Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Midweek Roundup: The Little Gingersnap that Could

January 28, 2015

Photograph by Jenn (Knitty Baker)

What is it that this little gingersnap could do, you ask?  Well, for one thing, it could make a cookie lover out of Raymond.  I know that Raymond has a reputation for never saying what he believes, but he was forthright in his opinion about the cost-benefit ratio of cookies.  Too much putzy work, too little flavor.  But he liked these little gingersnaps because they have just the right amount of ginger.

What these cookies could do for Glori is NOT be one of "those nasty, dark, and hard pieces of yuck that you buy in a bag at the grocery store."  Granted, those are pretty low standards, but these ended up being "really, really good."  That is a higher standard than just a general lack of nastiness.

There was some disagreement about whether there was enough ginger flavor.  For Patricia, like Raymond, it was "spot on."  (By the way, Patricia also noticed the inconsistency between the weight and measurement of powdered ginger, but she had enough sense to ask about it).  And for Jen, there was "just the right amount of heat."  (Welcome back, ECL!)

Catherine thought the ginger flavor was pronounced, even "quite strong," with a "generous three teaspoons giving them a bit of residual spicy heat.  She made the British version, with real caster sugar (Billington's, no less--doesn't that sound posh?) and with self-raising flour.

Tony, on the other hand, wanted "more heat" and "more spice," so he devised a variation that added not only some fresh lemon zest but also some dried horseradish, 5-Spice Powder, and fresh ginger.  Um.  That is a lot of extra heat.  And it perhaps takes the cookies out of the gingersnap category and into the Blow a Hole in Your Head category.

Nancy's ideal gingersnap does not reach the Tony level of multi-level hotness, but she prefers a gingersnap with "more bite,"--her sister-in-law's "Chinese gingersnaps" with "lots of grated fresh ginger and white pepper" come to mind.  Well, of course they didn't come to my mind because I never heard of them, but now they do because that mixture sounds very intriguing.

For Nicola, the thing that these cookies could do is be made, from "start to finish, including washing up, in just over an hour," although she admits, perhaps, to a possible bit of cheating about "the advised resting times."  There is very little resting at the Blackler household, and if parents aren't allowed to rest, why should cookies have it any better?

Alice thought the gingersnaps were just about perfect, but could use an infusion of fresh ginger, and so she made that addition--just about a teaspoon of it.  Her "British husband declared them very authentic."  Kristina's husband, although not British, thought the cookies were "wonderful," and was very grateful that Kristina didn't take them to work.  Kristina is adding them to her regular cookie rotation.  I didn't know there was such a thing--hands up if you want to live in a household that has a cookie rotation!

Speaking of husbands, which we seem to be doing, Michele's blog contains a lovely tribute to hers: "my soul mate, my taste tester, and my deux ex machina....  Plus, he's very handsome and lots of fun to be around."  Her blog was so romantic that I almost forgot to pay attention to the cookies, so I wouldn't have been able to tell you that she broke her beater blade while making a quadruple (yes!) batch of cookies.

And let us not speak only of husbands, but also of seven-year-old sons, who say to their mother (Jill), "Thumbs up Mom, but something in them made my mouth feel on fire."  It's a good thing he didn't taste the Chef Tony horseradish version.

Mendy used all fresh ginger and none of the powdered stuff; although he used 5 teaspoons, he thought he ended up "toning down" the ginger flavor, albeit unintentionally.  "A fairly decent cookie," says Mendy.  This may not be the highest praise in the world, but this little gingersnap is undeterred.

What could the gingersnaps do for Jenn?  Well, the recipe could be divided in thirds, for one thing, and she will tell you how to do it, if you're ever in the market for 10 gingersnaps.  Jenn swears that all the math involved in dividing recipes by odd numbers and also making changes for high altitude baking is a snap.  Anyone can do it, she says, and she should know because she almost failed high school chemistry.  (She doesn't say how she did in math, but I'm betting she didn't fail it).

Faithy thought this was the cookie that could wreak havoc with your dentures.  She first thought her cookies tasted like raw cookie dough, so she baked them longer.  Perfect!  After another 24 hours, they turned hard as rocks, and denture-threatening.  Still, her family loved her little rock cookies.  (Faithy is in awe of how big American cookies are). In fact, one of Vicki's tasters (her brother) thought they taste like "Stone Cookies" from Hawaii, "which truly are named after a rock."  But they are soft and non rock-like.  While reading Vicki's blog, I discovered that she is seriously in love with Mr. Lyle, who is really Mr. Eastick, who, fortunately for Vicki's marriage, is dead.  (But who was quite dashing in real life.)  I also discovered that Lyle's Golden Syrup is the "world's oldest branded product."  Older than Kleenex!  Older than Carter's Little Liver Pills!

Maybe Hanaa said it best:  these cookies are "confusing."  They are not the gingersnaps that we Americans grew up on.  They are pale, anemic-looking things that resemble peanut butter cookies more than the molasses-laden gingersnaps our mothers bought at the grocery store.  If you call them "ginger cookies" instead of "gingersnaps," your tasters will be less bewildered.  To those of you who are Brits or their close relatives, these probably just seem like classic gingersnaps.  Unless you add horseradish.

Next week:  You might wonder why a Swedish apricot walnut bread is being used to celebrate Tu be'shvat.  We are nothing if not ecumenical in this group, and so it is not surprising that we mark Jewish Arbor Day (also known as Tu B'Shevat, or the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shevat).  It is a day marked by planting trees, eating things that grow on trees, and also eating wheat, even though it doesn't.  But there are two kinds of flour in this bread, and apricots and walnuts grow on trees, so I hoped this would be appropriate.  It's a fine bread, even if you are not planning to plant a tree in the near future.

And the following week:  our first Catch-Up Week.  If you've been feeling sick, or have been on vacation or on a business trip and you've missed a week, you can catch up!  Or if you don't like the way your first stab at something turned out, you can try again.  Or if you loved the way something turned out and want the joy of eating it again, go ahead.  It's your week.

