Thwarted!

I went to my parents’ house yesterday to help get decorations down from the garage, get the tree set up, and put out the Stair Bears. I was also planning on making this cake which didn’t quite make the cut into my upcoming holiday menus, but that I still wanted to make. Alas, my parents’ oven is on the fritz (it explains why things took so much longer to bake at Thanksgiving – I think only the gingerbread for the trifle baked in the time given in the recipe) which we only discovered after the initial 35 minutes had passed.

The three cakes were nowhere near done, so I switched them on the racks and put an oven thermometer in to see what was going on. Ten minutes later, instead of the 350 degrees that the oven said it was at, the thermometer only read 225! I ended up with cakes that were burnt on top and raw inside.

Alas, not even salvageable. 😦 But I’m planning on heading out next weekend to bake some cookies and since the frosting is safely in the freezer, I’m going to give this cake another try (after my parents have had time to get the oven fixed, that is).

Christmas Dinner Part 2: Electric Boogaloo

Oof, it’s been a busy week and took me a long time to get the rest of our Christmas dinner written up, but now that we’re all settled in front of the Rose Bowl and I don’t really care too much about it, I thought I would finally sit down and not keep you all in suspense any longer! 😉

We had my first grand failure in quite some time, a Ricotta and Eggplant Tart With Slow Roasted Cherry Tomatoes:

It was…not good. At first I thought it just wouldn’t look pretty, but it did not taste nice. At all. I tried a bit of it and promptly spat it back out again. It was just bland and had a weird texture, the spelt crust was tasteless (and a weird recipe that I ended up making twice) and it being served cold didn’t help either. Now, I’m entirely willing to admit that I may have done something wrong here – the recipe was given in weights and my mom doesn’t have a kitchen scale (except that she does – we just didn’t know it at the time), so there was lots of converting between weight and volume going on which never really works well. My mom made a roast from a recipe she found in the local newspaper which she and my dad thoroughly enjoyed, particularly the sauce. The biggest hit of the night was the Horseradish Mashed Potatoes.

Which were amazing. They’re definitely going to give Michael Chiarello’s Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes a run for their money next Thanksgiving. Next up was Green Beans With Leeks, Lemon, and Feta which was very tasty:

And dessert was the other success of the holiday, a Cranberry White Chocolate Lime Tart:

It’s very nice – not super-sweet, there’s only a thin layer of the white chocolate and it’s cut by the tartness of the lime curd and filled out with a cranberry topping that’s sweet and tart. It’s holiday colors and entirely yummy – what more could you ask for!

Overall, though, I was a little disappointed in my recipe choices – everything was edible (with the exception of that horrible tart), but only the potatoes and the tart were things that I’d want to eat again.

 

Why, oh, why am I unable to properly cook linguine?!

Soooo, I came home from work today, fully prepared to get back to my treadmilling (Attn: Murderers, now’s your chance.). What did I do instead? I ate a cupcake and took a nap.

And then I woke up, dragged myself into the kitchen, and made a dinner full of heavy cream and undercooked pasta, aka smoked salmon, vodka, and pea pasta (I’m not linking you to it because that kind of backfired last time I didn’t like a recipe…). (Seriously, murderers, I’m not going anywhere fast for long at this rate.)

I’m not entirely convinced that the smoked salmon I used worked as a cooked ingredient – it kind of dried out – but it’s possible that I chose the wrong/low quality kind because, frankly, it smelled a little bit of hot tires which I’m thinking is not the expected/desired result. Really not worth the fish guilt. But it looks pretty, right?

Right. And I’m totally getting back on the treadmill tomorrow (or maybe Wednesday – I was on it yesterday, I swear!)…

Oi! Subconscious! Pick an idea and stick with it!

Uh, I had actually divulged my ideas for my new writing project to some of you and I have to say that, in the wave of a revelation about Henry, Ephraim, and Jack (who were previously on a timeout for being uncooperative [and poor Finny and her lighthouse never even crossed my mind]), Ned, Vera, and what’s-his-name (it’s probably not a good sign that I STILL haven’t come up with a name for my second lead) have now been sent to the corner to think about what they’re supposed to be doing.

So now instead of WWII, I’m focusing on Napoleonic!Britain/States? Or maybe Gold Rush!California/Australia…

Well, fuck. Or,…

…WHY THE BLOODY FUCKING HELL DOES MY OVEN HATE ME SO MUCH!!!!!!!!!!RAWRRRRRR!!!!!!!!

I made the lovely plum cake over on Smitten Kitchen this evening. After the alotted time, I tested it with a toothpick and, since only the merest crumb stuck to it and not wanting to overbake it, I decided to take it out, thinking that it would just firm up that last little bit in the pan.

