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Archive for the ‘baking’ Category

Whew, what a couple of weeks it has been. The last time I posted was around Eartha’s dental adventure, and she has recovered nicely. I would even venture to say that she has become a little more tolerable in general after her extractions. Maybe those teeth were really bothering her and that is why she was always so surly. Though, who am I kidding? She’s still Eartha.

First, I’ll post pictures of that birthday cake I thoughtlessly bragged about and then never showed you:

I decided to use the William Sonoma specialty pans Mom gave me for Christmas. I’ve used them a couple times since I got them and it was sort of a trial and error process.

The first time I tried to use them, I followed the directions religiously and used the recipe that came with the pan, which called for lots of expensive ingredients like chocolate and whatnot. I don’t know what I did wrong… maybe I didn’t grease the pans well enough, and in retrospect I don’t think I had gotten my little oven thermometer yet so I wasn’t aware that my oven was not preheating as fast as I thought it was, and the cakes were probably a little underdone. Anyway, regardless of that, the recipe was definitely more of a brownie recipe than a cake recipe and it didn’t want to come out of the pans- so I was forced to turn the mess into cake balls. I had already made the buttercream frosting too, so I just mixed it all together and put it in the fridge to deal with later. There was definitely more frosting than I would have normally used for cake balls, and between the cakes and the frosting there was something ridiculous like four sticks of butter involved.

Well, when I took it out of the fridge the next morning to try and salvage it, it had cooled into a giant fudgy rock. I nearly gave myself blisters scooping out spoonfuls. It resulted in what I dubbed ‘Brownie truffle balls’. I didn’t think it was possible to make something richer than a cake ball, but there you have it.

The second time I used my William Sonoma pans, I just used a cake mix. It was exactly the right amount of batter, and the cakes popped out of the pans perfectly. Go figure. I just put vanilla frosting in the middle and decorated the top with some chocolate frosting and cocoa powder.

This time when I used the pans, I decided to get a little creative. I still used a cake mix, but I covered each cake in chocolate ganache, and mixed the frosting with crushed Oreo cookies. I probably could have used less Oreos, as it made the filling super thick, but no one seemed to mind. Then I just piped plain frosting around the edges to really make it look like an Oreo cookie and personalized the top.

Okay, I feel better now that I have documented the cake. The reason why I haven’t posted in a while is because I have been smack in the middle of production week for the my school’s Drama Club production, which I have the overwhelming task of directing. Overwhelming, you say? But I thought you teach fourth and fifth graders? It must be so cute. Ha ha ha. Our spring musical has evolved into this behemoth with a cast of over ninety kids, and we rehearse for four months. So, it pretty much takes over my life, especially towards the end.

Last year, we did Annie Junior– so I wanted to choose a show with more parts for boys, which led me to choose Guys and Dolls Junior. I will leave out all of the gory details, but let me say that I now have a few more grey hairs and all have names which commemorate certain cast members. At the beginning of the week I wasn’t sure how we were going to pull it all together, but as such things always do, we ended up with a nice school performance yesterday. Two more shows this weekend and I can get on with my life.

Some of the more memorable moments onstage yesterday included a kid manifesting his stage fright in an urgent need to pee during the opening number- he ran offstage and I prayed to the theater gods that he would return in time for his next line moments later. He did. Another kid got stuck backstage behind a group of crapshooters and missed his entrance because he was too meek to push his way through. Not to worry, he made up for it later by coming out way too early for another entrance, stopping in his tracks and slowly backing up until he was offstage. My favorite moment though, was during the Havana scene, where I noticed an unopened pack of fruit snacks on the stage by Sarah and Sky’s feet. Apparently someone was hoarding fruit snacks in their suit pockets backstage and we kept finding mysterious fruit snack trails everywhere, a la Hansel and Gretel.

All right. I have sat in front of the computer long enough. I have too much to get done today, and I would really like the day to include a trip to the gym. Would you believe I still haven’t gone?

