Thursday, December 31, 2015

Midweek Roundup: "Wonderfully Tall and Festive"

Photo by Jen
Evil Cake Lady

I think that Jen was the only one who made this cake exactly as written, with peppermint extract, candy canes, buttercream frosting, and four layers.  All the rest of us made some variation thereof.  But Jen's beautiful cake shows why Rose must have decided to do the whole peppermint schtick. t Except for the buttercream taking "ALL MORNING" [caps in original], Jen was pretty enamored of this cake, and so were the rest of the people at her office party.

Actually, once I read Kristina's blog more closely, I saw that she also made the cake just as written, but she didn't post a picture of the cut cake, so I didn't see all four layers.  Also, I decided I wasn't going to rewrite this roundup just because of a few inaccuracies.  Even though she didn't take many pictures, she loved this "delicious" cake but realized it was pretty big for two people to share, so she sent out a message at large, inviting anyone in the neighborhood to stop by for a piece of peppermint cake.  I hope you didn't have too many people knocking at your door.  

Rachel, like me, decided that two layers were plenty, and she declined to split the two high, lovely layers in half.  Rachel names her cake a "cakefail," but I think that's a little harsh.  True, she did discover that if you take a cake out of the oven before it's done in the middle, the cake doesn't behave nicely.  Chalk it up to the "Christmas gremlins."  She also discovered that "once sliced it looked, if not impressive, decidedly good enough to eat."  Finally, she discovered that good friends don't complain if you bring a delicious cake to their house.  

Catherine not only made half a cake, but she also omitted the peppermint--"no peppermint was harmed in the making of this cake," in her words.  The half cake was because her current cake audience consists of her "two parents, a cat, and two chickens," although even if Catherine and her parents are dainty eaters, it looks like the chickens would have no trouble gobbling up the cake.  (But if they ate a whole bunch of candy canes, would the eggs taste like peppermint?  Inquiring minds want to know).  At any rate, the single layer was sliced in half, filled with buttercream, and dusted with powdered sugar.  Her mother took it to tea, and everyone was happy except the chickens.  

Vicki made a four-layer cake too, but she, like Catherine, omitted the peppermint.  Instead, she decided to see if she could recreate her wedding cake--a very worthy endeavor, and I'm certainly impressed that she remembers what her wedding cake was.  The only thing I remember about mine is that we saved the top layer to eat on our first anniversary, and it tasted pretty bad.  Vicki's cake looks quite lovely, even though it ended up being filled with strawberry jam instead of the raspberry jam of the original.  It was also flavored with almond extract instead of peppermint.  Vicki's own version of her wedding cake turned out to be "even better" than the original, which is reason enough to celebrate.

Katya was a very good sport to make the cake at all, since she doesn't like peppermint "except in breath mints."  She made a half-recipe of cake, and intended to make a half recipe of buttercream except that it turns out that aerated white chocolate, which she happened to have received as a gift, is much lighter than regular white chocolate, so she ran a little short in the icing department.  What and why is aerated white chocolate?  Easily distractible minds want to know.  She decorated it with red and green, and took it to work, where presumably a group of people who don't associate peppermint with breath mints or toothpaste happily gobbled it up.  

This is all the cakes that were finished and blogged about at 5:24 CDT, although both Joan and Tony have baked the cake but not yet blogged about it.  Check their blogs in 2016 to see if the posts are up!

Next week's Lemon and Cranberry Tart Tart is a great way to start off the new year, so I hope you have time to make it.  Even more, I hope you have a lovely evening tonight and that 2016 brings you whatever you hope for--especially if what you hope for is a dessert a week through the rest of the new year!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

White Christmas Peppermint Cake

I didn't make this for Christmas exactly, but it was for the Christmas get-together of a group of women who have been friends for over 40 years.  (As I typed the last sentence, I wondered if I was exaggerating, but it really has been that long).  They always look forward to my desserts because they know they'll get something new. and this was no exception.

My friends were coming on Monday evening.  Since Monday is a long babysitting day, and my lovely granddaughter Lily considers naps to be an assault on her pursuit of fun, I knew that most of the work would have to be done on Sunday.  After being assured by several Alpha Bakers that I could make the buttercream ahead of time, that's what I did.  First, the smooth white chocolate custard base.

The custard becomes very yellow after the eggs are added.

