Sunday, November 29, 2015

Pumpkin Pecan Pie

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

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

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

And, of course, pecans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 27, 2015

Midweek Roundup: "A Learning Experience"

Photo by Rachel
Cooking and Thinking

"How am I supposed to choose a picture when some people baked cookies and some people baked pies?" asked Jim in querulous tones.  (He doesn't like it when I veer from the path, especially when it's a long path and a sudden veer).  As you know, this Pumpkin Pecan Pie was the baking project for the week, but I changed it when I suddenly realized that I'd assigned it too early for it to be made for Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.  Fearful that the Alpha Bakers were going to feed their guests stale pie, I made a quick shift to the Spritz Cookies.  But some of you had either already made the pie or had plans to do so, some of you aren't from the U.S. and don't care what day you eat a pumpkin/pecan pie, and one of you made both.  So I told him to pick whatever picture he wanted and then pick the other one for next week.  So the Spritz Cookie Photo of the Week will come next week.  

See that gorgeous piece of pie at the top of the page?  Rachel doesn't give herself enough credit.  From hearing her talk, you'd think she created a disaster:  "I pulled [the mixture] off the heat before I ended up with sugary scrambled eggs."  "My dish is not so deep, alas."  "The injuries I inflicted on the pumpkin."  "Clearly, I am still ascending the learning curve."  But wouldn't you be happy to be served that piece of pie?  I know I would, and I wouldn't ask the baker about her position on the learning curve.  

Kristina had already made the Pumpkin Pecan Pie.  For one thing, being Canadian, she had already celebrated "real" (i.e. Canadian) Thanksgiving last month.  For another, her husband is American, so they celebrate American Thanksgiving too, but they can do it any old day, and they certainly weren't going to do it on Thursday, a ridiculous time for a holiday dinner, in Kristina's opinion.  (Why is it on Thursday, you ask?  Like so many questions, no one knows the answer, except that George Washington and Abraham Lincoln both thought it should be on Thursday, and if two out of the four Mount Rushmore presidents were Thursday Thanksgiving fans, apparently that's good enough for the rest of us.  Also, having a big secular holiday too close to a Sunday might have irritated the Puritans, who were known to be easily irritated.)  Anyway, the P-P Pie was one of two that Kristina baked for her bi-national dinner, and she summed it up by saying "the whole thing is about all things that are delicious."  You can't do better than that, no matter what day of the week it is.

Vicki made the pie too, even though she celebrates American Thanksgiving.  Not having a deep-dish pie pan, she improvised with a springform pan, which seems to have worked pretty well, although she says she's going to brave the Black Friday crowds in order to pick up a deep-dish pan because "this is a repeat recipe."  Actually, Vicki got one of the highest compliments a cook can get:  the person who says "I don't usually like [fill in the blank], but this is good.  In this case, it was her son, who wanted to know what the caramel layer was.  His reply:  "But this is so freaking good, and I don't like pecan pie."  "The miracle of Muscovado and Lyle's Golden Syrup," says Vicki.  

Orin, being a fairly recent transplant, is relatively new to Thanksgiving.  But it didn't take her long to figure out that there are pumpkin pie people and pecan pie people, and rarely do the twain meet.  To Orin's taste, they're both too sweet and too one-note.  Rose's Pumpkin Pecan Pie solved both problems, combining two "most-loved pies into one."  Now all she has to do is convince the recalcitrant that it's a great idea to have two desserts in one.  

I have asked myself whether this is a Pecan Pumpkin Pie or a Pumpkin Pecan Pie.  I couldn't figure out which was the dominant flavor.  When I looked at Kim's pictures, I decided that it must be the pumpkin layer because her pecan layer was pretty slim.  Then, honest woman that she is, she confessed that she forgot to add the cream to the pecan mixture, which probably also accounted for the spreadability problem she encountered.  I think the cream omission was a Freudian slip, though, because Kim also confessed that, although the pecan layer was good, she "adored the pumpkin filling by itself with its delightful, soft set, milky feel.  It brought back a lot of kid memories."

