hand and started to leave.

'See you later' cake seemed to say.  Wait! But... what changed? What happened? Why no disasters?
' I already  told you, this is baking. You have to get to know the rules, and know them by heart before you can play with them... and you know them now.'

Cake put the record back on and headed towards the door to leave.

         But what about the fight?
'What fight?  You need to relax honey, you think way too much. I mean, it's only cake''s only cake.


Strawberry Cream Cake

2cups white sugar
1 (3ounce )pkg of Strawberry Jello mix
1 cup (2 sticks) butter softened
4 eggs, room temperature
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup strawberry puree (from frozen sweetened strawberries)
1/2 cup milk
1tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
3 cups cake flour, sifted

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla extract on medium low. Slowly add the eggs, one and a time,then the jello powder. When the eggs are fully incorporated, add the salt, strawberry puree and milk.  Stir in the flour and baking powder, being careful not to overmix.

Divide batter evenly between two 9 inch cake pans, that have been greased and lined with parchment paper. Baked a 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until it passes the toothpick test.

Let cool 15 minutes before removing from pans to cool completely.

Strawberry Cream  Cheese Icing

1 8ounce pkg Philadelphia cream cheese at room temp
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened at room temp
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup strawberry puree
4 cups powdered confectioners sugar

Cream all ingredients together until fluffy. Serve atop, Strawberry and Cream cake.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

"Social Updates, I Am So 2006!"

Hello my gorgeous besties, just letting you know I've recently gotten into all this newfangled interweb stuff and you can find me on FacebookTwitter , and Flickr. Also I've moved my weirdo Yoko Ono style running pictures/ talk onto their own blog so they don't clog things up over here on the kitchen table.

Also, did you know you can cook bacon in the oven?! I know! Food Network says! Just put it on a foil lined baking sheet in a cold oven then crank the heat up to 400 for 15- 20 minutes. There's one meat cooking issue solved.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"RELEASE THE GLUTEN!" or " I Don't Speak French, But I Can If you Like"

My mom's having a birthday (HI MOM!) She loves croissants, so I made some even though she won't eat them cause she broke up with carbs (Noooooooooooo!). I ate them though. Plenty, I even split them in half and made them into little tea sandwiches with Parmesan, home grown tomatoes and basil. I'm claiming to have eaten all this in her honor. She won't correct me, cause she's nice.

We used to eat croissants together, back in the day. One summer we went to a little cafe every week and ate croissants, talked about dreams and people watched. That winter we joined a gym, together. But that's a different story.

The first time I ever made croissants was last year (also for my mom's birthday) although they turned out... sort of comically large. Like "hey you forgot your handbag, oh wait no... that's a croissant." kind of large. So this time around of course ( and you knew it would happen) in my efforts to make sure that embarrassing size was not repeated I kind of overshot the mark and came out with little bite sized ones. But hey you don't have to be the reach toothbrush guy to eat them so I'm not complaining.

Croissants are notoriously tricky. Some call them a labor of love, I say it's more like wrestling a bear. It's almost way too annoying to even attempt, but if you try and succeed the rewards are amazing. What? You can't prove I've never wrestled a bear.

The whole process starts out romantically, wrist deep in flour and yeast, air full of possibilities. This time was no different. I didn't start the project until the late afternoon when it was too hot to go anywhere and the opportunity to get my hands busy was more than welcome. When it came time for the dough to rise I just covered a bowl with a tea towel and set it out on the still warm balcony as the sun was setting. Wonderful, fantastical, breathtaking. I started fantasizing about becoming a midnight bread maker who baked up croissants on a whim easy peasy, that was of course until I got past the easy part.

 "Laminating the dough" which is basically making lots of tiny layers of butter and flour so your pastry comes out flaky and delicious, is damn near impossible if you're incredibly lazy  a novice cook. You have to be patient and careful and possess superhuman upper body strength to wage a battle to the death with the gluten monster and roll the dough out completely flat four maddening times  without squishing the butter out! 

There were some angry screams from the kitchen. Maybe a few expletives. Possibly.

Unlike bear wrestling, croissants are pretty much a win win no matter how it goes.  There are three sticks of butter in there. Even if you're terrible at it and they come out all lumpy twistums like mine did, you've still got a giant basket of delicious buttery carbs. Yeah. Think about it.

If you can make it to the end though you won't be sorry. I may have emptied my pockets into the swear jar but today I had ugly delicious croissants for breakfast and it was heaven. I had croissants for lunch too. And if I hadn't been smart and frozen half the bread dough I'd probably have croissants for diner and fourthmeal... and also laid atop my coffin when my heart stopped.

Croissants; sassy, high maintenance, but worth it. See what you're made of, wrestle that bear.

Fresh Croissants
Originally from Baking Frame By Frame and Peter Reinheart's Artisan Bread's Every Day

3 1/2 cups white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
3 tbsp super fine sugar
1 tsp salt
2tsp bread maker's yeast
1 1/4 cup lukewarm milk
1 1/4 cups + 1 tbsp butter softened, plus extra for greasing
1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tbsp milk for glazing

1. Mix the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl, make a well in the center and add 1 tbsp of butter and the milk, Mix to a soft dough, adding more milk if too dry. Dough should coarse, wet and shaggy.