But then smooths to a rich ivory color after the butter is added.  It still has more of a yellowish tinge than the icing in TBB's picture does (and isn't that a stunning photograph?), but it's good enough.  And into the refrigerator it went for an overnight stay.  At least I didn't have to worry about using an ice water bath to speed up the cooling process.

Monday morning I made the cake while Jim put Lily down for her "morning nap."  The cake must have been a cinch to make because it was in the pans before Jim came down to take pictures.

To make up for not taking any process pictures, he took plenty of pictures of the candy canes.  I'm sure you're impressed that I used Bob's Original Candy Canes.  (You probably think candy canes have been around forever, but it's only been since 1953, when Bob invented a machine that curved boring straight peppermint sticks into canes.  The year before, he had come up with the idea of wrapping his peppermint sticks with cellophane, so it appears that Bob does have some basis for claiming that his candy canes are the original ones.)

Well, I figured that it would take a while for the buttercream to return to the right consistency, but I thought it would resemble a custard more than a giant hunk of butter.  As I tried to penetrate the giant hunk with a whisk, I thought maybe I should come up with a Plan B, but I couldn't think of one.

Eventually, about the time of Morning Nap #2, it softened enough for me to fill the cake with buttercream and Bob's busted candy canes.

Fortunately, this nap turned out to be over an hour so I had enough time to work on the cake.  My frosted cakes always have the look of being done by some earnest person who tries hard but just doesn't have a flair for cake decorating (not surprisingly since that's just the person who does them).  I remembered Woody's advice, when we were baking the Chocolate Cuddle Cake, to treat the frosting like cement.  I also remembered that this advice was not particularly helpful.  But there was no Woody in my kitchen too rescue me, so I had to just soldier on.

Not perfection, but good enough to impress my guests.  You can see that I didn't split the layers in half to make a four-layer cake, which would have really been impressive, but I knew there was no way that Lily was going to nap long enough for me to accomplish that feat, so two layers would have to do.

The cake is just as advertised:  "soft and tender with a velvety crumb."  If you ever need a white cake, you should look no further than this recipe.  The peppermint extract was a nice, festive Christmas touch, but I think it would be even better flavored with plain old vanilla.  Same with the crushed peppermint--it looks like a party, but it's something you'd probably make only once a year.  Unminted, though, this cake could do anything.  I'm thinking it would make the perfect base for a coconut cake, or filled with raspberry jam.  Or if you ever want a birthday cake that's not chocolate, and I suppose that's possible, this would be the one to turn to.

I hope your holidays were as festive as this cake!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Midweek Roundup: "A sturdy lunch with some good butter"

Photo by Katya
Second Lunch

When Katya read the title of this bread, she just assumed it would be a festive quick bread; a second reading told her she'd better get going on this yeast bread.  She didn't have time to make the three-day biga, but she had some good tips for flavor enhancement.  She used raisins (every bit as Christmas-y as cranberries!) but added some Campari to the soaking liquid to counter the raisins' heightened sweetness.  And she was also able to let it do a refrigerator rise overnight.  Even made without the biga, "the final loaf had a nice crust and crumb, and good spring."

Vicki was also envisioning a quick bread.  Not only that, she was envisioning one with candied orange peel ("good quality"), but when she went to check again, that ingredient had somehow disappeared.  But she swore she saw it!  Perhaps, she ponders, she's having "baking hallucinations"? There are probably worse hallucinations to have than dreams of orange peel, or visions of sugarplums, for that matter--they must come with the season.  No harm done, anyway, because the bread turned out to be "delicious," even though she didn't think she'd like it.

Kristina's post is, in a way, an ode to lengthy bread recipes, which supposedly demand so much time, but really end up giving you dribs and drabs of free time to do chores, catch up on your reading, or anything else you want to do.  Case in point:  resting period for the bread gives you time to wrap a few Christmas presents; let it rise for a few hours/do some weaving; let it rise for another hour/watch an episode of Gilmore Girls on Netflix.  We know Kristina enjoyed making the bread, but how did she like it?  Well, I'm betting she liked it a lot when she finally tasted it, but, as of post time, she hadn't yet had a bite.

Kim pronounced this bread "wonderful."  Also "gently sweet and tender."  And she said "its slightly caramelized flavour was deep, dark, and smokey."   For all the raves she gave it, though, she found the dough "very stiff," and she fought to incorporate the berries and nuts.  Any difficulty she had in kneading the dough certainly didn't show in the final outcome, especially since Kim has found the deeply hidden secret to making proper slashes on a loaf of bread:  a sharp knife.  