So far, Katya has blogged only about the P-P Pie, but from following her on Facebook, I know that she's been on a baking spree of mammoth proportions.  In fact, I was so concerned that I looked up "binge baking" in the DSM-5 to make sure it wasn't a recognized psychiatric disorder.  (It's not).  But she finally came up for air (or, more accurately, for butter), and managed to write about the pie, which she described as  "essentially two fillings baked on top of one another in the same crust, a classic pumpkin pie on top of a classic pecan pie.  Not entirely necessary, but why not?"  "The one co-worker who has tried it so far ate a piece very quickly and announced, "That was great!"  

Although I made the switch from pie to cookies for the sake of American bakers, the two bakers who actually made the change are from Singapore and Darwin.

Faithy made the Spritz Butter Cookies because she had a lot of glaceed cherries left over from all the fruitcakes she's baking.  (Faithy loved the fruitcakes from Rose's Heavenly Cakes and makes vast quantities of them every year).  Since I had a hard time piping these cookies myself, I confess that I'm a little (maybe a lot) envious of Faithy's perfectly shaped round cookies, topped with either a red or a green cherry.  She really liked "how it is not as sweet and the sweetness comes from the glaced cherries."

We can always count on Catherine to increase our vocabularies.  First, she describes her cookies as "pretty if a little splodgy."  I have never heard of the word "splodgy" before, but now I want to use it all the time.  Second, she calls her cookies "biccies."  I also want to use that word, but if I offer people a biccie (biccy?), they won't know what I'm talking about.  Third, instead of topping her cookies, I mean biccies, with cherries, she used something called Jelly Tots.  In other words, she made splodgy biccies with jelly tots.  Do we really speak the same language?  Oh, about the cookies:  "the flavour is very nice, with a distinct almond taste, and the texture is soft with a slight crunch."  Nice!

For next week--well, your guess is as good as mine.  Technically, it's the pie, but it'll probably be another mix of pie and cookies.  The week after that is another pie--Posh Pie.  For a nanosecond, I toyed with the idea of making another switch so we wouldn't have two pies in a row, but I quickly came to my senses.  No more messing with the schedule!  And besides, Posh Pie is chocolate.  


Monday, November 23, 2015

Spritz Butter Cookies

I don't think a Christmas has ever gone by without my eating some spritz cookies somewhere.  They're possibly the most ubiquitous Christmas cookie, at least in this part of the world.  They're good, but maybe just a wee bit boring.  Rose's version is not boring.  I used very good high fat butter,
(Land  O'Lakes premium European style unsalted butter); Rose added cornstarch to the flour for additional tenderness, and the combination of vanilla and almond flavorings is terrific.  Oooh, they're lethal, though--so delicious and so tiny, it's very easy to convince yourself to have one every time you pass through the kitchen).

SO easy to make--just a few ingredients, all of them in the food processor, and the batter is mixed up in less than a minute.  (I didn't time it, but it couldn't have been much longer).  And, of course, you have to toast the almonds first.

I guess I totally ignored the instruction to buy blanched almonds.  I like sliced almonds with the skins still on better than blanched almonds anyway, so it could have been a conscious decision, instead of what it was:  a mistake that I was happy about.

So happy was I that I thought, well, why don't I try using my pastry bag?  Some of you have heard me whinge about pastry bags for years.  Even if you haven't heard me before, you couldn't be surprised to know that I don't like things that are just designed to make your life more difficult.  Like some of the rest of you, I've started watch the Great British Bake Off, and one cannot help but be impressed by the home bakers' skills.  And they always make their projects so dang cute!  Often with the help of pastry bags, which they make look stodgily simple.  I bet I got the word "stodgy" from those adorable Brits.

I decided that I would use just one kind of tip.  Why aren't they labeled?  How can I tell from looking at the tip which one is going to come out looking like a rose?  And then I'd just use sparkling sugars and dragées.  (When I was a kid, we were always warned not to eat dragées, because they were not meant for human consumption.  Of course I did, and here I am to tell the story.

