Thursday, April 30, 2015

Midweek Roundup: Rose's Jammie Dodgers

Photo by Anna Hayes
Simply Bake

Rose always has a reason for the names she gives things.  Sometimes it's obscure (remember the Cuddle Cake?), and sometimes it's obvious (Frozen Pecan Tart).  I got the lemon part of these cookies, but why are they Jammies?  I googled jammie cookies, and I came up with Jammie Dodgers, which are sandwich cookies filled with jam and with a (heart-shaped) cutout on the top cookie so you can see the jam.  They are the favorite snack of British children, according to Wikipedia, and are also the favorite cookie of Dr. Who!  So really, they're quite famous, and I'm sure my older daughter, a big Dr. Who fan, has heard of them.  Whatever the merits of Jammie Dodgers, I'll wager that Lemon Jammies are better.  And they seem to be the favorite cookie of many of the Alpha Bakers.  So remember, if you should ever meet Dr. Who at a cocktail party, you have a readymade topic of conversation.

Now, on to the cookies:  We know that there is a contingent of, let's not say cookie haters, but perhaps we can call them cookie doubters.  But there is also a contingent of cookie lovers, and they especially loved these cookies.  As Michele  said, "There might be something more heavenly than tart, brightly flavored lemon curd on a sunny spring day, but I couldn't think of anything.

As Faithy says, these don't just "look good, but they taste good too."  This was her "favorite cookie so far" from The Baking Bible.

Kim, our cookie maven, loved them too.  "The lemon curd packed a satisfying punch, and without thinking I reached for a second one.  It's all good!  I'm very happy with them."

Both Milagritos and Vicki mentioned that they liked cookies because they provide just a little sweet treat to have with a cup of coffee or tea.  In fact, Vicki even suggested that we bake our way through Rose's Christmas Cookie Book!  Kristina also loves cookies, finding them "the perfect (most dangerous) treat to have around the house.

Even Raymond (chief among the cookie doubters) described these as "light and very lemony  and worth the effort to make."

We were given the choice of lemon buttercream, lemon curd, or some kind of jam as a filling to these buttery, lemony cookies, and we did all that--and more.

Vicki made her own lemon curd from Rose's recipe, a recipe that terrified her the first time she tried it but now is her "favorite thing to make."  For an even easier cookie, Nancy used a "good brand of jarred lemon curd"--she was not up to tackling the "dreaded hot syrup drizzled into eggs."  And she used about twice as much filling as the recipe called for, resulting in a nicely squishy cookie.

Kristina whipped up a batch of lemon curd, but omitted the butter.  I read this sentence three times, and I think that's what she said.  How is that even possible?

Anna used five different fillings (as you can see in the photo), including lime curd, which she described as "way too sour."

Raymond thought he had lemon curd on hand, but discovered he didn't, so he quickly made some buttercream, which was "delicious," even though he had to add extra butter to move it from its curdled state.  (I'm very impressed with anyone who can just decide on a moment's notice to make buttercream--to me it's something you have to gird yourself for.  It takes at least 24 hours to get in a buttercream frame of mind).

Patricia used seedless raspberry jam, for an especially jammie dodger look, and then, just to really mix things up, she also used some leftover baby blue buttercream!  (These cookies would be fantastic for a baby shower, filled with either pink or blue buttercream).

Katya did a variation on the buttercream theme, using Pierre Hermes' recipe for lemon cream, and resulting in CreeMees instead of Jammies (or JamMees).

Jen did half with buttercream and half with lemon curd--interestingly, finding that the buttercream cookies stayed crisp, while the curd cookies softened.  One more factor to ponder as you face the momentous question of how to fill this cookie.  As Jen says, you could use almost anything.

Faithy used Nutella and strawberry jam to fill her cookies, but concluded that "nothing beats buttercream!"

Jill (and Sam) used blackberry jam in some of the cookies and chocolate buttercream in the others. Guess which one was Sam's choice?

This cookie also seemed to call us to roll out (no pun intended) some of our little-used baking equipment.  (Some of us had to go through drawers and cupboards to find the cookie cutters that we knew we had--somewhere).

Vicki used a biscuit cutter (I think she means an American biscuit, not an English biscuit) and a "lopsided heart cookie punch."  I think it was the punch that was lopsided, and not Vicki, because, as she astutely points out, there's no vodka in the cookie dough.

Milagritos went from the exotic (a Chinese dumpling rolling pin) to the mundane (the top of a sauce jar for the little cutout).