I was curious to see if Jenn would make a mere fraction of this bread, as she likes to do with cakes, but it turns out that with bread, she likes to make a full recipe.  Probably a good thing, since she and her husband together ate a third of the bread before the cooling time was even up.  If you've ever wondered how Jenn gets her cakes, bread, pies, etc. to look so perfect, her post may give an answer (besides the obvious--talent at both baking and photography).  There may be a little OCD-ness involved; take a look at how she "sprinkles" the cranberries on the dough:

Tony was not so orderly in strewing cranberries.  In fact, at the last minute, he discovered that the packages he thought were dried cranberries were actually dried cherries, so the bread quickly became a Cheery Cherry Bread.  The cherries were doctored up, Tony style, not just with plain H20, but with the addition of both orange and cherry liqueurs.  Sounds like a great idea!  Tony froze most of the loaf to serve to friends on Christmas morning, but couldn't resist taking a few slices for himself to spread with apricot lekvar--an early present to himself.  

In the northern hemisphere, we think of late December as deep midwinter (or at least I do), and so it's good to be reminded that for some, like Catherine, it's the beginning of summer vacation.  Her post of her cranberry bread also has photos of stunning summer flowers from her parents' house "in the south," with adjoining pictures of Christmas trees and poppies in full bloom.  Even though she had a nasty earache, Catherine managed to make the bread, cook a Christmas Eve dinner, and watch Star Wars.  Testing the bread with some ripe, spreadable blue cheese, Catherine made sure that it would do for the Christmas cheese plate.  It would do quite nicely.

And for next week, another Christmas recipe:  the White Christmas Peppermint Cake.  If you don't celebrate Christmas, or you don't like peppermint, don't let that stop you.  The cake, sans peppermint flavoring, is a high, light, and tender white cake that would take to almost any pairing you'd like to try.  If you do celebrate Christmas, and do like peppermint, this cake will make a breathtaking addition to your yuletide traditions.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Cranberry Walnut Christmas Bread

There are three secrets to making this wonderful bread, although I guess you can't really call them secrets if they're published in a best-selling cookbook.

One is to soak the dried cranberries in hot water.  This plumps up the cranberries so that even the ones that end up on the outside of the loaf retain their flavor and aren't just charred lumps.

The second secret is to toast and skin the walnuts.  I include a picture of me rubbing the walnuts in a clean dish towel to prove that I didn't skip this step even though it's one of my least favorite baking chores.

The third secret is to start with a biga that you've mixed together and ignored for a few days.  I can't tell you what a difference in flavor this makes.  Here you see it in the water used to soak the cranberries, which also permeates the bread with flavor.  I believe this is the third time so far I've used the word "flavor."  This should suggest why this bread is so extraordinary.

Other than making the biga and coaxing the skins off the walnuts, this bread is a cinch to make.  And making the biga is easy--it just requires you to think about making this bread three or four days before you eat it.  Skinning the walnuts doesn't require any technical skills either--just patience.  The cranberries are supposed to be strewn over the dough, which is supposed to be in a rectangular shape. As you can see, I considered a vaguely rectangular shape to be good enough.

Actually it probably is good enough because it just gets kneaded lightly, shaped into a ball, and put into a rising container.

After two rises (I did the second one overnight in the refrigerator, partly because that method requires less yeast - for better flavor - and partly because it was getting late when the first rise was done).  Shape into a torpedo loaf and don't worry about all the lumps and bumps.

I love this little lame knife.  It lets me make such clean slashes and doesn't pose the same threat to my well-being as a razor blade.

Some of the cranberries and walnuts are bound to pop out of the finished loaf, but they're all not only edible, but delicious.  And some of them will fall off as you slice the bread.  In my opinion, these little treats belong to the person who's slicing the bread.