The dough mixed up very nicely and is ready to stuff into the pastry bag.  I wonder if any of you are thinking, "Oh, I hope she doesn't try to put all the dough in at one time, or she'll have the devil of a time squeezing out the first cookies."  That is very good advice, and I certainly wish I would have heard it.  Also, I picked a large tip, more or less at random, and didn't know how it was supposed to come out.

Okay, so this is not exactly a rose, but it could pass for a flower-like thing, and maybe even a shrub rose.  Sort of.  After a while, Jim asked if he could try.  "Oh, I suppose so," I sighed.  I was very happy, though.  I felt like Tom Sawyer letting the local boys whitewash Aunt Polly's fence.

I put on the colored sugar and the dragées, because somebody has to do the hard stuff.

Jim was very proud of this one.

They should, I believe, have just a hint of color.  The trays I did for 9 minutes (5 minutes, turn tray, 4 more minutes) were just about perfect.  The last tray, I inadvertently did 5 minutes, then 6 minutes.  As you can see, they're not burned, but some of them are over-browned.  Since they vary so much in brownness, I won't be able to put them on a cookie platter for guests, alas--we'll just have to eat them.  Of course, I could always make another batch or two, now that I know Jim is so handy with the pastry bag.  And we still have to find that elusive rose.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Midweek Roundup: "I Want to Make Another Tiny Batch"

Photo by Kristina
Eats N Drinks

The star of these little cookies was definitely the praline brittle.  Even though it disappeared into powder, which eventually disappeared into the cookies, the Alpha Bakers were quite taken with it.  Another advantage to the praline was that it required you to skin the hazelnuts, and skinning the hazelnuts is a "way to pass the time."  (Not that there aren't better ways to pass the time).  This small batch of cookies was the final installment of the prize that Kristina's friend Gilad won (The Treat-a-Month Prize).  Gilad got 30 cookies; Kristina and Jay got one, carefully divided between them.  Now you understand why she wants to make another batch.

I think that Kim will also make another batch, if only to satisfy herself that she actually did make the cookies in the correct way.  It was fascinating to me that Kim--our renowned cookie maven--doubted herself.  Were the hazelnuts not dried enough?  Didn't I let the caramel cool sufficiently?  Did I over-process the nuts?  Why aren't the cookies crunchier?  Not that she didn't like them--she did (a lot)--just that she wasn't sure they were up to Rose's standards.  (Those standards are admittedly high, but would we want it any other way?)

When I started reading Jenn's blog, I got very worried.  She said that hazelnuts are her least favorite nuts and she didn't think she would like these.  (Remember, Jenn is the same go-getter who made molasses cakes and cookies even though she doesn't like molasses--and didn't like the cakes and cookies either).  But these hazelnut cookies?  "Sooo good!"  They taste like "yummy butter crunchy sweet stuff."  You can't do much better than that.  And she loved learning the technique about removing the skins and then roasting the nuts.  All in all, so happy that she had to find takers for some of her cookies so she didn't eat them all herself.

I guess I can't speak for everyone, but Catherine certainly made me feel jealous with her talk of finding blanched hazelnuts.  No boiling!  No suspicious-looking dark red water!  No tedious peeling!  And, although Catherine doesn't really care for baking biscuits, unless they're a part of Christmas, she does enjoy eating them, and she thought these were quite good.  In fact, she might even make them as Christmas biscuits, carefully dipped in chocolate, of course.

Faithy also could only find skinned hazelnuts.  Who is the person whose job it is to determine what people can have hazelnuts with skins and what people can have only naked ones.  And why did they decide that people who live in Darwin and in Singapore can't handle the sight of skins?  Just one of life's little mysteries, but I'd like to know how you get on that list.  If you get so lucky, these may be one of the easiest cookies ever.  You still have to make the caramel, but it's such a small amount it cooks very quickly.  Then, as Faithy says, work fast because the dough is soft.  And what do you get? A "really crispy" cookie with "caramelized hazelnut flavor."  They might be "even better if coated with melted chocolate."