Knead on lightly floured work surface until smooth. Place in a large greased bowl (you can also spray it down with cooking spray), cover and let stand in a warm place until doubled in volume.

2. Meanwhile place the butter between two sheets of parchment paper and flatten with a rolling pin to for a 1/4 inch thick rectangle. Set aside in the refrigerator until needed.

3. Knead the dough for 1 minute. Remove the butter from the refrigerator. Roll the dough out on a well floured work surface to 18 x 6  inches, or just a little more than twice the size of the butter square.

4. Lift the parchment with the butter block and set it down on the left side to check for sizing. The butter should only cover half the dough with just a 1/4 in border. If it covers more than that remove the butter block and roll the dough out a little wider or taller as needed.

5. When the dough and the butter are properly matched remove the top layer of parchment from the butter block and flip the butter block over onto the left half of the dough. When you've got everything situated in the spot you like, remove the second sheet of parchment.

6. Lift the right half of the dough and fold it over the butter block to sandwich the butter. Press along all the edges to create a seal. Tap the rolling pin over the top of the dough to work out any bubbles and working from the center, gently roll out the dough smoothing the butter to all corners and all sides. Continue rolling until you have a 1/2 in triangle that's about 16 x 9. Square off the sides and the four corners, then fold the dough into thirds as if folding a letter. Fold the right one third to the left, then fold the left one third to the right in the same way. Use a rolling pin to press out any air pockets so that the folds lay flat, then let the dough rest for 10-15 minutes so the gluten can relax.

7. Give the dough a quarter turn and roll out as big as the original rectangle, and fold again. If the butter feels soft, slide the dough onto a baking sheet and put it in the fridge for 10-15 minutes to let if firm up. Repeat the rolling process twice more.

8.Cut the dough in half and roll out each half into a 1/4 inch thick rectangle. Use a template (or just eyeball it) and cut out triangles with a base of 4 inches and long side of 8 inches. (note: If you're like me, a don't want to bake all your croissants right away, right now is the time you can freeze them. Just shape the triangles you want the freeze into croissants (without proofing), and put them in individual ziploc bags and toss them in the freezer. When you want to bake them take them out of the fridge to thaw for three hours before you bake them. Don't bake them frozen or they'll bake all funky in the oven.)

9. Brush the triangles with the glaze. Roll into croissant shapes, tucking the point underneath. Brush again with the glaze. Place on a parchment paper lined baking sheet and let double in volume. Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.

Let cool at least 1 hour before serving

Thursday, August 4, 2011

"How Many Margaritas Is Too Many?"

I put to you this question, just how many brownies consumed is cause for concern?

I'm not one for food guilt (moderation is my game) the day I fell in love with baking I resigned myself to the idea that diets and I were not meant to be. However I'll confess, I do have a problem with brownies.

Baking up a pan of brownies when there are only two people in the house is a dangerous game. You know how much damage a single brownie can do, ( don't try and do the math, reality is not welcome in the brownie world) and yet here you are in a house with many more than just one or two.

So what's your move? Do you close your eyes and stop counting? Clean them out and blame your boyfriend? Facebook stalk your Zumba teacher?

New solution ; black bean brownies. Yeah I know. 

They're gluten free, protein packed, and high in fiber so you can totally eat them while reading Runner's World

And the upside, you won't have to guess about when you should stop. There are black beans in there, it'll be easy enough to figure out.

Black Bean Brownies

Fresh off the crushing defeat of disaster cake, I tried to modify this recipe to accomidate what I had on hand (caster sugar instead of agave, coco powder instead of instant coffee) and while it turned out okay I'd still reccomend following the original recipe for the best results.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

"Kitchen Disasters" or "There's No Use Crying Over Split Cake"

I pride myself on being an honest person. If you want to hear the truth no matter how awful you can always trust that I'll tell it to you. So, in demonstration of my shining honesty, I show you this. 

Remember when I said I was waiting for the other shoe to drop with all this experimentation success?  Well here we are.

I won't bother telling you what it was supposed to be (in case I later find a way to fix it). Honestly I think was too busy jammin to Maroon 5 to really give this cake the attention it deserved but then again I've always had trouble with cakes for some reason ( lack of patience I think).

The funny thing is yesterday I finally had pictures/recipes that were good enough to be accepted by Tastespotting ( I was totally jazzed!Dancing even) but now a day later not only did I make a cake that looks like it weathered an earthquake but I took terrible pictures of it too (all gross and grainy).


I even tried in vain to whip up a second version that turned out so terrible I spat it into the trash. I'm not too disheartened though, it's kind of funny even. Because really, have you ever seen a more pathetic looking cake in your life? It reminds me of the birthday cake Haggrid brought Harry only a furry giant didn't sit on it.

I've even mildly considered leaving the house so I could come back, "discover it" and accuse my boyfriend of smashing the cake while I was gone. "What have you DONE?!?" Should I go for it? I mean it's one way to kill an afternoon...

What? You've got to laugh to keep from crying.

What is your most awful kitchen disaster?