When the bread was cool enough to slice, I intended to eat one small piece, just to sample it.  After the first slice, I said to myself, "More!"  I decided I could eat two more slices if I thought of it as a sandwich and considered it my lunch.  Then I decided I could have one more slice if I considered the third slice to be the filling in my sandwich.  Then I ran out of excuses to have more (until it was time for a mid-afternoon snack).   Jim ate at least as much as I did, and we decided we didn't want to give any of it away.  Poor bread--it never got a chance to be the star of a cheese plate, as was its destiny.  But I count my bread sandwich among the best lunches I've ever had.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Midweek Roundup: "Definitely on the Bake Again List"

Photo by Vicki
Baking with Granny

The thing that's so great about this cake (other than its wonderful lemon flavor and fabulous texture, of course) is that it's easy to make:  "incredibly easy," in Vicki's words, "probably one of the easiest of Rose's sponge type cakes."  Since the Posh Pie put some of us "through the wringer" last week, it was nice to have an easy-ish time of it this week.  Besides that, it's a "light, refreshing dessert in the middle of gloomy weather."  Vicki added more lemon curd than specified to her lemon whipped cream, and, next time, would change the ratio to the lemon side even more.  Of course, she made her own lemon curd.

Kristina did not.  At least not at first.  In fact, at first she wasn't even going to bake the cake--her baking project for the week was going to be bourbon pecan pie truffles.  But then she read other posts, which talked about the lemon cake being quick and easy, so she decided to have a go at that, too.  To cut the time even more, she used store-bought lemon curd, which was vile.  ("I tasted it, and it was nothing but sadness.")  So she gave in, made her own (delicious) lemon curd,  And that was that.  "Light and fluffy" and "goes well with the crushed candy cane chocolate fudge that Jay made." Which brings up an interesting question:  if you were plating two desserts together, so that your guests would love you even more than they already do, what two would you use?

Jen had a nice way of expressing the joy we felt when we realized that this was an easy (for Rose) recipe and so good, too.  "This is a light, moist and lemony chiffon cake and the lemon curd whipped cream is the bomb.  I was so happy this was a simpler project, without 5,000 steps or the need of a piping bag.  Hooray!"  Even though she didn't notice until too late that the recipe called for unbleached flour (we've all become accustomed to using bleached for Rose's recipes), it was still a "winner all around."

Jenn baked this cake way back at the beginning of this project--she baked the Kouign Amanns and this cake in one weekend.  (She "felt like I lived in the kitchen for two days!").  She got rave reviews for both the cake and the Kouigns, but you really should check out her blog to see the stunning way she decorated it, with whipped cream-piped roses.  It's so beautiful!

Next week is the Cranberry Walnut Christmas Bread.  Don't miss this one if you like a festive-looking, packed-full-of-flavor loaf!  For the most flavor, you'll want to make a biga and keep it in the refrigerator for 2 or 3 days, so plan ahead.

You may have noticed a "Week of Rest" scheduled for January 18.  This is in response to a few people who wanted either a catch-up week or a week off.  You can use it either way.  I'll be cruising the Panama Canal that week, so I'll probably use it as an off week myself.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Renee Fleming Golden Chiffon Cake

A few years ago, a woman made a lemon chiffon cake for book club.  It was okay, and people were very nice about it, but the woman who made it said, "What's the point of this cake?  It's too dry, and it doesn't even taste that much like lemon."  She was pretty accurate in her assessment of the cake.  Now that I've tasted the Golden Chiffon Cake, I don't know what I would have said.  You can't really say, "Yeah, you're right, but I have a much better recipe."

I liked this cake even though the whole egg separating thing was a complete fiasco.  I was carefully separating the eggs, even using an egg separator, but on the 4th egg, the entire egg slipped through the opening in the separator, and, splat, it broke apart.  The yolk quickly infiltrated the whites.  I had to throw away all the tainted whites.  (I threw away the egg separator too--what good is a separator that can't manage its sole reason for being?)

No worries, though--I had lots of frozen egg whites left over from multiple projects, so I put them in warm water.  Then I got impatient and decided I'd microwave them over low heat.  Not low enough.

Chopped Frozen Egg Whites in Bowl on the Left
When I took the whites out of the microwave, I had a peculiar mixture of cooked and frozen egg whites.  I tried to fish out the part that looked like it was about to turn into an egg-white omelet, and by this time I was so upset that I started laughing.  No more rescue attempts--I would just see what happened.  I added some more of the egg white slush to make up for the cooked part I threw away.

To my complete surprise, the egg whites turned out looking beautiful.  I may even have over-beat them because I was so sure they wouldn't turn into anything resembling beaten egg whites.