After letting it cool for 15 minutes, I went to turn it out of the pan. It promptly fell out of the pan and mushed itself onto my counter, a giant blob of uncooked batter and plums. I’m leaving this picture rather on the big side so you can get a good, horrified look at it!

The Dimply Plum cake from Smitten Kitchen aka DISASTER CAKE!

The Dimply Plum cake from Smitten Kitchen aka DISASTER CAKE!

Look at it. Mocking me with its unbakedness.

The most aggravating part is that I can’t call up my landlord to complain because the oven thermometer assures me that the temperature is correct. It has been suggested that perhaps the thermometer is faulty, but I find it hard to believe that, rather than identifying the temperature as -15 degrees or, you know, 4000 degrees, a broken thermometer would just HAPPEN to agree with the oven dial.

I broke off a corner of it where it was baked properly and it made me even more disappointed that it hadn’t turned out because damn it, it was tasty! I still have some plums left over, though, because Smitten Kitchen must have been using super-tiny plums – she got 16 plum halves into her 8×8 pan and I could only get 8 – so maybe I’ll have another go and just leave the fucker in the oven for, like, an hour.

August Daring Bakers Challenge!

I was starting to think that my Daring Bakers challenges might be like the Star Trek movies or Madonna albums,* but that theory was, unfortunately, not proved to be correct. I give you…my eclairs:

Now the first thing you’ll notice is that there is no chocolate here. That’s because I’m allergic (it’s the caffeine), so I decided to do pina colada eclairs with a coconut-rum pastry cream and pineapple glaze. Both of those turned out to be pretty good, especially the coconut-rum pastry cream (though that may be because there was rather more rum in it than I originally intended). The pate choux, on the other hand…well, it tasted fine, but it was definitely not puffy.

Actually, they were puffy when I took them out of the oven, but they started to sink almost immediately – did that happen to anyone else? My official statement is that it was due to the high humidity levels on the day, but I have no idea if it that’s true or if there was something I could have done differently.

Even though I was disappointed that they didn’t turn out to be beautiful, I figured that they’d probably still taste good, right? Wrong! Far too sweet for me. Again, alone, each part of the eclairs was very good, but together it was just overwhelmingly, cloyingly sweet. So maybe good for others – my mom gamely ate one – but not for me, I’m afraid. I think I’d try the recipe – or at least pate choux, in general – again (I’ve made successful cream puffs in the past – maybe I was overly confident when approaching the eclairs).

Also, I have to remember not to make these recipes all in one day – things go much more smoothly when I make only one or two elements at one go. By the time things were ready to be assembled, I’d kind of lost energy and interest in the project.

*Every other one is good.

Ahoy, matey! Thar be a recipe under here

Playing catch-up…

I am very far behind in my posting. Shamefully so! My department at work had a potluck-type party on Thursday and my contribution was Strawberry-Balsamic Cupcakes.

It all went swimmingly until the first step of the recipe when I misread how much butter was supposed to go into the batter vs. how much was supposed to be reserved for the frosting. Which I didn’t notice until I went to take them out of the oven after the suggested 20 minutes and found them to be sunken and not nearly done.

Though not really surprised, given my oven’s lack of selfrespect, I skimmed through the recipe again to make sure I’d done everything right, when I finally noticed that, in the instructions for the frosting , it said ‘Cream together the butter and cream cheese until well-blended.’

Whoops.

Sure enough, back at the top of the ingredient list, it said ‘1 1/2 sticks of butter, divided.’ In my defense, it doesn’t tell you how it should be divided, but it was easy enough to figure out when I went back to the original recipe. So, my cupcakes didn’t turn out to be very stunning, I’m afraid. They were edible (though a bit more dense than they should have been – more muffin than cupcake), so I just piled a ton of frosting on to hide their sunken tops and chalked it up to experience.

But I’m not going to show you a picture of them. Here’s the corrected recipe (at least, according to my math, so you might want to check it out for yourself, just to be sure):

Strawberry-Balsamic Cupcakes (Adapted from Burghilicious)

Cupcakes

  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup strawberry-balsamic syrup (see recipe below)
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and prepare a muffin tin. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a small bowl, combine strawberry-balsamic syrup and milk.

In a large bowl, beat butter on high for 30 seconds. Add sugar and beat on medium-high until light and fluffy, up to 3 minutes. Add eggs and beat some more to incorporate lots of air into the batter. Lower the speed to medium and add the dry mixture in three additions, alternating with two additions of the strawberry-balsamic syrup/milk mixture.

Spoon the batter evenly into the prepared cups (the original recipe says it yields 12 cupcakes, but I got 18). Bake 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove from pan and cool completely on a rack before frosting.