Jenn used Easter-themed linzer cutout cookies, with adorable bunnies and butterflies as the cutout shapes.  To heighten the adorableness factor, she used a dab of water to paste the cutouts on the cookies.

Anna brought out her set of scalloped cookie cutters - 7 different sizes in 7 brilliant colors, and definitely worth its own photograph.  But her cutest prop was the cheerful-looking baker that her sixth-grade class made for her.

To get the small circle, Kim got out her pastry tube equipment, and used a 1/2" tip.  She also brought out her Silpat pad when she ran into trouble rolling out the dough. Michele also used a piping tip.  Very clever, and just the right side.

Jill and her son Sam (who had to do a baking project for a school assignment) chose a square cookie cutter ("to be different," said Sam).

Tony had a ingenious solution to the problem of getting the small cookie cutter perfectly centered in the large cookie.  It involved tape (not duct tape, which is the cure-all for men around these parts) but colored Scotch tape to center and secure the cookie cutters together.  It seemed to work perfectly!

And next, we will have some pie.  I know that some of you have felt frustrated that we've done fruit pies that force us to use out-of-season fruit.  At least for some of us, rhubarb is right in season.  (Probably not for blueberries, although I guess they're in season somewhere, but you can't have everything).

In other news, I'm sorry to say that Joan has decided she just doesn't have the time right now to do once-a-week baking.  Joan has been with us for Heavenly Cakes and the Beta Bakers, and if it works out for her to rejoin at some point, there will always be a place for her.

Finally, Jim and I are going to England and Scotland for a few weeks, so I'll miss three midweek roundups.  Whilst eating biscuits and tea, I hope to be able to find the time to check in on all of your blogs!  I've baked ahead, so I should also be posting for the three weeks I'll be gone, assuming that my iPad works in London, the Lake District, and Edinburgh.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Lemon Jammies

As I was filling these cookies, I started thinking to myself, "This is tedious."  Then I thought, "Oh, this must be what Raymond feels like when he's making cookies."  Then I read his post, which begged for a cookie-free month.  Finally, I thought, "This book may be just a teensy bit heavy on the cookie chapter."  It's an interesting side effect of the bake-through.  When I read the table of contents and leafed through TBB, I definitely did not think, "And who's going to eat all these cookies?"  Whereas a cake or pie seems to disappear within 24 hours, the cookies hang around.

They're easy enough to put together.  I'm always happy when I see that I can make dough in a food processor because I know it's going to take me only about five minutes.  This is not the tedious part.

And I know it's going to be a plain, simple butter cookie livened up with a fair amount of lemon zest.  All is happiness so far.

The dough comes together nicely.  It looks so creamy and rich that you could eat it alone if you were a cookie dough kind of person.

And it rolls out nicely too.

I started having trouble when it turned out that the counter with the rolled-out cookie dough was directly in the brilliant spring sun, causing them to droop, lose their shape, and generally refuse to remain intact.  I gave up, pummeled it back in a ball, and stuck it back in the refrigerator.  Then I moved the  dough mat to the shade.

From there on out, everything was fine.  It was just a little ... tedious.  I got 38 cookies instead of 36, which means I cut out 76 cookies, and half of those had a scalloped hole cut out of the middle.  It was surprisingly hard to get that hole centered, so a fair number of my cookies were askew.  I finally made a mark in the middle of the cookie and went from there.  That helped, but it still wasn't perfect. 

Then I had to match cookie halves with each other, trying to match them by color and size.  Some of them stretched out on the way to the cookie sheet, and there was no matching half.  I had book club at my house tonight, and I was running out of time.  (Fortunately, I'm in more than one book club, and book clubs are excellent places to get rid of cookies or other things that you don't want around the house tempting you).  To save time, I didn't make the buttercream, or even make my own lemon curd. I bought Stonewall Kitchen lemon curd, which was surprisingly good.  I thought that raspberry jam would be pretty, so I used that on half the cookies.

My cookies' scallops don't match up perfectly with each other.  I'm tempted to go look at Rose's cookies, but I'm not sure I want to see how perfect they are.

The raspberry does look pretty, although it makes it look more like a Christmas cookie, and, honestly, the ones with the lemon curd are better.  They are so good that they made me forget my earlier complaints about tedium.  My book club was crazy about them.  I put out a plate of the dattelkonfekt too, and people ate them, but no one raved about them.  You know how sometimes people say, "Did you really make these yourself?"  And you modestly say, "yes, it was nothing."  And then people tell you how fabulous and amazing you are?  It happens now and then.  And I must say, it makes you feel quite good.  Good enough that you are not going to complain about the cookies being tedious to make and instead vow to make them again.  Very soon.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Midweek Roundup: The Princess Rules!