Sunday, January 25, 2015


I hardly knew what to expect from these gingersnaps.  I've never baked gingersnaps; in fact, my familiarity with them is limited to the boxes of Nabisco gingersnaps she sometimes brought home for a treat.  I wasn't that enchanted with them, preferring my great-grandmother's sugar cookies, or, if they had to be storebought, frosted date and nut cookies or Nilla wafers.  Gingersnaps made me think of pioneers, of hardy women who had to bake with blackstrap molasses and lard instead of white sugar and butter, the way God intended.

I could tell by the ingredient list that these weren't going to be dark brown, like the gingersnaps I knew, because there was no molasses--just golden syrup and brown sugar, neither of which was likely to color the cookies a dark brown.  (I didn't have golden baker's sugar or caster sugar, but made do with brown and superfine sugars).  In retrospect, I wish I'd used a darker sugar.

These cookies were a snap to put together (yuk, yuk), and when I was done amusing myself with that lame pun, I started to wonder why they were called gingersnaps:  ease of preparation?  texture?  flavor?  Since the internet is never wrong, I turned there for an answer.  According to eHow, whose veracity I cannot vouch for, a gingersnap is a ginger "biscuit" (cookie for the Yanks among us) which is called a snap because they're very crispy and make a snapping sound when broken.

I was very puzzled by these cookies.  They looked right, or at least they didn't look wrong, but they were soft, definitely not crispy, and definitely not dark.  I read the description again:  "cracks will appear on the surface and the cookies should be golden brown."  Looks good.  The cookies "will firm up as they cool, resulting in a crispy surface and soft, chewy interior."  That pretty much described them, but they assuredly do not make a snapping sound when broken, more of a soft "whoosh."  I can see that ginger whooshes might not catch on.

I taste them, still unsure what to expect.  Hmmm.  Interesting.  A whisper of ginger flavor, but definitely not in your face.  In fact, the flavors are quite subtle.  I go back and look at the recipe, suddenly noticing that the 3 grams of ground ginger that I used really wasn't very much.  I weighed it out again.  3 grams is about 1 teaspoon, and most definitely not 3 teaspoons.

I send a quick email to Woody, who first tells me that he's sure they didn't have the ground ginger in grams.  I tell him they do have it in grams.  He gets the book, and tells me cheerfully, "well, that's a mistake."  They're not duds, exactly--they have a nice flavor and the golden syrup adds some complexity.  Still, you'd never call it a spice cookie, although that's what it is, and I'm pretty sure my version is not what it's meant to taste like.

Now I can't wait to see the pictures and read the descriptions of the other Alpha Bakers' versions of gingersnaps.  I hope that no one but me puts in 3 grams of ginger.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Midweek Roundup: The Bread that Needed a Spreadsheet

This is the most brilliant idea I've ever had!  I've always thought that the Midweek Roundup is too text-heavy, but I didn't want to use my own pictures again.  Then, when I was going through every else's blogs, I thought, "Wait!  I can use someone else's picture!  It will be different every time!  People will wonder when it's going to be their turn to have a photo showcased."  I was so excited that I couldn't wait to get started.

And, of course, this lovely shot with the chocolate sauce being drizzled on the panettone in perpetuity belongs to Kim.  A beautiful photo of a beautiful bread.

As Kristina said, "There was a lot of angst in our baking group about this week's recipe."

Vicki claimed that it took "extraordinary mental energy" for her to follow the recipe, and the only way she could do it was writing down all the steps:  "one through thirty-three."  If I'd known there were 33 steps, I'm not sure I could have made it.  Catherine described it as an "endurance test," requiring "the Alpha Bakers to map out a campaign that a three star general would be proud of, with the cooking starting one week in advance."

Glori described the process as "EPIC!  Five pages long and so many steps that I actually wrote my time line in the book."

And you should see the timeline that Chef Tony put together!  Not to mention devising his own recipe for candied orange peel.  Not to mention having has dishwasher die - dramatically and stinkily - during the biga process.  Just a normal week's work, right Tony?  Welcome--and I hope that you can get through next week's project without losing another appliance.

Raymond originally found the recipe "daunting" and was grateful for the timeline he devised, but in the end he thought the recipe was not difficult..Maggie joined him with that opinion. She thought it was "very easy to make and understandable to read in the book."  No idle bragging on her part, I assure you--her version was perfectly beautiful and looks like it was a breeze.

And Nancy has made panettone before, so was not intimidated by the instructions.  In fact, she imagined "Rose and Woody read[ing] all the Alpha Bakers' posts and think[ing], 'If these people just did what the recipe said, it would have been fine!'  (I get that feeling myself sometimes, Nancy, but both Rose and Woody are way too nice to call us "these people!")

Some of us had never before tasted panettone; for others, it was a holiday or a cultural tradition.   Kim never understood the appeal of giving a panettone as a gift--it's just a storebought cake, after all, even though she hails from Montreal, where "there are hundreds of thousands of them hanging from the ceilings in specialty shops, or sitting at the cash.  You practically trip over them in the markets.  Now, having made her own, she understands why it's a "treasured holiday bread that is given to very special people, not from a box, but from your heart."

 Vicki buys one every year at Trader Joe's, never thinking it would be within her ability to make her own.  I have a feeling that Trader Joe's has just lost a panettone customer.

For both Raymond and Michele, making this bread was both a reminder holiday baking in their pasts and a tribute to their baking grandmothers.  Michele didn't actually remember if her grandmother, Grazia Palazzolo Alfano, ever made panettone (she was famous for her lemon meringue pie!), but knows that she would have loved this recipe.  Raymond thought the bread "was every bit as good as any that my mom or grandmother ever made and I was totally pleased with it."  High praise indeed.

Some of us liked the orange peel; some couldn't get over a dislike of any kind of candied fruit.  Kristina was somewhere in the middle:  she didn't think she's like it, and "found that the first bite of each slice was a slightly unexpected flavour, but by the time I finished each slice, I wanted more.  A sign of a good result, I think!"  I think so too.

And some of us made our own orange peel!  For a bunch of people suffering angst about the number of steps involved in this bread, you'd think people would think twice about adding the steps necessary to candy their own orange peel! 