Katya liked the praline (walnut praline in her case) so much that she used all of it in her cookie dough.  No fool she, it didn't take long for her to realize that something was terribly amiss.  It may have had something to do with the pool of butter leaking from the wet cookie dough.  She knew that walnuts were a bit oilier than hazelnuts, but still!  She then doubled the dry ingredients, but thought that her cookies were probably a little crumblier than they were supposed to be.  If your result is a lacy, crusty cookie, though, there may not be much to complain of.  Look for crumbs from leftover cookies to make their appearance in future bakes.

Vicki used a technique for skinning the hazelnuts that sounds promising:  after boiling them, "pop them in a plastic box with a lid and shake the dickens out of them."  I haven't compared that with not shaking the dickens out of the nuts, but it can't hurt to show them who's boss.  Vicki enjoyed these cookies with a cup of coffee, reminiscing about how her recently departed mother-in-law had introduced her to the joys of java.

Although they actually turned out quite well, the cookies were almost an afterthought for Rachel, who was struggling with a new computer that had no interest in going online.  Maybe she should have tried Vicki's technique of putting it in a box and shaking the dickens out of it.  If it works for hazelnuts, why not for computers?  There may be some faulty logic in that sentence, but it escapes me.  At any rate, despite her computer, which apparently did learn to go online, and with the help of her new individual parchment sheets, she turned out some A-1 cookies.

No one liked the praline more than Patricia, who made a batch with every intention of using it to bake cookies.  But just a taste here, a little nibble there, and soon the hazelnut praline had disappeared.  "No cookie, no matter how tasty, could taste as good as that."

Next week:  American Thanksgiving calls for pumpkin pie and pecan pie, but now you can have them both in one:  Rose's Pumpkin Pecan Pie.  I'll be thankful if no guests say, "What?  You ruined my pumpkin pie with pecans!"  Or vice-versa.  And I hope that all of you find many things to be thankful for, even if you're not celebrating an official day of thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Hazelnut Praline Cookies

These are lovely, delicate little cookies just as they are, but the easy addition of Nutella, either dipped right in the jar, or spread as icing, makes them even better.  And no wonder.  As I was browsing in the cookbook, I noticed that this cookie dough is actually the crust from Chocolate Hazelnut Mousse Tart, so why wouldn't they go well with a chocolate hazelnut spread?

The first step is to make some hazelnut praline.  This is not difficult, but it is time-consuming because first you have to take the skin off the hazelnuts.

It seems like a very small pile of hazelnuts until you start skinning each one individually.  The skins come off fairly easily, but the unskinned hazelnut pile seems to grow larger by the minute.  Jim offered to help me skin them.  At first I said it was OK, I could do it.  After I did a few, though, I pressed him into service.

Once they're all skinned, the pile looks small again.  Amazing what these optical illusions can do.  You can see that there are small bits of skin clinging stubbornly to the nuts.  If I were Rose or Woody, I'd have used a paring knife or my fingernail to get those pesky pieces, but I'm not and I didn't.

Oh, but don't think you're done just because you now have a bunch of naked hazelnuts.  You still have to make a small amount of caramel.  That 350-degree reading is actually on its way up to 368, which is when I took the pan from the heat.

By far the most fun in this project was pouring the lovely brown, thick caramel over the nuts and watching the caramel harden before your eyes.

Just a swirl in the food processor, and you have your Hazelnut Praline Powder.  Rose kindly gives you the option of using hazelnut praline paste, along with canola oil, instead of the homemade powder.  Whether you buy the paste or make the powder, it's very easy to make the cookie dough once you've got the hazelnut base.  Because the recipe for the powder makes about twice as much as you need for a batch of cookies, it's logical to double the recipe.

All the usual cookie ingredients simply get processed in a - what else? - food processor.