Photo by Joan
Alpha Baker Joan

This cake seemed to make us all a little giddy.  We were all so taken with the idea of a royal cake that we played it for all it was worth.

Take Vicki, for example--she named her cake, crowned her with the sweetest little tiara, swore at her, and ultimately found her "delectable."  Vicki also pointed out that her relationship with Princess Ava Wilder-Zahn the Delectable was going to force her to walk all the way to Utah with her Fitbit on her wrist.

Orin also made a crown for the princess--a chocolate tiara that she shaped out of melted chocolate on a crown-shaped stencil and chocolate hearts thrown in for good measure.  She also sang the princess's praises:  "Oh my, oh my ... what a cake!!!  The perfect dessert after a heavy meal, or any meal, how about the perfect cake as the meal itself!  It's very light and moist; no single flavor overpowers another.  It has just the right amount of vodka to make it interesting, but not intoxicating."

And although Catherine didn't make a crown, she topped her princess with a festive sparkler, although she did note that "the princess is a lush" who "soaked up a phenomenal amount of vodka-spiked tea."  Even if Catherine  seemed to criticize the hard-drinking royal gal, she would have liked to make the princess even lushier--"the custard cream layers could benefit from some alcohol," she believed.

Others were surprised at how easy it was to assemble this complicated-looking cake with 5 pages of instructions.

Faithy did a lot of work ahead of time--reading the recipe at least three times to get everything straight in her mind and starting the cake at 7:30 p.m.--this woman is fearless!  She started with the pastry cream and baked the cake next, watching Korean TV dramas between steps.  Her verdict on the buttercream?  "Sinfully good," tasting a little like ice cream and hard to resist eating all by itself.

Michele too thought it was "a simple project, despite the multiple pages of instructions."  She fed the cake to the three painters who were working in her house (lucky painters!), all of whom "declared the Polish Princess to be wonderful."  Michele was one of several people who observed that, despite all the butter in the buttercream, the cake was "light and the buttercream layers are surprisingly light and fluffy."  She was surprised to discover that although the cake "looks impressive, it's really not filling."

Anna didn't agree that making the cake was a simple project.  She thought the process "was long, but the end result was well worth it."  In her house, "everyone who has tasted this cake has loved it!" Anna also got some interesting information on Polish vodka from the person who sold her the vodka.  She discovered that what makes the recommended Ultimat Polish Vodka special is that it's made from "a blend of rye, wheat and potato - the wheat for smoothness, rye for complexity, and potato for richness."  One reason it's fun to read all the blogs is that we end up getting so many tidbits of information!

There were not as many changes in ingredients as is usual for the group, but Milagritos made a few.  She changed vodka to whiskey, black tea to chai, and omitted raisins (she also added pinches of salt here and there).  But the results were still great:  "I just shared it last night with my in-laws and everyone loved it.  The cake was moist, the flavour was balanced and ... it wasn't too sweet."  Her family, she added, "all made very happy noises during its consumption."

Kristina's tasters had mixed reactions:  her husband hated the raisins (but he always hates raisins, and besides, she warned him!)  One guest didn't like the crunchy chocolate, and another wasn't crazy about the walnuts.  But two others thought it perfect and didn't know what the critiquers were talking about.  (Kristina must have a knack for encouraging honesty in her tasters--most of the people I know wait until they're outside my house to complain about the walnuts.

You wouldn't know it from looking at the picture of the week, but Joan's first cake didn't work out that well.  In fact, it was kind of a disaster.  In fact, she offered a prize to the first person who could figure out what went wrong with her cake, but she dusted herself off and started all over again.  The second cake looked beautiful.  (I just checked Joan's blog again, and she still hasn't given away the prize for solving the Mystery of the Exploding Cake.

In contrast to the people who trash their first attempt and start over again is Jen, who says, "I am not a throw away and redo type of person, so I soldiered on.  I am also not a perfectionist in any way, shape, or form, so I wasn't fretting about my overbaked cake."  And it turns out that she didn't need to fret--the vodka-tea syrup dousing took care of any incipient dryness.  Jen also refused to bring out the Fitbit.  In her opinion, taking "a regular ol' pastry cream and enrich[ing] it with MORE is a really really good idea."  It's always nice to be around people who are this enthusiastic about butter.