Jenn made her own, and blogged about it separately.   She says it was easy.  I'm unconvinced.   In passing, I'd like to note that our Knitty Baker--she of the 1/2 recipe, the 1/4 recipe, the 1/6 recipe--made the whole, the entire recipe!  What greater compliment could she give to this panettone.  (And I should note that Whole Foods has also lost a panettone customer).  At this rate, Rose is going to bring all the upscale grocers to their knees.  Vicki also blogged separately about her adventures with orange peel, using a recipe from Kate (of Kate Flour fame) and passing the recipe on to her fellow bloggers.

Surprisingly, Jill also made the candied orange peel herself, even though as a general rule she "dislikes baking with anything orange flavored."  (She also dislikes panettone, which also seems "so dry and a lot of work."  So props to Jill for trying something she thought was going to be a dried-out, yucky orange-flavored thing.  But it turned out to be pretty good, and "quite moist," so sometimes moving out of your comfort zone can be a good thing.  Glori also made the orange peel, although she claimed it was just because she was "too cheap" to go out and buy some.

Mendy used Kate's orange peel recipe too (I'm beginning to feel like the only sluggard who actually just purchased it), but burned it, er, slightly overcooked it, er caramelized it!  Yes, that's it.  Mendy pumped up the flavor profile with his caramelized orange peel!

I think that everyone agreed that this was a project whose end result easily justified the week's time, and the complicated time lines, involved in making it.  There was a little disagreement about the chocolate.  Mendy thought that the chocolate sauce definitely enhanced the panettone, and thought he might even add chocolate chips to the dough next time.  Monica, as a rebellious little Italian girl, (surprise, Monica was a rebellious child!) much preferred plain pan d'oro to panettone, and so she just sprinkled hers with powdered sugar, omitting the chocolate sauce.  (But then she smeared her slice with Nutella, so I'm not really sure which side of the chocolate fence Monica is on).

Hanaa "Moroccanized" her panettone (Italy and Morocco aren't that far apart) by using orange flower water and adding anise, and both she and her husband loved their cross-cultural bread.  Hanaa did not add the chocolate sauce because believed that "chocolate wasn't necessary and could potentially overpower all the other subtle flavors which were already playing so nicely together."

Now Faithy....  Faithy I just have to give her own paragraph to and not try to fit her into any category.  Why?  Well, for one, Faithy is the only person who had to gather up her panettones and keep them in her bedroom at night so the "stupid house lizard" wouldn't eat them.  And second, our beautiful Faithy was so worried about the state of her panettone that, even after being assured that it was fine, forgot to put her makeup to go to work!  No foundation, no lipstick.  Thank goodness she at least remembered her sunblock.  I love Faithy, and so I put her in her own section.  Anyone else who can provide documentation of fighting off lizards and forgetting their makeup may join her there.

I hate to end on a down note, but Patricia's blog, succinctly titled "BIGA FAIL," was too sad to be ignored.  You know how Patricia's blogs generally read:  she's got the pictures of her glorious results, the baking tips that we mortals never heard of, those hints for success.  So to see her attach the word "fail" to her blog is like finding out that Catherine's imaginary three-star general was wounded in battle.  But!  The wound is just a graze and Patricia will try again during Catch-Up Week, when I expect she will be fully revived.

Next week:  A well-deserved vacation in Q&E land with gingersnaps, whose praise cookie-hating Raymond is already singing.  I believe that I botched mine, but will post them anyway and try to figure out what went wrong.  I will be on another vacation next week (don't be envious - I'm going on a Disney cruise with my grandson, who is not yet reliably toilet-trained, and his parents.  As I said, I'll post, assuming that my automatic publishing setting works, and I should be back in time for the midweek cookie roundup, when I'll post someone else's photo (unless I forget).

After that, another adventure with fruited bread!  Hmmm, how did that happen?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Golden Orange Panettone with Chocolate Sauce

January 19, 2015

That's a lovely loaf of bread, isn't it?  I have to give 100% credit to Rose for this one, because I did nothing but follow directions.  Well, in order to follow them, I had to read them 6 or 7 times, and the recipe for Golden Orange Panettone isn't exactly a page-turner.  But I did eventually go from plowing through a bewildering muddle of words into understanding the plan.  And I did order some items ahead of time, so there were no last-minute worries.  And I have a large bottle of Boyajian orange oil, which I plan to bequeath to my daughters, so they can fight over who has to keep a bottle of orange oil in their kitchen until it's their turn to include it in their estate plans.  Maybe I'll tell them they can use it to make cocktails.  Maybe I'm right.

This is the biga, which you make about a week before you want the bread.  If you are really freaked out about taking a week to make bread, you could easily adapt the recipe to cut out all the overnights, just by using more yeast.  (You'll notice that there's less than one teaspoon yeast in this recipe, while other, faster recipes use 4 teaspoons or even more).  But if a lot of the rising time is in the refrigerator, it's not going to matter much if it's in the refrigerator for two hours or two days.  (This is my theory; Rose is no doubt more exacting.)

This is the flour mixture over the dough starter.  The recipe warns you that "the dough starter will bubble through the flour blanket in places."  I love this step because you can see how alive the starter is.  If your mind runs that way, you may start to worry that the starter could overtake your house, but I think it usually doesn't.

At some point in this week of bread-making, you'll want to spend a few minutes getting the fruit ready.  As long as you've already bought (or made!) the candied orange peel, this is easy.  And a bit discombobulating.  And I bought a little bottle of orange oil (that came in a great big box)--after I bought it I discovered that I need only 1/4 teaspoon of oil for the recipe.

I think if I remember, which is unlikely, I'm going to start using it as a substitute for grated orange peel, which one doesn't always have on hand, and which is not consistent in flavor anyway, ranging from bitter to tasteless.

Mix the dough.  This is such a wonderful dough.  Rose says it's smooth, shiny, soft, and sticky.  That pretty much sums it up.

The fruit is sprinkled on top of the dough, which is then stretched and turned to enclose the raisins and oranges.