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Okay, so since I have to go back to work tomorrow (sniff), I decided that I have to try and cram in as many things as possible that I wanted to do over vacation but left until the last minute, including:

1. Visit my friend K—- and her new baby (which I wasn’t putting off, per se- but I had that nasty cold for so long and I didn’t want to spread it to a newborn.)

2. Actually step on an exercise machine at the new gym and burn a few calories (I did go pick up my keytag yesterday, so that’s a start.)

3. Tackle the French macaron.

I have been intrigued by macarons for a while now- they’ve been a staple in French bakeries forever, and they’re starting to eke out the cupcake as the new trendy bite size dessert in metropolitan areas. Up until recently, the macaron was not something that home bakers even attempted, but thanks to new cookbooks shedding light on the process of macaron making (and lots of online tutorials), they are getting made more and more at home.

By the way, they are still pronounced ‘macaroon’ but I think are generally spelled the French way to avoid any confusion with the coconut cookie that is a distinctly American creation. French macarons have nothing in them but sugar, almond flour and egg whites (oh, and a tiny bit of vanilla extract and food coloring.) If you read a recipe for them, it’s an extraordinarily fussy little cookie. Because you’re essentially working with a meringue, you can’t even think about making them on a humid day. The egg whites are supposed to be separated and then aged for 24 hours at room temperature to get rid of some of the moisture. After the ingredients are folded together, you pipe little uniform blobs of the batter onto parchment paper and then have to let it rest for 15 minutes so it will develop the trademark smooth top and ‘foot’ on the bottom.

I received a little macaron cookbook for Christmas and have been toying with the idea of making them for a while. The recipe was for a lot of cookies, though- and I didn’t want to separate 8 eggs and have the whole thing be a waste if it didn’t turn out right. I researched online about using Eggbeaters Just Whites- which is made only of egg whites but is pasteurized, so I wasn’t sure how that would affect the recipe. In the end, I actually used a recipe in Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook, only because it was for a smaller amount of cookies. Martha’s recipe didn’t mention anything about aging the egg whites or letting the cookies rest before baking. It also recommended baking for 20-22 minutes, whereas the macaron book suggested only 14.

So, I didn’t bother with the egg aging. I just separated my eggs and got to work.

Confectioners sugar mixed with almond flour. Almond flour is 10 dollars for 16 ounces. Damn!

Next I whipped up the egg whites, sugar and food coloring.

Fluffy pink meringue about to be folded into sugar/almond flour mixture.

Notice that I didn’t say I put in the vanilla.That is an important detail later. I piped them out onto the parchment and started to let them rest. Then I realized that I forgot the vanilla, which was only 1/4 of a teaspoon and could have probably been left out. Regardless, I scraped the macarons off of the parchment, back into the bowl and stirred in the vanilla. Now the whole mixture had lost most of its volume and I was sure I would be left with failed macarons. But I pressed on.

I re-piped them onto fresh parchment and put them in the oven. They didn’t seem to do much for a while (and I’m pretty sure I piped them too close together) but they were staying smooth! They were developing feet! It was a miracle!

Fresh from the oven.

I am fairly certain that they were a little underdone, but they looked so pretty! I filled them with Nutella because I didn’t feel like making ganache.

So pretty!

Then I got cocky and decided to try another batch, only this time I was going to use those questionable pasteurized egg whites. I don’t think that was a good idea. They did seem to form peaks when I whipped them, but for some reason they came out lumpy and gross looking. I also tried to make them purple, but they ended up looking more gray. So if you wanted to make a cookie for a theme party, say… rocks from the quarry for a Flintstones theme, or dryer lint for a Suzy Homemaker theme, or even hairballs for a cat theme, then pasteurized egg whites are the way to go:

Fugly macarons. They still taste good, though.

Since I wasn’t sure how successful this whole venture was, I also made a batch of sure-fire oatmeal cookies (also from Martha’s Baking Handbook, which happens to be an awesome book.)