Strawberry-Balsamic Syrup

  • 1 lb. strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

In a medium saucepan, combine the strawberries and sugar and let them sit for 15 minutes. Add the balsamic vinegar and put over medium heat. Cook for about 15 minutes,* then puree in a blender or food processor.** Push through a fine-mesh strainer to remove the seeds.

This makes more than it takes for the cupcakes and the frosting and can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to two weeks or frozen.

*I…may or may not be speaking from experience when I say, don’t leave this cooking on the stove to go watch an episode of Top Gear or you run the risk of having to wipe a lot of sticky balsamic vinegar off your stove when you run back into the kitchen after it boils over.
**This is where an immersion blender comes in super-handy.

Frosting

  • 1/4 cup strawberry-balsamic syrup
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, room temperature
  • 3-4 cups powdered sugar

Combine the strawberry-balsamic syrup with the balsamic vinegar. Beat the butter and cream cheese together until well-blended. Add the strawberry-balsamic syrup/balsamic vinegar mixture. Then add, powdered sugar, a cup at a time, until it reaches the desired consistency and flavor.

Frost cooled cupcakes and top with a sliced strawberry. Keep refrigerated until an hour before serving.

Yield 12-18 cupcakes.

July Daring Bakers Challenge!

So this month’s Daring Baker challenge was…let me get this correct…a Filbert Gateau With Praline Buttercream. My first question was ‘What the hell is a filbert?’ Unfortunately, the recipe was not much help at all, calling, as it did, for not a single filbert. It did call for hazelnuts, so…maybe filberts are hazelnuts when they’ve been cooked/baked? My second question, I have to be honest, was ‘And this is different from the Opera Cakes we made…how?’

But I figured it’d be fun to get a second try at a nut-based cake and a first try at making the other kind of buttercream and a proper carob ganache. However, based on my appreciation of the opera cake, I decided to halve the recipe (I’m afraid this sort of cake just isn’t my favorite kind of thing). I should have taken some pictures to demonstrate the scale of it because it’s quite cute, being all small and everything.

However, halving the recipe was a bit of a challenge as it called for 5 egg yolks and 7 egg whites. Rather than weighing them out and then taking half of that, I decided to sort of split the difference and do three of each…which may have altered the consistency of the cake somewhat (it was surprisingly dense – more like a quickbread than a light, airy cake), but was not untasty. Mostly I was impressed with the ganache – the carob behaved amazingly well and set just like it was supposed to.

And everyone else that I foisted this cake off on insisted that they really liked it, so it really must just be me.

And now for a couple of pictures:

Looks nice enough, right? Not from the side!

If I’d been thinking about it, I would have mushed the layers of cake down a bit more – as it was, the ganache split between the layers. So, yes, more successful cake, more successful buttercream, whipped cream (impossible to mess up, really), same for the sugar syrup – which means that it was definitely a worthwhile project.

Click on the Daring Bakers icon at the top there to see lots of other (more beautiful) cakes!

I HAVE FORGOTTEN HOW TO BAKE!

Apparently.

Right now, in my trash can are one batch of macarons and not one, but TWO failed orange cakes. Argh! I have only ingredients and time enough to make one more cake (no, I’m not wasting time by typing this, I’m waiting for the butter to come to room temperature) before I’m meant to be at my friend’s house, tasty treats in hand.

Fucking hell.

ETA: Uh, note to self: If a recipe calls for a 9-inch round cake pan, DO NOT use an 8-inch round cake pan. NOT COOL.

Those of you with delicate constitutions…

…should avert your eyes now.

This was supposed to be a Meyer lemon and ginger pie (a variation on the Shaker lemon pie). What it turned out to be was my first complete baking disaster. There have been things in the past that I’ve made that I have refrained from showing you, but those have all been things that I ate anyway.

This was inedible.

My mom (who is willing to eat almost anything) and I each had one bite and promptly put our forks down. I threw it away immediately, bypassing the trashcan in my kitchen and carrying it down to the dumpster so it wouldn’t be in my apartment any longer than was necessary.

I don’t know what I did wrong. So far, my best theory is that I used too much lemon juice and the extra acidity caused the eggs to not set when baking. My second best theory is that I covered too much of the pie with foil for the first half of the baking time, but it’s a distant second as I don’t really think that’s responsible. I also realised as I was constructing it that I had never made a two-crust pie before – thus the extraordinarily thick edges (I wasn’t sure how much extra dough I needed for sealing things up. ‘Not that much’ is the answer.).

I have one more bag of Meyer lemons left and they are being used in these Meyer lemon iced cupcakes that I’m planning on making tomorrow, so hopefully there will be a successful baking post then.