Then comes a lot of rising, pressing, turning, resting.  I don't think I got pictures of every step, and I don't think it's important to document it all anyway.  (Sorry, Woody).  What's important is that it's such a joy to work with this dough.  I think you could pat Panettone dough on your face and call it a facial--old-world tradition!!  The secret to Italian women's flawless skin!!  Sometimes I wish I didn't have so many stupid ideas and had just one or two good ones instead.

At the end of the second rising.  As you can see, I did not use a plastic freezer bag.  I feel guilty when I use plastic (although not rationally guilty since I used plastic wrap instead).  Anyway, you can see how light and spongy it is.

It took at least 5 hours for it to rise in my not-very-warm kitchen to the top of the paper pan.  I was beginning to wonder if I'd be able to go to bed Friday night, but I got it into the oven around 7:00.

I think it looks very beautiful, especially with the X on top, snipped in with a pair of small, sharp scissors.  Almost done--just let it cool and wrap it, letting it mellow overnight.

I loved the texture, the color, the smell--everything about the bread.  But I was going to serve it to about a dozen people--the real test.  I wasn't sure that people would even be interested because of the unreasonable hatred that people seem to have for candied fruit.  But as they walked in, they were impressed, especially as I drizzled on the chocolate sauce.  And they all thought it was delicious, tender, and fresh-tasting.

Paper plates at this casual gathering.  It would look even prettier on good china.  The chocolate seemed like gilding the lily to me.  My second-day toast with butter was much better, I thought (although it's such a rich bread you do have to take care that the edges don't burn).  I'm surprised to hear myself say this, and I usually like the mix of chocolate and orange flavors, but in this case I thought the chocolate overpowered the delicate bread.  Slice it, toast it, butter it generously--it's perfection for a midwinter breakfast or afternoon tea.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Midweek Roundup: Nice as Pie

January 15, 2015

As some point during the black- and blueberry pie making, I remarked that "easy as pie" was a ridiculous phrase.  Because it's not.  Jim said, "Oh, I thought 'easy' referred to how easy it is to eat pie, not to make it."  I was stupefied.  And secretly I thought he must be wrong, but I googled it, and sure enough, that's what it means.  As easy as [eating] pie.  Kind of like saying "piece of cake."

You'll find it hard to believe that this moment was the lowest in my week.  For years (decades, really), every time I heard that phrase, I pictured the same woman:  slim, attractive in a no-nonsense way, practical, and thoroughly capable.  Whenever she felt like it, she'd bake a pie; it was that easy for her.  She probably got the berries from her big garden, which she tended perfectly.  Everything was easy for her.  When I pictured her, I knew I was looking at the picture of who I wanted to be.  I contrast, I was frazzled, with berry stains all over my shirt, trying to piece together my thoroughly unsatisfactory pie dough.  But I could dream!

Now all I could picture was the easy as eating pie woman.  She was fat (big surprise from eating all those pies), dishevelled, missing a few teeth, and her house was a disaster area.  I was going to have to put this new imaginary person out of my mind, and how better to do that than to look at all your real pies.  While reading, I discovered that while making pie is not easy, it does seem to call for a lot of ingenuity, and that is the theme of this week's roundup:  as ingenious as a pie baker.

But first, please say hello to Tony, aka "Chef Tony" on Rose's Baking Forum.  Tony has been in on the game since the beginning, but hasn't been able to blog until now because of numerous issues, now, hopefully, all taken care of.  When you look at Tony's pictures, you'll enjoy his expertise.

For example, and maybe this doesn't sound like much to you, but I was very impressed by Kim's idea (and her husband's execution of it):  Too many liquidy pie juices?  Just have your husband put a straw in one of the vents and tell him to start sucking.  "He drank and drank, and the liquid just kept coming up the straw.  There was an incredible amount."  You should check out Kim's blog to see pictures of her 2 pies (that's another story), but don't hope for a picture of husband gallantly sucking out the pie juices.  Kim has her pride.

Alice rivaled Kim in the ingenuity in dealing with excess juices department.  She came up with the Black and Blueberry Pie Cocktail.  Just "spoon.. some of the pie juices into [a] 1920's style champagne glass, top[] it up with prosecco and voila ... deliciousness!"  It may be worth baking another pie or two just to try the cocktail!

All this talk about excess juice may lead you to believe that there was a problem with too much juiciness.  I guess it depends on your point of view.  Jill, with Rose's help, opted not to try the cocktail route, but instead to concentrate the juices.  "This consisted of tossing the berries in the sugar and lemon juice, and placing them in a colander over a bowl.  ...[T]he juice is heated and reduced on the stove and then poured over the berries that have ... been mixed with cornstarch...."  By the way, she used a beautiful star design to decorate her pie.

Patricia also used a star design, and if I'd have realized what a natural that design was for this pie I might have chosen it for an (American) Independence day pie.  If you want to make it again in about 6 months, I wouldn't say no.  You know how cool, calm, and collected Patricia usually is?  Well, the mixing of the dough in the plastic bag made her a little testy.  But she did like the results, and had a few
simple tips to pass along:  use a pastry cloth when rolling out the dough and use an expandable cake ring to cut the dough into a 12-inch circle.

Glori, like Patricia, had a very clever way of making her 12-inch circle template.  She had bought some flashing when she made the Kouigns Amann (also clever), remembered her high-school math, and figured out how to calculate the circumference of her circle.  "Since the flashing is so thin, all I had to do to cut the dough circle was to push down on the ring and it cut it for me."  Well done!  The pie was done well too, and appreciated by the tasters, who especially loved the cream cheese pastry.

The juices sent Monica into "freakout mode," even though you'd have a hard time figuring out why if you looked at the pictures of her pie.  She took different-sized flower cookie cutters to this well-behaved dough, and covered the entire pie.  It's breathtaking, and my bet is that it will be used as inspiration by other Alpha Bakers.  But Monica could only focus on the excess juice, not the pie's beauteousness.  She didn't even suspect that this was still a very good pie even when her husband selflessly volunteered to eat another pie if she'd bake it.