I think the verdict on the macarons is that I would definitely attempt to make them again, but fresh eggs are the way to go. Maybe I’ll even take the time to ‘age’ them properly next time.

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It’s 10:30 in the morning and I’ve had my coffee and breakfast sandwich. I knit a few rows on the afghan and have been flipping between reality tv on Bravo and the third hour of Today with Hoda and Kathie Lee. It’s dreary and raining outside and I know it’s going to be a challenge forcing myself to shower and do anything today. I really have to get to that darn gym.

Normally today would be the type of day for making a big old pot of soup, but I actually have the stuff to make lasagna, which I bought yesterday before I knew the girls wouldn’t make it for dinner. Coincidentally, they arrived after dinner time, but neither had eaten- so it was a good thing I had those tasty ravioli leftovers. The brownies also turned out well. They were a little cakier than I hoped, and I think they needed a little more chocolate flavor (the recipe only called for 6 ounces of chocolate) but the peanut butter made up for it. Maybe next time I’ll add some chocolate chips to the batter to make them a little more chocolaty.

I bought the ‘no boil’ noodles for the lasagna, so we’ll see how that turns out. I should probably get started on that now so I don’t have to do it later. I need to accomplish something or this is going to turn into one of those ‘lost’ days, when you blink and suddenly it’s 6:00 and you’re still in your pajamas. It’s days like today that make me kind of wish I had a fireplace. I do have a fake one on the Wii… but somehow it doesn’t quite cut it. Alright. Time to get my lasagna on.

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My week of February break is quickly drawing to a close, and when I think about what I’m going back to next week it gives me a little bit of the agita. It’s basically full speed ahead until the end of the year… which I guess is a good thing, because it will be July before I know it and I’ll be neglecting the blog again in favor of sitting by the pool.

Today really felt like a vacation day, because everything I did was fun. I started out by meeting friends for what was initially supposed to be brunch (though I don’t know where we were going to find brunch on a Thursday other than a diner, and even then it wouldn’t involve mimosas and bloody marys) and ended up being lunch at a local Mexican place. I went with some of my friends from work and it is always so nice to get a chance to hang out with them totally outside of school. Everyone is so much more relaxed. So anyway, we had a very nice time. I didn’t have to be home right away, so my friend D—– was going to get a manicure afterwards and invited me to come along. That sounded like a good idea to me, as the last time I had a manicure was some time back in October. We actually ran into another friend at the nail place who had the same idea. So at this point of the day: Lunch, check. Pretty nails, check. The only other thing I really needed to do (besides finally show my face at my new gym… which I still haven’t done. Tomorrow, I promise!) was to deposit a couple of checks at the credit union. D—– had to go too, so we drove over together.

Now, next door to the credit union is this Chinese massage place (no jokes, please) that D—– had been to once before on the recommendation of another colleague. Apparently, other than the pressure point/chi-related massage, they are also the place to go for sport massage. I wasn’t initially going to go in, but my neck and upper back have been bothering me for the past couple days and I’m in between chiropractor appointments, so I decided to go in. I opted for the 30 minute massage since I just wanted him to focus on my back. Now, I’ve had traditional Swedish massages before and I always was under the impression that I could handle a lot of pressure. Ha. In walks this tiny little man, and at first he is barely touching my back. So I’m thinking, “Oh, great. This is totally a waste of money.” Suddenly he started yanking on my limbs and twisting them around. Then he proceeded to go to work on my neck so intensely that my eyes were starting to water. It was definitely not a relaxing experience. Luckily the ‘extreme torture’ portion of the massage didn’t last too long, and the rest of it was pretty tolerable. He did, of course, notice that my left side was much worse and so I mentioned that I play the violin. He kind of chuckled and went, “Ahhhh…” and I think that’s when he decided I needed the extra painful massage.