But we're not all on the same page here.  Kim has been dreading this cake.  She signed up for a weight loss program and the Alpha Bakers around the same time, and was dismayed to learn that one piece of cake equals 10 points (which apparently means that if you eat a slice of cake, you don't get much else to eat that day.  Except celery, maybe.  Still. she loved the cake and the syrup, but wasn't "thrilled with the buttercream," preferring the idea of "straight pudding" to the buttercream.  And she also got sick while in the midst of assembling the cake.  All in all, it seems that Kim and the Princess were just not meant to be a match.

While Kim was dreading this cake, Raymond has been looking forward to it ever since he got the cookbook.  And his high expectations were satisfied:  he describes it as "just a marvelous cake that everyone should  have in their repertoire," with a "complex but not overly sweet taste" that could easily serve as a fancy dessert or a homey tea cake.  Raymond also gave a free tip about making assembly easier by keeping the cake frozen--a hint that several people adopted.

It's nice that we take care of each other.  And for everyone fretting about the amount of BPS (butter per serving), see you in Utah!

Next time:  it's another cookie recipe.  (I can't help it if the cookie section is bigger than the pies, cakes or breads).  I hope the Lemon Jammies will break Monica's streak of bad luck with cookies, and I look forward to seeing how people will fill this simple lemon cookie.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Polish Princess

I'm very proud of myself for making this cake.  I think that baking through Rose's cookbooks has made me a fairly good baker, but I'm pretty  much at the bottom of the barrel when I have to decorate or make something that looks beautiful.  But I really like the way this looks.  True, I did nothing more than follow directions, so I guess I have to give Rose credit for figuring out how to make the layers turn out so pretty, but when I read this recipe, I envisioned a number of steps that could have disastrous results, so I want to give myself some credit too.  Thank you.

Many months ago, when I made the Chocolate Cuddle Cake with Woody, I pulled out my 9-inch by 3-inch, never-used, cake pan with a removable bottom.  I asked Woody if I could use this instead of the springform pan.  He said no, that would never work.  When someone tells me "no," I usually revert to my two-year-old self, so I knew it was inevitable that I try it anyway.  It worked beautifully!

Unfortunately, just when I was feeling so pleased with myself for proving Woody wrong, I read the rest of the recipe again, and realized I was going to have to use the springform pan when I put on the layers of buttercream, so all I'd accomplished was to dirty two pans instead of just one.

The cake layer is quite simple to make, and it was fun to beat in the egg yolks one at a time.  What can I say?  I'm easily amused.

The tea-and-lemon syrup is easy too.  Sadly, no vodka in mine, even though a few months ago Jim bought a bottle of Kirkland vodka in a two-gallon size (it's gigantic!) because I thought JJ might have a piece of cake, and his mother won't let me give him alcohol.  She's not a free-range parent.

The cake seemed alarmingly soggy after I brushed the syrup on, and all I could do is hope that its resting period would take care of that.  It did.

Actually, the pastry cream was pretty easy too.  Cornstarch is mixed with milk.  Jim loves to take pictures of whisks in motion.

I love the soft yellow color the milk gets when egg yolks are added to milk.  There should be a Benjamin Moore color called Creme Anglaise.  

The pastry cream looked so smooth that I was tempted to skip the straining step, but the sieve was already set up, and it was pretty late in the day to start worrying about extra dishes, I went ahead.  Yes, there were little pieces of cooked egg that were left in the strainer, so I was glad I did.  Now a long period of letting the pastry cream cool, so I could prepare the nuts, cocoa, chocolate, and raisins.

I recently discovered the technique of toasting nuts in the microwave.  I've always felt guilty about heating up the oven just for nuts, and so I was excited to learn about this.  No heating up the kitchen, no burned bits.  It took me four one-minute intervals, stirring after each minute, for the nuts to look and smell roasted.  

There is no denying the amount of butter in the buttercream.  You can fool yourself into believing that the pastry cream is somewhat healthy (eggs and milk--like breakfast food), but these three big hunks of butter are hard to ignore.

Adding the pastry cream makes the butter look fluffier and less like giant slabs of fat.  I ended up beating this for a very long time before it started looking smooth.

The cocoa-walnut layer of buttercream went on easily.  I tasted the buttercream and thought it was delicious--like a crunchy chocolate mousse.  It could be dessert all by itself.  