I was so delighted I forgot to put in the flower nail.  (Woody had made me a makeshift one at some point, but I seem to have lost it.  Sorry Woody.  But now I have a real one).  I quickly opened the oven door and jammed it in the cake.  One more reason for the cake to fail.

It domed up enthusiastically and then fell back down, just like it was supposed to do.

After all the egg drama, I didn't have the heart to make lemon curd.  Who knows what I would have done with that.  So I bought some.  Or, rather, I sent Jim to the grocery store with instructions to get lemon curd without chemicals.  "Eggs, butter, lemon juice, sugar--that's all!"  And he did.  It was good, but not delicious.  Still, mixed in with the whipped cream, it was quite a bit better than all right.

Not a failure at all.  Even though the sides were a little raggedy, they barely showed if you served the cake pointed end pointing toward the cake-eater.  Even though it looked like it was going to be a tragedy, the Renee Fleming cake ended up being a comic opera, and a very delicious one at that.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Midweek Roundup: "A Yummy Pie"

Photo by Jen
Evil Cake Lady Blog

Truth in blogging:  Jen did indeed say that this is a yummy pie, but she also noted that it was a lot of work and some things didn't go so well.  The cookie dough was hard to work with, and ended up sticking to the pie plate (but yay!  she found her deep-dish pie plate that was MIA for the Pumpkin Pecan Pie), and she over-cooled the Bavarian Cream, making it a bit too gelatinous in texture.  But there just happened to be some shiny lacquer glaze in Jen's Miracle Freezer.  Still, it was a good pie.  The picture I especially enjoy, aside from the picture of the week, is the one of her chocolate cookie squares on the baking pan--it looks like she's working on a chocolate map of the United States.  (I think I see Wyoming, Wisconsin, Oregon, and Minnesota.)

Vicki calls it a "high maintenance pie," but also dubs it "Rose's ultimate chocolate pie creation," continuing Jen's Jekyll-and-Hyde theme.  She cut down on the Hydeishness by learning from other's mistakes.  No sticking cookie crust for her; she barely "tamped down" the cookies.  She thought it was time consuming to make, but not really difficult to make.  Probably reserved for special occasions, but definitely "a show-stopper."  Vicki had a holiday inspiration, and topped it with peppermint whipped cream and crushed candy canes.  "Spectacular!"

Katya thought the pie was "delicious" and found it easy to make over the space of a few days (she saved a little time by not cutting the cookies into squares, but just rolling the dough out and baking it whole).  She didn't take its "poshness" too seriously since she kept comparing it to Jell-O pudding.  Although, really, "reverse engineering [into] a convenience food dessert," which is how she saw this pie, is becoming very common in posh restaurants--haven't you seen some rarefied version of the Twinkie on menus?

Kristina made her pie to bring to a party, which meant, since the party was pretty impromptu, that she probably should have started making it a day earlier. Fortunately, she made the cookies the night before. I liked this description of her friends' reaction to the crust, a reaction that probably all of us who have soldiered through Rose's multi-step recipes are familiar with: "One of my friends asked what the crust was, and I said, “Cookies that I made yesterday before making them into crumbs this morning.” I got a look that I think was a cross between bafflement, amusement, and kind of an “of course you did” response."  Kristina sped up the cooling of the chocolate custard by using an ice bath, and hey presto! there was the Bavarian cream. She "rushed the recipe" again by letting it cool only 2 hours before getting lacquered. No harm done to the pie by any of these steps, and Jay is looking forward to eating it sometime in the future, although that future may come only after all the recipes in this book have been tackled!

I think that Kim is the only one who actually used the recommended edible gold leaf, and I'll admit that its use really does add to the pie's poshness.  For any of you who haven't yet made this pie but are thinking about it sometime in the future, save Kim's good tutorial for future reference.  Even the picture that her camera took itself is a good one!   Her blog is really a love song to Bavarian Cream, which she learned to make from Rose in The Cake Bible and has loved ever since for its light but rich creaminess and the oohs and aahs it always elicits.

Next week:  The Renee Fleming Golden Chiffon Cake.  It almost seems like diet food in comparison to the Posh Pie, but if it were, you'd want to go on the Chiffon Cake Diet immediately.  It's absolutely delicious.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Posh Pie

This is a very impressive-looking pie.  Not so much this picture, because I have a hard time getting a smooth piece of pie on a plate, but in its full glory, with the shining glaze on top.  Even without the gold leaf, which was just too much for me.