The dough is so soft that even if you have somehow missed the instruction to refrigerate it for at least an hour, you'll figure out on your own that you'd better do that.

And hey presto!  You have 30 petite and crispy cookies.  They definitely taste like hazelnuts, although I couldn't taste the caramel as much as I'd hoped.

I baked my first batch for a total of 12 minutes, and the edges got a little dark, although not burned. The second batch was in for 10 minutes total, so if your oven tends to run hot, watch these little guys very carefully.

If you have some leftover chocolate ganache, that would also be very nice, but I'm not sure that anything could beat a simple dunk in a jar of Nutella.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Midweek Roundup: "Looks Like it Comes From a Fancy Bakery"

Photo by Jenn
Knitty Baker

Even if you had some problems with this recipe, and many of us did have problems of one kind or another, I think we all agreed that this is just a stunning loaf of bread.  

As Jenn said, "you can hardly believe that you baked it yourself."  And that professional-looking result happens even when you miss just three little words in a fairly long recipe.  But when those words are "double the recipe," it does leave you at a certain disadvantage.  Fortunately,  Jenn is well known for her recipe-dividing abilities and, equally fortunately, she owns an 8 1/2-inch spring form pan.  In fact, if she weren't so honest, she could easily have convinced everyone that she did it on purpose.  

Katya too "flubbed" the part of the recipe that says you should double it.  See, we just don't expect that from Rose, do we?  And anyway, ignoring that part of the recipe allowed Katya to refer to it as a "little masterpiece," whereas if she'd doubled it, she might have had to call it a gargantuan one.  It just doesn't have the same ring.  In fact, it turned out so well that "[she's] sure [she's] do a downfall."

Tsk tsk.  Do we have a group of non-readers?  It seems that Tony was also in the "we were supposed to double the brioche?" camp.  It's funny, because Tony reads the recipe SO carefully; in fact, his post contains a  paeon to Rose's recipe, whose careful explanations have taught him everything he learned in culinary school.  Anyway, doubled or not, his bread looks wonderful, and only a hint of mace keeps it from being a completely faithful rendition.

Vicki also praised Rose to the skies:  "Once again you have proved that it doesn't take flawless baking skills to turn out superb bread."  Actually, Vicki has no idea if she messed up the recipe or not, since she "lost track" of how many eggs she had added.  She was pretty sure it was too many, but it might have been the right amount, and there was always the outside chance it was too few.  She stayed up late watching The Great British Bakeoff, don't you know.  Be that as it may, "the flavor of this bread is incredible, the texture light and fluffy.  No wonder people mistake it for cake."

Orin didn't forget to double the recipe, but she forget that she didn't have a 10" aluminum pan until she started searching for it.  Then she realized she'd have to settle for a dark nonstick pan which she's never liked, because it tends to burn whatever is in it.  We never learn, right?  After the bread was (theoretically) halfway done, she thought it looked done, but didn't have the courage to take it out.  On it baked for another hour, or at least until the time that the smells from the kitchen turned from enticing to carbonized.  So she decided to rescue what she could and make bread pudding from that.  Definitely making lemonade when life gives you lemons.

As if to make up for all the people who inadvertently halved this recipe, Kristina doubled it.  That is, she quadrupled the brioche recipe and doubled the  Sugar Rose Brioche.  This made a lot of bread, which Kristina had no problem at all getting rid of.  She had her misgivings, you see, since she used her oven proof setting (which, as I know, sometimes leads to rather vigorous proofing).  Referring to her bread as "The Blob" and as "monstrosities" may give you some idea that she didn't turn out dainty little poofs of bread.  She took one to a party, and mentioned that the second one would likely show up at the office on Monday.  "No it won't," said her husband.  And I guess that's also a tribute to Rose, in its own laconic way.

I think that Jen surprised herself by realizing that brioche, a very lah-di-dah seeming bread, can actually "fit into a busy life."  You can pretty much run the bread's life instead of having it run yours.  It's up to you to decide when it's time for the brioche to come out of the refrigerator.  And what do you get for having such an amenable bread dough?  You get a "beautiful looking loaf of bread, and as it is a brioche, it is really delicious too.  It also looks really complicated, but it is not.  My kind of project."