Then the chocolate-raisin buttercream layer.  I thought about omitting the raisins because I thought there were already plenty of flavors.  But then Rose's Golden Rule #2 nagged at me, so I "made the recipe the way it is indicated."  I think my mind's palate was right, though.  They weren't bad, but every bite I had with a raisin in it seemed a little surprising, like "what's a raisin doing in this nice cake?"  And I don't even hate raisins.

My cake was not as photogenic once I cut into it because I didn't use a sharp enough knife for the first cut, and Jim didn't get a picture of the second cut, after I cleaned up all the crumbs and stray raisiny goop.  I think that was because he started to eat his slice, and he wias concentrating on that.  He said it was "good."  Then he said it was "very good."  He liked the cake itself and he liked all the different textures.  Definitely better than the C+ he gave the poor dattelkonfekt.  
I thought the cake would be dry (even though it looked soggy), but it wasn't.  It wasn't soggy either.  The black tea flavor was subtle against the bolder chocolate flavors, but still discernible and interesting.  Despite the 3/4 pound of butter, the buttercream--even with two layers--had a light texture and somehow even managed to taste light.  I'm taking the cake to book club tonight, and am curious to see what their verdict is.  If it's good, I'll make it again--but only for a crowd.  I can't have a cake this tempting hanging around my house asking to be eaten.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Midweek Roundup: Pretty Good for a Dattelkonfekt

Photo by Nancy Barber
Bread and Cake and More

Vicki's experience was typical of those who had nothing good to say about meringues and were making this because it was the assigned project of the week.  She said, "I would never willingly make meringue cookies."  But, she concluded, these are not really meringue cookies.  They're "like a chewy confection, reminiscent of Italian nougat candy, only much lighter."   And a few drops of orange oil "really upped the flavor."

Mendy's experience was similar.  He said, "These did not seem so great at first.  They are rather chewy and bland at first bite.  However, they have a very nice aftertaste and I now have a bit of an addiction."

Likewise, Jen.  She called the dattelkonfekt "a surprisingly addictive cookie."  "They don't seem like much; in fact upon first sampling I gave them a resounding "eh."  But they sneak up on you, and suddenly you discover you've easily eaten about six....  Now I love them, and the only thing I regret is that there isn't any chocolate in them."

And Kristina:  "I honestly wasn't expecting much ....  I thought I might enjoy the almond/meringue part, and tolerate the dates, which I hated, growing up....   [but] didn't think anyone else would like them... "  After watching the Roller Derby with some friends, ....  I offered these cookies to our friends, and to my surprise, they were a big hit.  I really like them, too, which means they can't stay at home."

These were not surprise winners for everyone.  Some people expected them to be winners, and were not disappointed.  For Orin, dattelkonfekt are a "must" for every Passover, although her traditional recipe has peanuts rather than almonds.  She likes them because of their chewiness, which "comes from both the dates and the meringue to create a just-right hard texture followed by a mouthful of flavors....   We named them the 'can't stop eating them' cookies."

Likewise, Kim "loved these cookies.  They are my kind of cookie through and through.  The crispy meringue offset by the chewy date is a texture to really groove on."  Kim used edible nougat paper instead of back oblaten, which was a helpful nugget of information for those who make these cookies for Passover.  (Mendy noted that he did not use the oblaten because that would be chametz, resulting in Chametz Oblaten Dattelkonfekkt).

And Katya said, "Dattelkonfekt has many of the ingredients I love--meringue, sturdy sweetness, simplicity--and although I'm not usually given to the sticky sweetness of dates, I do eat more of them around Passover, especially when I'm feeling Sephardic,  So, in a way, this cookie links my Jewish identities.  It's a perfect Passover treat, in that it's both flourless and kind of tastes like charoset, at least the date/orange kind I've been making in recent years."   Although most people stuck pretty closely to this recipe, Katya used walnuts instead of almonds, and filled in with brown sugar when she ran out of white sugar.

Even some of the people who didn't particularly like the meringues found that others loved them.
Nancy, for example, said that "This is not my sort of cookie, though with the almonds it's a great improvement over a pure meringue that's (to me) nothing but sugar,"  But she noted that, "For those who liked cookies in the meringue class, this one went over well--several people too one then came back to ask for more--always a good sign."

Although some people loved the texture (Raymond described them as "light with crispy edges and a wonderful chewy center"), others were frustrated by their cookies' flatness.  Catherine, for example, described herself as a "reasonably competent" meringue maker, but found that these meringues deflated and got very soft shortly after she made them.  She thought she would end up breaking them up and mixing them with ice cream, maybe with chocolate sauce.  (Talk about making lemonade when life hands you lemons).