While some people were having problems with their crimps and their cutout designs,  Maggie decided that wasn't enough of a challenge.  So she did lattice strips.  Plus leaf cut-outs.  And everything looked perfect.  I'm still dreading my first lattice pie, which looks extremely complicated to me.  But I can look to Maggie's blog for inspiration.  And Faithy did some amazingly intricate designs with cut out hearts and letters spelling out P-I-E.  Surprisingly (since Faithy bakes anything and everything), this was Faithy's first time at baking a fruit pie.  But she "LOVED it," so it looks like it will be seen again on her table.

Nancy's ingenuity was more of the "Next time I'll do it this way" variety.  She decorated and crimped her pie beautifully (I couldn't really follow Rose's instructions for the decor), but then discovered that the silicone protector she'd draped over her crust to keep it from burning also smashed the nice crimping.  She concluded that the silicone shield should just be "chalked up as an unsuccessful experiment.  But then she thought, "maybe I can put it on after the pastry has set but before it started to really brown."  Something tells me that this little advance will work perfectly--we'll see when we have our next pie crust assignment.

It took a lot of ingenuity for Mendy to make his pie, but some of the ingenuity was of the keep-at-it-no-matter-what variety.  And maybe that's the best kind.  Mendy is unique among us in that he first had to tovel his new pie dish in a rain-water mikvah.  I can see why you might let things pile up before you get around to the toveling.  Then Mendy really struggled with rolling his pie dough out thinly enough so that it covered the pie plate (Rose told him he was using a deep dish pie pan, which accounted for his trouble).  Then he patted and patched until there were no holes in his pie dough (he said he should have called the pie his "patchwork pie").  Well, perfect it wasn't.  Delicious it was.  And why am I suddenly talking like yoda?

Lois did two rather clever things, one out of necessity (or being a good mom anyway) and one probably only Lois would have thought of.  She made the crust out of vegetable shortening instead of butter and cream cheese for her vegan daughter.  (I remember my mother's and grandmother's Crisco pie crusts--I didn't think they could be improved on).  The other thing she did to use the rest of her double batch of pie crust to make fruit pierogis--it looked like it was a mighty endeavor, but a tasty one.

I will say that Nicola required no ingenuity this week because her pie came together in a breeze, and she suggests its inclusion in a suggested new category for Rose's cookbooks:  Maximum Wow for Minimum Swearing.  Perhaps at some point in the bakeoff we'll ask for nominations in the MWMS category.  Even more completely off the subject, those of you who haven't read Nicola's stand-in's account of his baking of the Chocolate Cuddle Cake might want to do so here.

Catherine, back from Christmas in Tasmania (and how many of you can say that), discovered that she was going to have to use frozen berries, even though it's summer in Australia, and, to get enough berries, she added some frozen raspberries.  The addition of red actually makes the pie filling look even more like a bruise than when it's just black and blue.  Even though her oven gave up the ghost in the midst of baking the pie, Catherine was happy with the way it looked and happier with the way it tasted.So happy that she's already gearing up for failure with the panettone.  Let's hope it doesn't work out that way.

Raymond, at least for this week, is willing to cede his ingenuity to Rose.  He says, "I am totally in love with Rose for giving us the single most helpful hint in all bake-dom.  Cutting out the circle of dough before lining the pan.   ...[I]t is by far the greatest tip I have gotten in years.  It makes the whole process so easy and it only takes a few seconds."  That's the nature of ingenuity, isn't it?  Something so obvious (in retrospect) that you can't believe that you didn't think of it yourself.

Katrina wanted to change up the ratio of berries, so the ingenuity required by her was of the mathematical kind. It turns out, Kristina discovered, that "blackberries need 25% more cornstarch.  So I did some math, looked at the suggested cornstarch & sugar ratios in the Pastry Bible vs. the Black and Blueberry pie" and "Oh bother, said Pooh."  Oh sorry.  Talk about ratios does that to me.  Kristina also discovered that her pie was not a bumbleberry pie, because a bumbleberry pie has at least 3 kinds of berries.  I haven't fact-checked that factoid yet, so it may be wrong.  But Kristina's pie was quite right.

And talking of math conversions, you may not be surprised to learn that Jenn made an itty-bitty four-inch pie instead of a Papa Bear-sized 9-inch pie.  She also got a very photogenic ceramic rolling pin from Anthropologie as a Christmas gift.  In addition to taking some beautiful photos, Jenn's contribution to pie ingenuity is telling us that whipping cream can be frozen in cubes so that there will always be some on hand.  Or perhaps as popsicles for the cat in the summer.

Some ingenuity is of the bare-cupboard variety.  I'll confess to being the boring person who follows the recipe.  But there are people--Katya--for example, who say, "no cornstarch, oh well, I'll use tapioca," or "not enough cream cheese, no matter, there's some mascarpone," or "no cream, I'll just pour in the coquito."  Huh?  Coquito?  Ah, a mixture of condensed milk, evaporated milk, coconut milk, and rum.  Well, of course--who wouldn't substitute a little coquito?  But Katya ended up with a bloody good pie.

Extra and special credit to Vicki, who actually posted three times this week.  The first time she blogged about her black and blueberry pie with her charming four-year-old granddaughter, who helped Vicki make a picture-perfect pie, which she (granddaughter) could not eat because she is quite lactose intolerant.  The second, made by a loving grandmother, is the dairy-free version of the berry pie, made with an oil crust.  That crust actually turned out to be better than Vicki thought, but she doesn't think she's found the perfect non-dairy crust.  And third is the homemade candied orange peel post, Vicki's version of the orange peel for the upcoming panetonne.  I have a feeling it's going to be fun to read all these.

And read we will, because of course, that's what's coming up next.  I think those of us who are going to make the panettone are nearly ready for the final stages.  I just have to read the recipe one more time to figure out my time schedule.

After that, the Q&E gingersnaps.  I've received a few emails asking me to explain this Q&E I keep talking about.  These are the recipes that come from Rose's list of Quick and Easy recipes.  They provide a very nice break in the schedule, since they generally don't take all week to make and usually don't require that you use every piece of baking equipment you own.  As I said last week, don't measure out 3 grams of ginger!  This is the time to measure, not to weigh.