It was Kim's kind of project too.  She said she's been "looking forward to this recipe ever since [she] cracked open the book."  You can tell how this story's going to turn out, can't you?  High expectations seem to lead to disappointments.  Kim does a terrific tutorial, and the bread looks so beautiful that you can't see how it could be a disappointment, but the bread turned out to be too dry for Kim.  She said she was expecting that it would taste like the Kouign Amann, and it definitely didn't.  Kim didn't know what the problem was, but she made French toast with the leftover bread the next morning.  No disappointment there.  It was "fantastic."

No more breads until next month, when we'll do the Cranberry Christmas Bread, but we do have some pies and cookies coming up.  Next week, it's the Hazelnut Praline Cookie, which Kristina has already made, as have I.  It's easy-peasy, except for making the hazelnut praline, which isn't really hard, but removing the @#%%$ skins off the hazelnuts is kind of a pain.  Just take a deep breath, follow Rose's instructions, and all will be well.  (Also, if you can rope someone into helping you, that's nice too).

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Sugar Rose Brioche

Who doesn't love brioche?  Who doesn't love cinnamon and sugar?  Who doesn't love a fancy braided loaf of bread?  Unless you're the peculiar person who doesn't like any of the above, you're definitely going to love this bread.  And it's a good thing, too, because it makes one huge loaf, which is just as well, because if you're going to spend a few hours trying to get this buttery, sticky dough to do what you want it to do, you might as well have something to show for it.

We've made brioche dough plenty of times before, but this is the first time we've doubled the recipe. This means that you get to mix in two sticks of butter instead of just one.

This is the burning question with brioche dough:  how much flour to use when you're working with the dough?  If you don't use enough, you're going to be in big trouble because the dough will stick to your hands, the countertop, and anything else it touches.  It's like a horror movie:  The Brioche Blob.  If you use too much, you'll sacrifice some of the airy, light texture.

It's surprisingly easy to roll it out into a very large circle.  (Jim was afraid I'd run out of counter space before I got the requisite 20-22-inch diameter).

I include this photo just to prove that I really did strain the egg.  I'll admit that when I first read this instruction, I thought, "I am not going to strain an egg.  That's just one step too many."  I may have sounded less delicate than this, but I can't say for sure.  Then I read the warning about using the least amount of egg glue possible, to avoid making the dough any harder to work with than necessary.  I figured that straining it might save me from myself, and it did.  I ended up using all the egg I'd strained and wishing I had more.  Sure enough, though, the egg ended up liquifying the cinnamon-sugar mixture.  If I'd used more, it would have been awful.

I used a bench scraper instead of a ruler.  It worked fine.  It worked as well as a ruler would have, anyway, which is not necessarily "fine."  The dough stubbornly stuck to the countertop, and the bench scraper and I had to together first tried to coddle it and then finally just gave it firm orders to cooperate.  Actually, neither technique worked that well, but we finally got it rolled up.

You can see that, even rolled up into a cylinder, the dough still wants to cling to the counter.

At this point, you attack the cylinder of dough with a sharp chef's knife.  Really?  How bizarre, I thought.  But then I saw how cool it was going to look.  The recipe says it was originally a savory bread from the Caucasus.  I'm very curious to find out what ingredients a savory version would have. I'm also curious to find out how to spell the caucasus, which are not like caucuses.  (It looks like I did spell it right).  Little known fact:  Minnesota is one of the few states that gets its delegates through precinct caucuses instead of a binding primary.  Caucuses are very boring because they're pure democracy, which seems to encourage people who have obscure bones to pick to come and pick them in public.

Starting to braid the split cylinder.  I was very doubtful that this was going to work out.

But it did, more or less, although it was tricky to move the dough from the counter into the springform pan.  Luckily, I just bought a 10-inch springform pan last month to make Jim's birthday cake.  Luckily, it was nonstick, and I figured this bread would give it a chance to prove its mettle.