When I first looked at this recipe, I groaned.  I was prepared not to like it.  I grumbled about baking a batch of chocolate wafers just to use for the crust.  Couldn't I just buy some chocolate wafers?

So I include a photo of the dough for the chocolate cookies for the crumb crust just to prove that I made them.

Probably the most pathetically shaped cookies you'll ever see on a baking blog.  Jim ate one.  His first reaction:  "This cookie may break my tooth."  Second reaction:  "This is a really good chocolate cookie.  Can I have another one?"  No broken teeth.  Leftover cookies gone in record time.

I've recently seen the cooks on America's Test Kitchen use the flat bottoms of metal measuring cups as flattening devices, so I was happy to be able to use mine.  No Christopher Kimball in my kitchen to banter with, so I had to banter with Jim, but he wasn't wearing a bow tie.

Once you're done with the crust, it actually gets easier to make the Bavarian Cream part.  Custard melts grated chocolate, which then has meringue and whipping cream folded in.

I realized too late that the bowl with the chocolate custard was too small to easily handle the whipped cream and egg whites being incorporated, but I was too lazy to change the bowls.  There were still a few bits of unincorporated whipped things in the pie, but no one complained.  Being a perfectionist is only fun if you are actually perfect.

All of you who baked through Rose's Heavenly Cakes will remember this magical shiny, smooth glaze.  I can see why Rose thought that it deserved a few pieces of gold leaf.  I don't mind spending money on chocolate or butter, but edible gold leaf?  I just couldn't do it.

The glaze poured very smoothly on top of the chocolate cream, with just the right amount left over for the chocolate cream.

Very pretty and shiny, even without the gold leaf.  And this seems to be a deep-dish pie pan that I claimed not to have when I was baking the pecan pumpkin pie.  I think I need someone like Woody to make a spreadsheet of my baking equipment.  I alternate between running across things I never knew I possessed and searching wildly for things I was sure that I did.

I served this to some women I used to work with.  Wine and conversation were the chief attractions, but nobody minded having the pie.  I was hoping that someone would exclaim, "How posh!"  But they didn't.  Posh doesn't seem to be a word that's used in normal conversations, but it's probably easier to work in than "splodgy."

Friday, December 4, 2015

Midweek Roundup: "Perfect for Any Time of the Year"

According to the revised calendar, this week was Pumpkin Pecan Pie week.  But the original calendar said it was Spritz Butter Cookies, and that's what almost everyone made.

It really is a wonderful recipe!  As Orin pointed out, "this recipe made its original appearance in Rose's Christmas Cookies," and "it's easy, fast, and uses ingredients everyone has at home."  I don't think anyone had any real problems with these cookies, and the differences in results mainly stemmed from what device was used to shape them and how they were decorated.  All good.  Orin used a cookie press designed just for this cookie, making four different shapes, and decorating them with cherries, sprinkles, and dragees.

Katya also praised the recipe as being "reliably excellent," (how can you help but love a recipe that's both reliable and excellent?)  Katya used Luxardo cherries, which I'd never heard of before, but which bills itself as "the original Maraschino cherries."  Now I find out I've been using fake Maraschino cherries for all these years?  And not paying $20 a bottle for them.  Katya was amused by a toddler who didn't nibble at the edge of his cookie, but "aimed his teeth directly at the center of the cookie."  The child probably knew how luxurious the cherries were.

Such is the versatility of this spritz recipe that you can even use it to make "spritzless" cookies, as Vicki did.  She just rolled them into balls and pressed them with a fork, a la peanut butter cookies minus the peanut butter.  This wasn't necessarily a purposeful decision, but arose out of a missing cookie press.  Even without the press (or a pastry bag), it's still the "quintessential biscuit for a Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down," something which is highly underrated in the U.S.

Kristina not only has a cookie press, she has the set that may have been used by her husband, Jay, since he was a wee lad and made his own first spritz cookie, something he claims cannot be improved upon.  What with the Christmas tree and the first batch of Spritz cookies, the household was quite festive.  I should warn people, however, that Kristina, perversely inspired by Jay's claim that all spritz cookies, has set out to make some bad spritzes.  I don't know whether to root for her or not.

Jen definitely did not make bad Spritz cookies, but she did, using her piping equipment, make a maddeningly slow batch of cookies, prompting a brief meditation on the nature of impatience and the nature of toddlers.  From where I sit, Jen's plate of cookies looks festive as all get-out, even though she says they were made by a "clumsy piper" and two grumpy sugar sprinklers.