Faithy also had deflation problems.  Although hers came out of the oven looking "quite puffy," they flattened out while they were cooking.  She suspects that "flourless anything has the tendency to absorb moisture in the air like a magnet."  Consequently, she rated the cookies as only "so-so."

Michele was looking forward to the crisp meringue crust and chewy center that others had described.  Instead, she got a very flat cookie.  Although it was "not what she was expecting," it was "tasty," and she would make them again if she could figure out how to get them "puffy and crispy."

There was, not too surprisingly, a difference of opinion about whether these cookies were too sweet.
 Orin says, "Despite the amount of sugar ..., you will be surprised that it's just right."  Jen says the nuts "offset the sweetness of the meringue" in this "surprise winner."  

But Milagritos found them "fragrant, delicate, and so very sweet."  Although she reduced the sugar  by half, she still found them much too sweet,  She loved the "most enticing and subtle scent" of the cookies, but her "teeth hurt at the mere mention" of them.  Next time, she would use no sugar at all.

Raymond has always found meringues "sickeningly sweet," but found these light cookies perfect for tea and not too sweet at all.  

And, of course, we all had a little fun with the multi-syllable name.  Vicki said the cookies are "easier to make than to pronounce."  Catherine titled her blog post, "Excuse me, is that your dattelkonfekt?"
Michele said the name "reads like something from IKEA," and Faithy complained that she "couldn't even pronounce" the name, although it sounded "intimidating."

Everyone appreciated the ease of making these cookies.  Although they're not in the Quick and Easy section, they are just that.  Raymond found them so easy he "couldn't believe he was making cookies."

Next up is the Polish Princess.  As Monica has already warned you, this cake should be made a day before assembling, and should be assembled at least 8 hours before serving.  It sounds like without careful advance planning, you could end up with a cake ready to be served at 3 a.m.  Good luck, everyone!

Sunday, April 12, 2015


Little date confections, or date nut meringues, or dattelkonfekt--whatever you want to call them, that's what these are.  Or at least they're an approximation thereof, since I'm not sure what they're supposed to taste like and they don't look quite like the pictures on the book.  I liked these better than I thought I would.  For some reason, the natural sweetness of the dates offsets the sugary sweetness of the meringue, and the textures are intriguing.  But I'm still not 100% sold on meringues, although they have the advantage of being remarkably easy to make.  A cookie without flour and butter is just not my kind of cookie.

But it's one of Rose's shortest recipes.  Amass a lot of almonds and dates (nuts and dates don't come cheap, especially good Medjool dates).  Then process them (separately, then together) until "the dates are evenly dispersed and separate."

The egg whites are beaten at medium-low speed.

Sugar is added.

Then the egg whites are beaten another five minutes, until the meringue is "very glossy but will not hold a peak."  Because I'm a meringue novice, I'm not entirely sure that this is the right stage, but it was glossy and it didn't hold a peak, so it must have been close.  I have a feeling that that "close enough for meringue" is not the same standard as "close enough for government work," however.

Finally, the dates, nuts, and meringue are all mixed together until it looks kind of gloppy.  "Gloppy" isn't a word found in the recipe.

Although some of the piped cookies have peculiar shapes, I want to point out that I actually did use a piping bag, much to Jim's surprise.  It didn't surprise him so much that I used it, but that I didn't grumble about using it.  It's the Zen of Baking again.

Are these what they're supposed to look like?  I don't know.  It's what mine looked like.  In order to get four dozen cookies, I had to make them pretty small.  If I'd made them all a bigger and what seems to me a more appropriate size, I think I'd only have gotten about three dozen.  The smallest ones are two-bite cookies (three bites if you're being dainty).  Some of them were chewier than others; some were crisper than others; some were fluffier than others.  I think they're probably too brown, although I took them out after 12 minutes for the first batch, and then after 10.  These are not ready for prime time meringues.

Jim tasted them and said they were "pretty good."  I know Jim's Minnesota vocabulary, and that is not high praise.  He said he'd give them 3.5 out of 5.  Or, he added helpfully, 7 out of 10.  "That's a C," I said.  "Yeah, that's about right.  Maybe a C+."  Then JJ took a bite.  And another.  And another.  "Well, at least the boy likes them," I thought.  After he took 3 bites, he apparently decided he was no longer giving them the benefit of the doubt, and he spit the whole chewed-up mess out.  On the beige rug.  Finally, I ate one.  I would give it a solid B.  I love the dates and almonds, and if this were a date and almond drop cookie with brown sugar, I think I'd be crazy about it, but it's not.