And so it did.

The only thing I didn't like was the big center of plain dough.  Jim said it was just the thing to contrast with the swirls.  He was just trying to get on my good side so I wouldn't give all the bread away.

The bread tastes as good as it looks--delicate, light and flavorful, with the added pizzazz of sugar and cinnamon.  I used four teaspoons of Vietnamese cinnamon, and thought it was just the right amount.  I go back and forth between greed (wishing I'd put cinnamon and sugar on top of the bread too, instead of just on the insides), and practicality (being glad I didn't, so loose sugar didn't spill everywhere as I was eating it).  In the end, I satisfied my greedy side by simply taking another slice of bread.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Midweek Roundup: "The Best Cake So Far"

Photo by Kim
The Finer Cookie

When I got a glimpse of Kim's first picture, I asked myself how she had managed to get those triangular pieces.  Fortunately, she tells all, explaining how she had seen the pyramid-shaped pans on Martha Stewart's online store and just had to have them, but never used them because nothing seemed right and she was apprehensive that they wouldn't release.  I think we can all relate to that story.  Fortunately, it has a happy (and delicious) ending.  If you haven't looked at Kim's blog yet, please do--she begins with a not-completely-joking prayer, asking that Rose be admitted to heaven, no questions asked, and recommending this cake for the next heavenly soiree.

Aimee had milder aspirations than heaven.  She was just thinking how much this cake would have been appreciated by the Portokalos family in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, even though it does have a hole in it.  Aimee thought she had messed up the layering because she ended with a very scant layer of chocolate, but, when she cut into the cake, the layering was beautiful!  Now that she has the hang of it, she thought she'd make the next version in mini-bundt pans.  Good idea!

Mendy must have been an engineer in another life.  His cake was dreamily soft in texture, but it kind of fell apart when he took it out of the pan.  But he reconstructed it so carefully that you'd never know that large pieces of it remained in the cake pan.  And, of course, the "super duper" ganache covered of multitude of structural sins.  One of Mendy's daughters ("The Caboose") wants to be a baker when she grows up, and helped Mendy with his mise en place.  She has an excellent instructor!

Mendy was not the only one who needed the ganache to cover a little breakage.  Rachel's "poor cake suffered a grievous injury on the trip from pan to cooling rack.  No longer able to find baking spray with flour at her supermarket, she used plain baking spray and added her own flour.  In retrospect, "this might not have been the best idea."  But Rachel found that the glaze served to "hide the problem."  The "proof of the pudding (or the cake) is in the eating," and good eating it was. As Rachel's daughter said, returning to the table for a second piece of cake, "I was going to think about whether or not to have another piece, but who am I kidding?"  Nobody is fooled, but nobody is surprised either.

Do you know that if you take two pieces of marble pound cake and put them together on a plate, you end up with something that looks like a very voluptuous striped butt?  No?  Neither did I, and maybe neither did anyone else in the world, but now we do, thanks to Katya.  We also know, and this knowledge could come in handy some desperate day, that fun-size Hershey bars can serve as a substitute for dark chocolate.  By the by, I'm very glad that I went trick or treating back in the day, before "fun-size" candy bars.  Full-size candy bars are much more fun than the little bitty ones that are mislabeled as fun.

And speaking of (not) fun, I was a little afraid to read Catherine's blog, which was entitled "Baking Rage."  That didn't sound good.  Especially since she was talking about two different attempts, neither on of which left her feeling sanguine.  First, she used a cake pan that was too big.  Then she used a cake pan that was too small.  It sounds like there should be a third time, right?  A baby bear time, when the pan is just right.  But I think she must just have very high standards, because her photo of the marbling looked beautiful!  Or maybe she just likes cake batter (she pronounced the batter delicious!) better than the finished cake.