You'll also see something new on Feb. 9--a catch-up week.  As you might surmise, this is a week to let you catch your breath and make something you didn't have time to make, but would like to try.  Another thing you might want to do on a catch-up week is to make a family favorite again, or to try on of the variations that Rose offers throughout the book.  I'm not going to schedule the jams and jellies (3 of them I think), but I know that some of you are looking forward to trying them.  A catch-up week would be a good time for that.  Or, if you need a break, this is the week to take it--with a clear conscience.  I would just ask that you not bake ahead, so we'll be doing most of the projects together.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Black and Blueberry Pie

You know how I carried on a few weeks ago about how crazy and practically un-American it was not to like cookies?  Well, here's your chance to throw that all back at me because I will confess that I don't like fruit pies.  Yes, no fruit pies for me, even though they're as American as you-know-what.  When I first got the cookbook, I looked at the number of fruit pies in it, and told myself that it wouldn't be so bad spread out over two years.

Why don't I like fruit pie?  Well, first there's the crust.  I'll never get the hang of the rolling pin.  My dough will never stay in even an approximate circle.  When my friend Erika came over to help, she had to spend her first minutes in my kitchen cheering me up.  She was very impressed with my new pastry wands, which she liked much better than the stretchy pieces of colored plastic I used for the Ischlers.

Soon she took over the rolling out of the dough.  (Hers are the pretty hands without age spots).  She said, "Hey, this is fun.  I don't know why you're complaining so much."  It appears that Erika is a natural at baking.  Not that I'm jealous.

It's the fruit in a fruit pie that I object to.  It's always a little bit of tasteless fruit in a gloppy, slimy sauce.  What a waste of a perfectly good fruit.  I'll admit there is plenty of fruit in this pie, so at least it doesn't appear likely that I'll only get three shriveled up little berries in a piece of pie.  I used frozen blueberries and blackberries because at this time of the year, I figured frozen fruit would be better than fruit that's been shipped to Minnesota from Chile.

Erika said, "If you're taking pictures, don't you think it would be more photogenic to use your yellow spatula instead of the red one?  It would stand out better against the berries."  Did Jim sound a little testy when he asked Erika if she wanted to take the pictures?

The truth is, I've never made a double-crust pie before.  I usually cry or curse with just the bottom piecrust, and I've always been afraid that I wouldn't come out alive if I tried a full-fledged, double-crust pie.  The dough was handling beautifully, though, and we got the pie together without incident.  We couldn't visualize how to do the berry decorations, so we settled on the five slashes in the top crust.  "Marie," Erika said, "those really aren't evenly spaced."

"Oops," I said.  "I forgot that we're now supposed to refrigerate for an hour.  Let's just have a cup of coffee and we'll refrigerate it until we're done."  "You don't really follow the directions very well, do you?"  Erika pointed out.  She's very helpful that way.

OK, so they're not perfectly even, but not so uneven that they'd cause you to gasp in horror.  That's my beauty standard, and I don't care if it's a little low.

Erika had to leave, and I wanted to give her half the pie, so I cut into it well before the two hours cooling time was up.  It was still very juicy, but I could see that each piece of pie was going to have plenty of fruit.  The sauce was neither gloppy nor slimey; it just gently covered the fruit.  And the crust actually looked ... well, it looked pretty passable.

You've probably already guessed that this pie story has a very happy ending.  I loved this pie.  After the pie was gone, I longed for another piece.  I wished I hadn't given half of it to Erika.  The fruit was noticeably fruit and there was plenty of it; sweet, but perked up with the spark of fresh lemon.  And the crust!  If they gave Nobel prizes for pie crust, Rose would be a sure winner.  (And there are worse ideas out there than giving a Nobel prize for pie crust).  If I were a poet, I'd write an ode to "Perfect Flaky and Tender Cream Cheese Pie Crust."

Erika called me and said her 17-year-old daughter loved the pie, especially the crust.  "I didn't know she even knew there was such a thing as pie crust."  Everybody loved the pie but JJ, although he liked the ice cream with berry juice.  He wouldn't try the crust.  Just as well; then he'd be wanting pie every time he came over here.  I'm already looking ahead in the schedule to see when the next fruit pie is.  I love fruit pie!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Midweek Roundup: What's in a Cuddle?

I'll confess that when I do one of the baking projects, I try to predict what will cause problems for the other bakers.  Of course, if things go well for me, I assume they'll go well for everyone else, so the Cratered Coffee Crisps came as a surprise.  If I have trouble, I assume (hope?) that at least a few other people will have the same problem.  I realize this is not a Dalai Lama-approved attitude, but I never claimed to be perfect.

So when I finished baking the wonderful Chocolate Cuddle Cake, my predictions were that:  1) some people would have trouble with the cake (when we were doing Heavenly Cakes, there were always problems with chiffon cakes); 2) some people would have problems with the paraphernalia--the rose nail, the parchment strips, the pan itself; 3) some would not do well with the ganache--I couldn't be the only one whose ganache turned to cement, could I?; 4) everyone would love the whipped cream; and 5) people would want to know what the heck a cuddle cake is.

So how did I do as a prognosticator?

As to the chiffon cake, I had to go all the way down to Kim's blog to find a problem with it.   (Why is Kim almost at the bottom?  Because Blogger rather stupidly alphabetizes blogs starting with "The" (like The Finer Cookie) as if they start with T, not with F).  Poor Kim's failed cake occurred because she not only ignored Rose's instructions not to grease the bottom of the pan, she willfully ignored them, as in, "I was convinced it was an error."  When her cake came out of the oven, she immediately spotted her error:  "The hot cake didn't have anything to hang onto as it cooled.  Damn."  I thought it was pretty clever to realize the error, and not just to have a conniption.  But Take 2 went fine.

In the "pan, parchment, nail" department, there were a few mishaps, but none were serious.  No one had a problem with the pan because over half the bakers used something other than the required pan. Square pans, angel food cake pans, six-inch layer cake pans...you name it, someone tried it.  Sometimes I wonder whether Rose and Woody read our posts and say, "Can't these people follow directions?" or whether (I hope) they say, "Aren't these people clever?"