However, did I mention that they were easy?  And have you looked at the picture of the Meringue Birch Twigs?  I sense disaster when I look at the picture of the Meringue Birch Twigs.  But, as Scarlett O'Hara said, "I'll think about that tomorrow."  Or maybe next year.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Midweek Roundup: Strawberry (Shortcake) Fields Forever

Photo by Raymond Zitella
Your Just Desserts

Wouldn't it be nice to have fields of strawberry shortcake?  I think everyone fell in love with this beautiful, fresh-tasting, moving-into-spring cake.  Even though participation was sparse this week (12--counting me--our lowest number so far), but I'm pretty sure that some people who passed this one up will want to schedule it into their Catch-up Week slot, especially when you see all the beautiful photos!

The pink-tinted whipped cream was capable of covering a multitude of sins, even though there were not a lot of photogenic sins.  Milagritos wasn't happy with the appearance of the side of her cake, even though it was the first genoise she's ever made that she was pleased with, so she frosted the sides with whipped cream.  You'd never know it was a fallback measure.  I think Milagritos was the only person who went whole hog and made the rhubarb compote, resulting in a beautiful mix of pinks and reds.

 Like Milagritos, Vicki baked a lovely genoise, something that's "always half the battle" for her.  And her cake also looks beautiful and tasted good, even though she "just now discovered the smashed strawberries that were supposed to be turned into puree sitting in the refrigerator," proving once again that Rose's recipes are built to withstand user error.

It was fun to read the reviews some of our non-American friends, two of whom noted that strawberry shortcake is anything but ubiquitous in their part of the world.  Catherine said that it's "virtually unknown" in Australia, except for the girls, now women, who collected cute/ugly Strawberry Shortcake dolls.  (Catherine was more of a Holly Hobby girl herself).  She thought the strawberry shortcake was "so, so delicious," "way too delicious and light, really," making it "easy to overindulge."

Likewise, Nicola had thought that strawberry shortcake, like marshmallow fluff, "was an American thing."  But now it's her thing too.  Between five adults at her house, "almost the entire cake was consumed."  It was served "with a variety of whiskeys," and "the consumption of cake was very linear to the consumption of the whisky."  "Make do and mend" was Nicola's motto, as she pushed aside the empty wine bottles and brought out the whiskey.

On the other hand, Faithy, from Singapore, is on familiar and very good terms with strawberry shortcake, "whether it is the Japanese version, the English version ... or Rose's version.  I love them all!"  Faithy described the shortcake as nearly "quick and easy," needing just a 12-hour rest.  I must point out to you, however, that while her cake was resting, she did not just putter around the kitchen for a while, she made a sour cherry pie, 2 cran-raspberry upside-down cakes and two trays of dinner rolls.  The only thing restiing in the Pegs household was the shortcake.

This was an all-purpose holiday cake for Orin, who used it to celebrate both Passover and Easter.  Because it was a Passover cake, she used gluten-free flour with good results.  "The cake was super airy, moist and soft, almost like taking a big bite of cotton candy minus the horrible sweetness."  Because it was an Easter cake, she decorated it with a bunny that she made with a bunny cookie cutter and the thin layer of cake that was cut out to hold the berries.  Like everyone else, she loved the whipped cream, which she sweetened with more strawberry puree instead of jam.  "I really wanted more of that!"

Anna too thought the whipped cream was "simply delicious."  She rated the cake as "light and delicate," although a little dry, but her tasters "absolutely loved" the cake.  She used fresh, rather than frozen, strawberries for the puree.

Joan devised her own unique way of presenting the cake, making a light-colored syrup made of apricots and Amaretti and delicately painted the fruit on her shortcake pan, delineating the shape of the fruits from the puree.  Then, when she put the strawberries on, she cut slivers of berries and placed them between the fruits.  If you're having trouble visualizing this, be sure to take a look.  Unlike mine, her fruits look nothing like cysts!

Kim posed an interesting question:  do we smell strawberries before we taste them?  She recalled a conversation with a parfumier, who told her that the taste of strawberries begins in the nose, but Kim decided the taste originated "dans my bouche."  Although she prefers the traditional Southern biscuit shortcake, she thought this "intensely strawberry" shortcake was just fine.