I have to say, though… my neck and back do both feel better, so maybe there is something to his methods. D—– didn’t seem to have any problems with her masseuse. She had a nice, relaxing experience.

Since it’s Thursday, it’s Grey’s Anatomy night. Last week we ended up not getting together, so it was still my turn tonight to host. Normally I don’t get home until 6:30 at the earliest, so I was looking forward to being able to actually make some food for myself and the girls rather than ordering Chinese food. Well, it so happens that both friends won’t be able to come over until almost 9- so no need to make dinner. Rats. I did have a request for a baked good, preferably involving chocolate and/or peanut butter, so I found a recipe in the Martha Stewart Cookies book for chocolate peanut butter swirl brownies. I’ve never made them before so I’ll let you know what the consensus is after we’ve eaten them. They look pretty good, though:

For my dinner, I had a package of fresh ravioli from Trader Joe’s made with Parmigiano and arugula. I had leftover mushrooms and fresh spinach, so I sauteed those with a little bit of garlic and olive oil, salt, pepper and red pepper flake. Oh, I also used a little white wine. At the very end I threw in some fresh basil and chopped fresh mozzarella. I tossed in the ravioli and sprinkled with a little bit of Romano cheese.

It was super yummy, and I’m glad to have leftovers.

When the girls get here I’ll cut up the brownies. I also have some of my favorite cheap champagne chilling and some fresh strawberries left over from fondue night.

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More cupcakes

As promised, a picture of the lemon cupcakes:

Though these are not the original cupcakes- they’re a second batch that I whipped up this morning. The originals had much bigger swirls of frosting on top because I used the seven minute frosting- this time I just went with convenience and used a can. Hence the much smaller dollops, since it would be a sugar overload to have a huge swirl of that stuff. The seven minute frosting makes it definitely taste more like lemon meringue pie, because, well… seven minute frosting is meringue. So if we want to be picky here, we could just call these ‘lemon’ cupcakes. This time around, however, the lemon curd is homemade- I made it on a snow day this week and needed to use it for something. I thought about just making a layer cake and putting it in the layers, but cake is harder to divide up and hand out, so I went with the cupcakes again. I think they are super cute.

I didn’t post the last couple of days because it has been kind of busy and I was, once again, sick. I guess it’s all the same cold- it just keeps progressing through my system in new and creative ways. I have been so congested that I ended up with laryngitis the last two days, which is so frustrating for me because all I do is talk all day long. I probably would have had it sooner, but I was home alone for two days because of the weather and didn’t really talk to anyone except the cats. And they’re not really conversationalists, so I went two days without saying much. Two dance rehearsals at school did me in. I should actually be at rehearsal right now, but there’s freezing rain all morning so we opted to play it safe and cancel. I hope everyone got my e-mail.

Yesterday I went to Target and bought myself a humidifier, which I think really helped. I also did a little retail therapy, as I was feeling sorry for myself, and bought a new purse. So now I am just awaiting the hopeful arrival of my aforementioned friends… If they don’t come I’m going to have a whole lot of cupcakes to give away.

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I wasn’t lucky enough to wake up without a sore throat, but I did wake up to… another snow day! As much as I am annoyed at Mother Nature for screwing up my rehearsal schedule yet again I am never sorry to receive that 5 a.m. automated phone call. Last night I came home after lessons and made some pizza, which I realized is one of the few things I consistently cook for myself- homemade pizza and soup. Every so often I will go out on a limb and make some stir fry/stew type thing like the tagine (which, coincidentally should be arriving any day now- though that will surely be postponed by this big-ass two day snow storm that has descended upon us.)

After the pizza, I finally watched Toy Story 3- since it’s nominated for an Oscar and everything… I don’t think I ever saw the second one but it didn’t matter. It was adorable. Just enough grown-up references to keep it funny, without being over the top (a la Shrek). And it definitely was a little bit of a tear jerker. I won’t go into detail, on the off chance that I am not the last person on earth to see this movie, but it was a very sweet story. It also made me think of the bins of old toys sitting in my garage. The garage… maybe today will be the day.