Nor were there many problems with the rose nail.  Vicki, understandably a bit flustered after her first cake splattered on the kitchen floor, simply forgot to use it, but with no bad results.   Kristina lost her flower nail, and forgot to set her timer because she was single-mindedly searching her entire kitchen for the nail, but she found it almost immediately after she put the cake in the oven and that reminded her that she hadn't set the timer.  Not much real drama there, just a great result.

Nancy had trouble removing some of the parchment strips, but no harm done, since the sides were ultimately covered in ganache.  Jenn forgot to use her parchment pieces, and therefore, she claimed, her cake turned out to be embarrassingly small.  Really, only on Alpha Bakers would someone post an absolutely gorgeous photo of a mouth-watering cake and pronounce herself "ashamed."

I was totally wrong with my prediction about the ganache causing problems.  I finally found someone who had a little difficulty with the ganache.  Alice said her "only complaint" was that the ganache was "very firm when it cooled so it was less like frosting and more like...."  (I really thought she was going to say cement, but she didn't) "more like a chocolate truffle topping."  I'm not sure this is a problem.  Cement is a problem..

Jen had no problems with the ganache.  In fact, she didn't even bother to make it since she had a bowl of Midnight Ganache in her freezer.  (I think that Jen has a magic freezer--she's always reaching into it and pulling out things like Midnight Ganache--it could be that she's sold her soul to the devil, but at least she got something for it).  And she also got a whipped cream that turned out beautifully even though she didn't bother to stabilize it.  Like Jen, Jill had no problems with this cake, even though she also bent the rules:  she used the wrong size pan; she added salt to the caramel; she minimized the use of whipped cream, filling the top with caramel instead of caramel whipped cream. But everything went swimmingly!  What is the going price for a soul anyway?

Hanaa also had no difficulties with the ganache, but I can't give her full credit because she didn't make it.  Her husband doesn't like chocolate that's overpowering, and this chiffon cake, sans dark chocolate ganache, made him happy.  Also Miss I-Never-Met-a-Recipe-I-Couldn't-Change Hanaa baked it in a tube pan, layered it, and filled it with an easier caramel whipped cream of her own making (she even included the recipe for those who want to make a quicker caramel made with agave nectar)  She swears by it, and I happen to know that State Fair Winner Hanaa has excellent taste in baked things.

Although there were very few of the problems I predicted, there were a few unexpected ones.  Vicki's was probably the worst--her cake just slipped out of her hands on its way into the oven, making a huge and unsalvageable mess.  Did she let this mishap stop her?  She did not, and the next one worked like a charm.

But the biggest problems came with the heralded caramel whipped cream.  Mendy had a couple of strikes against him--first, he was using his trusty toaster oven, which, although it's turned out some remarkable desserts, does have its limitations.  Second, he was baking this cake while he was fasting (at least we know his soul is still intact), and, perhaps distracted by the wonderful aromas of chocolate making their way to his hungry brain, he had a little "mishap" with the whipped cream, which settled into a consistency not very much like whipped cream  Always cheerful, Mendy said the cream was still the "star of the show."

I don't know what was with the New Yorkers this week, but Katya also messed up her whipped cream. As she put it bluntly, "it looked like vomit."  Actually when I looked at Mendy's, I thought it also looked like vomit, but I was too polite to say so.  Although since I'm saying it now, I guess I can't claim to be too polite to mention it.  Katya and Mendy also dealt with their whipped cream issues with Brooklyn savoir faire:  they added some extra cream, did more whipping, and served it up.

Rosa's cream also curdled, but she didn't picture it, which was just as well.  She recovered nicely, however, by casually whipping up some mousseline with mocha butter cream and topping it with some leftover caramel.  And by the way, what is up with all this leftover caramel?  If I make caramel, I carefully recover every kilogram and eat it up on the spot.  If I'm feeling generous, I share it with Jim, or with JJ, who's crazy about caramel.  There should be no such phrase as "leftover caramel."  Leftover oatmeal, maybe, but not leftover caramel.

 Monica had no intention of baking this cake, but was lured back into the fold by promises of "epic" whipped cream.  Guess what?  Hers curdled too.  After cursing the cream in three languages, she sighed a deep sigh, added more cream, and called it a sauce.

Faithy's whipped cream also started to curdle, but she was able to bring it back to "90%" whipped cream consistency.  And she loved it--"it is soo YUMMY!"  She liked it so much she decided she'd put caramel in her next buttercream, and make the cuddle cake in two layers next time so she could use even more whipped cream.

Jenn didn't struggle with the whipped cream once she got the caramel right, but, ever the perfectionist, she ended up making the caramel three times--THREE TIMES--before she was satisfied with it.

Despite the various whipped cream mishaps, I was right that people thought it was wonderful.   I can't give myself many points about that prediction, because it IS wonderful.  In fact, I would be highly suspicious of any person who didn't like it because such a person would doubtless have additional serious character flaws. Glori called it the "most flavorful" she's ever tasted.  Nancy's sister-in-law pleaded with her for a promise to make the whipped cream on its own sometime.  "Absolutely not," Nancy said sternly.  Then, remembering the taste of the whipped cream, she relented, "Well, maybe for a special occasion."  Any occasion will do, says Jen (Evil Cake Lady)--"it's so amazing, you should make it even if you don't make the rest of the cake."  Michele liked everything about the cake, but concluded that the "caramel whipped cream is by far the best part of this already stellar dessert."

Lois was a little bit of a late bloomer when posting her cake, but she took advantage of her knowledge about the raves the whipped cream was getting, so she made hers into a two-layer cake, frosted and filled with said wonderful whipped cream.  (Eat your heart out, Faithy).  Because hers was a mini-post (only two hundred words) and because she had no difficulty, her blog was really memorable more for her casual aside about eating vegan Buffalo wings than about baking the cake.  Caramel whipped cream sounds thrilling.  Vegan buffalo wings sound disgusting.

And, as I predicted, there were a questions about the name--Glori is still asking herself why it's called a cuddle cake. Patricia said her only question about the cake was about the name:  the cake itself was just about perfect, but "cuddle" does not do "this elegant cake justice.  Maybe chocolate cloud or chocolate embrace would be more appropriate?"