Both Raymond and Tony wrote what were essentially odes to beurre noisette.  I think these two men were separated at birth, so taken were they both with brown butter, not to mention the now-historic Duncan Hines Tiara pan.

Raymond said, "All I have to see in a recipe is beurre noisette and vanilla and all my will power goes out the window and I have to dive in and make the recipe.  There is just something about that combination that I find totally irresistible."  Besides being flavored with nutty brown butter and vanilla, Raymond described the dessert as a "pink cloud of heaven."

To Tony, it was a "wonderful dessert," and he was tickled to be able to be able to use the Tiara pan that Raymond told him about.  His tutorial photos include a picture of perfectly browned butter, shown against a white spatula, that is going to be my guide from now on.  Although Tony often makes some significant changes in the recipes (Tony, I'm never going to forget the horseradish!), and although he announced that he'd made some changes, the only change I saw was that he used
Drillaud orange liqueur instead of the recommended Grand Marnier.

Great job, everyone!

I have a feeling that reaction will be more mixed to next week's Dattelkonfekt, which sounds like something you say after someone sneezes.  I know that those of you who are pastry bag superstars will make some beautiful cookies, even if you can't locate the optional Oblaten bases, while those of us who are less gifted will probably make shapes that should be covered with strawberry whipped cream.

Good luck to us all.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Strawberry Shortcake Genoise

Well, first of all, June 14 is Strawberry Shortcake Day.  I learned this when I looked up "strawberry shortcake" on Wikipedia, I learned that really, you shouldn't call it a shortcake if it's a genoise--only if it's a sweetened biscuit.  I also learned that strawberry shortcake is a favorite Christmas dessert in Japan.  But I'm really bummed that I didn't know about Strawberry Shortcake Day, although if I'd known I might have felt obligated to tell you all that this genoise is not really a shortcake.  So maybe it's just as well.

I think strawberries are one of the least successful fruits to freeze.  The cranberries were wonderful, but the strawberries lost something in translation.  It may have something to do with the water content of the various fruits.  Or it may not.  I really know nothing about food science.

I don't remember purchasing this pan.  I think Woody may have given it to me when he moved to New Jersey.  Thanks, Woody!

I'm never quite sure that I'm browning butter in the proper way, but I did strain out a lot of dark solids, so this may be correct.

It makes me feel very scientific to spoon out some of the fluffy cake batter and mix it in with the browned butter.  I'm curious about what would happen if I just mixed the butter in with the batter without this first mini-step, but not curious enough to try it because, although I know nothing about food science, I assume that Rose does.

I'm including this picture to humor Jim because he gets very excited when he gets action shots.

The suspense that happens when you turn a pan upside down and then lift off the cake pan to see if the cake emerges intact rivals the best mystery novel.  I had to remind myself that if worst came to worst, I could got up the pieces and make sort of a strawberry shortcake tiramisu, which might not be a total catastrophe.  But it came out about as perfectly as I could hope for.

What was not perfect:  although I have syruped many a cake, and have always cooked the syrup (I think), for some unaccountable reason, I neglected to read the directions or to remember what I usually do in cases like this, and I didn't cook the sugared strawberry juices into a syrup.  I was bemoaning that fact, and Sarah and Jim were both trying to console me by telling me it looked pretty anyway, when I said, "It doesn't look pretty.  That pear thing looks like a cyst."  They both looked shocked.  I said, "the color of this sauce looks like gum tissue, and all those lumpy fruits look like unhealthy growths."  They got over their shock and got into the spirit:  "Oh, yeah, the grapes totally look like gallstones" and "This one looks like the person who has this is in serious trouble."

If you notice, those sweet pudgy hands, you may have figured out they aren't mine, but instead belong to my grandson, who ran into the kitchen and said, "Lulu, I want to help!"  So I knew right away that I was not going to get any beautiful shots of the finished project, but I can live with that.

This is where I ask JJ's opinion about whether there was enough strawberry jam in the whipped cream.  He said it was yummy.  That's good enough for me.

This is the most whipped cream JJ has ever seen in his life, and he really got into piling it on.

Once I turned it around, the side where he enthusiastically patted it down was barely visible.

The boy puts a lot of concentration into eating.  It doesn't appear that he cares much that what he's eating is not, technically, strawberry shortcake.

I think that I still prefer the sweetened biscuit shortcake that I grew up on, but this genoise cake was very tasty.  and the strawberry flavors were rich and varied.  The fact that my syrup wasn't really a syrup seemed to matter no more than the fact that this cake isn't really a shortcake.