No rage from Kristina--just philosophical musings.  Such as why?  What is the purpose of marble cake?  "Why are marble cakes vanilla with a little bit of chocolate thrown in?  If you like chocolate, you probably prefer more chocolate ..., and if you don't like chocolate, you probably want none of that chocolate business interfering with the purity of your vanilla.  Then again, maybe you're one of those indecisive types...."  There are probably no answers to such questions, but the eating is good, although one of her tasters thought the cake would be improved by being soaked in brandy.  Why?

I was very glad to see that Jen got a chance to bake this cake again (she did it once during the Beta Baking tests), since it was her thrown-out-casually idea that got Rose thinking about the marble-in-reverse idea.  And also because she loves sour cream cakes.  This version is the first one she's done with a toddler, and she discovered, probably not for the first or last time, that Rose's precise instructions don't always mesh with a toddler's way of doing things.  Nevertheless, the result was still "dense, rich, melt-in-your mouth cakey goodness."

Faithy also made this cake during Beta testing, and has made it for other occasions since, so, although she loves the cake, thought it was time to do something more interesting with it.  She found the Pink Pearl Lady Cake, a cake that Rose made with her good friend, Lisa Yockelson, in mind and decided it would be a good match for the marble pound cake.  Patience, people--we'll get to the Pink Pearl Cake eventually.  Faithy combined the two cakes to make a a 5- to 7-layer cake (depending on how you count the layers) that is unlike anything in TBB but beautiful, imaginative, and quintessentially Faithy!

Vicki also fancied it up a bit.  She's taking a baking class, which apparently required her to use a mocha buttercream for her final project, so she simply added a layer of buttercream filling.  With or without the buttercream, it's a "lovely cake to have in our repertoire."

Next week:  The Sugar Rose Brioche.  We've made brioche several times now, so nothing in this recipe should surprise you, although the shaping method is not exactly intuitive.  I made mine several weeks ago, and it is long gone, even though Jim asked me very nicely not to give any away.  I did, though, so eventually I guess I'll have to make another loaf.  I look forward to seeing the lovely braids that you all make!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Marble in Reverse

This is one of my two go-to cakes from The Baking Bible:  a cake that I know people will like and one that's relatively easy to put together (although the layering and trenching prevents it from being on the Q&E list).  This cake didn't rise as high as on past occasions, and I'm guessing that it really does make a difference when the eggs aren't brought to room temperature first.  It was still good, though, and all 12 dessert plates were scraped clean.

I believe that you can find the genesis of this cake in a Heavenly Bakers blog post by our own Evil Cake Lady, in which she off-handedly mentions that maybe next time she makes a marble cake, she'll do two-thirds chocolate and one-third vanilla, and Rose excitedly comments that she's never heard of a reverse marble cake, but what a great idea!  And so a star is born.

This is my favorite bundt cake pan to use for the marble cake.

And these are the eggs that I forgot to take out of the refrigerator.  I warmed them for a few minutes in a bowl of water, but probably not long enough to bring them to room temperature.  I would never have thought that the temperature of eggs would make a difference in the outcome of a cake, but Rose says it can.

The basic batter is so smooth and lovely that you almost hate to add chocolate to it.

Almost, but not quite.

Notice that the cake pan is sitting on top of the scale, so I can easily add the right number of grams for each layer.  I love these moments of exactitude.  They make me feel I'm in charge.

And here's a picture of the trench that you make in the chocolate batter, into which you put the vanilla batter.

And so forth and so on until you run out of batter.

And then it's just a 45-minute bake.

Instead of pouring the glaze over the cake, I increased the recipe by 1 1/2 times and passed it separately, so everyone could ladle on just the right amount of delicious liquid chocolate.  Even though I made extra glaze, there was none left, so apparently I had a houseful of chocolate fanatics.

This is the amount that Jim put on his own piece.  Unfortunately, you can't really see the cake, which is a pity because marble cake is so attractive.  On the other hand, there was no bite left unglazed, and that's a plus.

Actually, everything about this cake is a plus.  If you make it once, I can almost guarantee you that you'll make it again.  And again.