Katya  was the only one who thought the name was perfectly fine.  She says she "comes from a family that has a tendency to lie in a heap, frequently while watching A League of Their Own, so "cuddle" connotes happiness, security, and love.  When you put it that way, a "cuddle cake" sounds pretty good.

Raymond didn't really object to the name, but didn't think it was quite sufficient.  He said, "I have really been struggling for words to describe the cuddle cake and this morning, after eating probably my 10th piece before heading to the gym to work it all off, it finally came to me.  This cake is as light as a feather and as soft as a whisper."  I love the idea of rhapsodizing about a cake while you're at the gym--it shows you have your priorities right.

What I didn't predict is that this turned out to be a magnificent birthday cake for two of our members:  Glori and Jenn.  Who could wish for a better birthday cake?  The only thing that would make it better is if someone else made it for them.  Happy birthday, Glori and Jenn!  Michele also made it as a birthday cake, for her friend's daughter's 21st birthday.  Lucky girl--I hope she appreciated it.

Speaking of birthdays, be sure to let us know what treat you end up baking for your own birthday!

No special tools, pans, or procedures needed for our next project:  the Black and Blueberry Pie, or Pate Bruisée.

We make up for the relative simplicity of this recipe with the following one:  the Golden Orange Panettone with Chocolate Sauce.  Panettone is usually made in a disposable paper mold, but the 6"' by 4" doesn't seem to be a standard size.  I bought it on amazon,com, and it's now out of stock, but Rose also gives the option of using a 6" by 6" souffle mold or coffee can.  You can also use a somewhat smaller paper mold and adjust the amount of dough you put in the mold.  I ordered some "fine quality" candied orange peel from Amazon; I tasted it and thought it was much better than the supermarket variety, which is way too soft.  I got Boyajian orange oil from Sur La Table.  Rose's original recipe called for Fiori di Sicilia, which I bought when I made my first (and only) panettone.  I didn't notice a bitter aftertaste then, so I doubt I would now, but I bought the new stuff anyway.

And do start reading the recipe!  It doesn't look especially difficult, but there are a number of stages, so the whole thing takes about a week from start to finish.

After that, a simple cookie recipe again:  but be sure to measure the ginger instead of weighing it.  3 teaspoons is not the same as 3 grams!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Chocolate Cuddle Cake

January 5, 2015

This is a wonderful chocolate cake, with a rich ganache on the sides, but it's the caramel whipped cream that steals the show.  It's unique and fantastically delicious.  You do have to go through a LOT of steps before you're allowed to sit down and enjoy a piece, but it's all worth it.

First, you need a rose nail.  I'm pretty sure I bought one for one of the Heavenly Cakes (one of my rare forays into the mysterious aisles of Michael's), but I couldn't find it.  Luckily for me, Woody was baking with me and he was undaunted by the lack of a little nail.  He was sure Jim had nails in his workshop.  (It's a little optimistic to refer to Jim's tiny space in the basement as a workshop, but he did indeed have a manly nail, not a girly rose nail).

See the ruler and pencil in the background?  A sure sign that Woody is nearby.  I won't say I never measure anything, but when he asked for my ruler, I said blankly, "ruler?" as if I'd never heard of such a thing.  (In fairness to me, I do have a measuring tape.  In fairness to Woody, he's the one who gave it to me.)

Those same parchment strips attached to the sides of the springform pan.

And the makeshift rose nail centered in the pan.

And there is the same nail when I put the cake in the oven.

And when it's ready to come out.  You can see why you have to add the parchment support system.  Otherwise, there would be burning cake batter all over the bottom of my oven.

A view from the top.  Obviously, the parchment's not as sturdy as the metal pan.  I wonder if you could avoid the parchment pan altogether if you had a taller springform pan.  But do they make them taller than that?  A quick search for "deep springform pan" didn't yield much, but I did find this -- it's 3 3/4" high.  I will ponder whether it's worth getting this.

More makeshift gadgetry here, but all you need is four cans, all the same height, and a cooling rack.

Remember the nail?  There it is, still sticking out of the top of the pan.  It's a good thing Woody was here, or I would have probably just tried to pull the nail out of the pan, forgetting about its foil base.  I'm so glad I didn't do that.

It worked much better to turn the cake over and slowly pull it out so it just has a hole the size of a slim nail, not a giant gouge. 

Pull the parchment off and it starts to look like a cake, not a hardware store.

"Get the ruler, Marie."  "Why?"  "So we can measure the finished cake.  Don't you always do that?"  "No, why would I?  It's too late to do anything about it."  I think that this was more or less the correct height, and it made Woody happy to have this shot, so there you are.  How many of you measure the height of your finished cakes?

I actually do use my thermometer, even when Woody is not supervising me, and especially when I'm making caramel.  I don't know why we took a picture at 333, though, because it had to get up to 370.  

The hardest part of this cake was the ganache.  It started to go on smoothly, but the ganache started getting a little too hard, and I was having a very hard time covering the sides smoothly.  Woody was very encouraging:  "Just massage it, Marie."  That made no sense to me, and I told him.  He tried again:  "It's just like doing cement work."  Not particularly helpful either, but it did make me wonder if the Wicked Witch used ganache to make her gingerbread house.  

It impressed me that Woody was able to urge the ganache up over the top of the cake.

I've hardly shown any pictures of actually baking the cake--they've almost all been of its construction, because that was the hard part for me.  The cake itself, even though it has multiple steps, was not difficult.  Time-consuming yes, but not difficult.

I took this cake to book club, where it was received with more enthusiasm than met the book.  One woman said when she looked at the cake, she didn't even notice the ganache--she thought it was just the cake.  Then she took a bite, and not only got a wonderful chocolate cake but also something that "tasted like the best piece of chocolate in the world."  Like me, everyone was most impressed with the caramel whipped cream, which was described as "decadent," "fabulous," and "out of this world."

When I got home, there was just one piece of cake left, and just enough light for Jim to shoot a final picture in the daylight.

No chocolate curls on this cake, and the texture isn't as perfect as the one in the book, but Rose's beautiful cake couldn't have met with more enthusiastic eaters than this cake did.  And thanks, Woody, for your help with the cement, I mean the ganache.