I do know that I need to spend at least part of the day tidying up my guest room because some of my favorite people are coming for a visit this weekend. I can’t wait! Hopefully nothing gets in the way like more snow or a stomach virus. I want to finally give them their Christmas gifts.

I’m sure the day will entail baking of some sort, but I’m not sure what yet. I do have those egg yolks from the seven minute frosting, so maybe I’ll take another crack at the lemon curd. Speaking of seven minute frosting and lemon curd, I brought those cupcakes in to school yesterday and didn’t think to get a picture. So you’ll just have to imagine them. I registered them for the bake-off (I think I might have been the only teacher to enter) and the extras came to lunch with me where people seemed enthusiastic. The frosting held up fine, though I don’t think I would push it for more than a day.

Alright, time to get this snow day moving. I don’t think I’m going to bother going back to bed at this point. Time for coffee and some leftover cold pizza!

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Seven minute frosting overload

After feeling fine for most of the week (and up until yesterday, thank you very much- I was just tired but I figured I worked most of the day) I woke up this morning feeling sick again. This time I had my fatigue with a side of post-nasal drip and sore throat. Awesome. I did drag myself out for lunch with Alexis for her birthday, and we went to Fiddlestix where I had my favorite- ‘Green Eggs and Parm’, which is basically eggs benedict with spinach, tomatoes and garlic instead of Canadian bacon. Oh, and instead of hollandaise, there’s a parmesan cream sauce. It’s perfection. I’ve always thought it was sort of gilding the lily to put an egg based sauce over an egg, anyway.

Today the eggs were perfectly poached (I’ve had them a little over-done before) and I really enjoyed it, but didn’t feel great after and ended up taking a two hour nap. I made myself some chicken noodle soup for dinner but I don’t think it had any magical healing properties. Oh well. I decided on lemon meringue cupcakes for the school Bake Off, since the teacher category was the somewhat ambiguous ‘fruit’. Martha has a recipe but of course it involves a ton of butter, buttermilk (which I would have had to go out and buy) and homemade lemon curd, which I was a little leery of making because I tried making it once before and it came out way too eggy.

I decided to follow the same basic process, but I just made a standard yellow cake mix (I know, I know… but it was more about the toppings than the cake this time) with a little lemon zest in it. Once the cupcakes were cooled, I spread some pre-made lemon curd on top and got to work on the seven minute frosting, which actually takes way more than seven minutes, when you add in the time it takes to boil the sugar syrup to the proper temperature and separate the eggs. It did come out nicely though- the only other experience I have had with meringue was when I tried to make those ill-fated high hat cupcakes. That time, the process was a little different for the meringue and involved a double boiler rather than cooking the sugar first into a syrup- this resulted in a gritty meringue (gross). Combine that with the fact that the high hats resembled piles of dog poop (I used cinnamon chips and didn’t chill the cupcakes enough before I dunked them… resulting in indistinct swirls in an unfortunate shade of brown.)

Anyway, the frosting came out very nicely this time. Billowy, smooth as can be and not overly sweet (and fat free! Did I mention it’s fat free?) Hopefully it will last until tomorrow okay… the book said not to refrigerate it. The only negative thing was that this recipe made a ridiculous amount of frosting. Like, 8 cups of the stuff. So even with very generous peaks of it on each cupcake, I had a ton leftover. I just put it in a ziploc bag and stuck it in the fridge, where it will probably stay for a couple of days before I throw it out. Because really, what do you do with leftover 7 minute frosting?? I suppose I could make some lemon bars and put it on top of those. I don’t even know if it will be usable after it’s been in the refrigerator. We’ll see.

I’m too tired to post pics of the cupcakes tonight. Maybe tomorrow. I think it’s time I went to bed. Hopefully I’ll wake up tomorrow without a sore throat.

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