Jen gets double credit this week since she made the pumpkin pecan pie that was or was not this week's assignment.  She baked a pie even though she couldn't find her pie pan.  (I think we're all getting very creative when we run into a lack of equipment or some ingredient.  I wonder if Rose is impressed by our ingenuity or annoyed by our failure to read the directions.  You don't have to answer that, Rose).  Anyway, Jen used a cake pan, which apparently has its flaws as a stand-in cake pan.  Nevertheless, Jen proclaimed the cake/pie "really delicious," although "crying out for bourbon."

Aimee rounds out this week's roster with the Pumpkin Pecan pie.  To say that this pie faced some obstacles in being accepted is an understatement.  In Aimee's family, pumpkin pie means Mamie Eisenhower's Pumpkin Chiffon Pie, which recipe is so old that it calls for raw eggs.   Other people, poor souls who think a proper pumpkin pie should be baked, are less impressed with Mrs. Eisenhower's pie.  Since family members are so opinionated, Aimee wasn't even going to bother trying to give them a taste of the P-P pie, but she relented when she tasted it herself and found out how good it was.  And surprise!  This pumpkin pie was the cause of the Great Pumpkin Truce of 2015:  "two holiday favorites, pumpkin and pecan pie, together in a contrast of flavor and texture.  Great sweet balance.  This pie will not disappoint either pumpkin or pecan pie purists."

For next week:  the Posh Pie.  This is a classic "Rose recipe," with many steps, including baking your own chocolate wafer cookies for the crust, and with rich, decadent, chocolate flavors.

And guess what?  We've been doing this for a year now.  Our first recipe, the Kouign Amann, was on December 1, 2014.  Our last recipe is scheduled for December 3, 2016, so the Posh Pie will usher in Year 2 of the Alpha Baking Project.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Pumpkin Pecan Pie

I didn't get a pretty shot of the pie because it tended to fall apart when I cut it, so I opted to show the flakiness of the crust.  Pretty or not, it was a big hit at our house.

Like so many others, I don't own a deep-dish pie pan (because I don't make deep-dish pies), so I used Rose's pie pan and told myself it was a semi-deep-dish pie.  A deepish dish pie.  I figured if things looked really bad, I'd just make a very thin layer of pumpkin.

All very good things in the pecan pie mixture:  eggs, butter, cream, brown sugar, and Lyle's Golden Syrup, the magic ingredient.

And, of course, pecans.

I'll confess that I'm not 100% obedient to the instruction to "have ready a fine mesh strainer."  Most often, I do, but sometimes if the mixture appears lumpless, I skip it.  A very good thing I didn't try to fudge on the sieving step this time, or I would have ended up with scrambled eggs and pecan pie.  They're both things I love to eat, but I don't think they'd be a match made in heaven.

The pecan pie out of the oven.  I'm feeling cheered because it looks like there's plenty of room for a pumpkin layer.

I've made many a pumpkin pie in my day, but I've never before cooked the pumpkin puree.  Maybe cooking it made it smoother, but the real difference in taste came from using dark brown sugar.  Light brown muscovado would probably have been even better, but I didn't have any.  My grocery store used to sell it, but apparently I was the only person in Minneapolis who bought it, so now I have to get it from trusty old Amazon.

The pumpkin filling went all the way up to the top, with one spot looking like any little jiggle would send it out of the shell.

Overcooked by a hair, or maybe by a hank of hair.  And why do I have those two dark brown blobs?  If I'd been thinking, maybe I could have somehow figured out how to cover the blobs with pecans.  Or made them into two eyes of a monster face, although then it would be more like a Halloween pie than a Thanksgiving pie.  You can't really see the shine in the picture, but the pecans were so pretty after they were brushed with corn syrup.

Served with whipped cream, the two-in-one pie was spectacular.  My pastry-loving daughter was delighted.  She loves both kinds of pies, and she thought that having them together increased their deliciousness.  She usually turns down offers of dessert to take home, but she said "yes" to the offer of this pie so quickly it made me think she believed I might rescind the offer.

It's tough to choose whether this pie or the frozen pecan pie from last year is the better Thanksgiving dessert.  I guess I'll have to keep trying them both until I figure it out.