April 2, 2010

On my favorite Passover dessert.

Posted in Baking, Bite-Sized, Holidays, No-Bake, Recipe tagged , , , , at 10:47 pm by Dani

Actually, it’s my favorite desert ever. It’s from an Israeli cookbook, and yes folks; I’m going to translate the recipe for you. You should know that this is a big deal, since though I’m a native hebrew speaker, I can barely read the language.

So here it is, with a couple of my ammendments, and know this took me forever to read out of the book, but I do it for you:

chocoalte log completed

This is a picture-phone photo of the photo in the book. I swear, one day I'll get a real camera.

Chocolate Log:

8 matzahs

1 cup sweet wine (aka Manaschewitz)

200 grams unsweetened chocolate (just over 7 oz)

1/2 cup milk

2 tbsp cocoa powder

1 cup sugar

1 tsp instant coffee

1/2 cup margarine (or butter, but the recipe calls for margerine), room temp

3 tbsp brandy (or orange liqueur, but I highly recommend using brandy)

You’ll also need aluminum foil.

1. Crumble matzah in a medium sized bowl. Pour wine in.

2. On low heat, melt the chocolate, milk, cocoa powder, sugar, and coffee. Remove from heat and immediately add margarine and brandy. Stir until margarine melts completely.

3. Remove wine from matzah, gently squeezing out the excess. Gently, people, but still effectively. You don’t want a watery product, nor do you want to crush the matzah too small.

4. Add chocolate mixture, and stir to combine. Be sure to coat all the matzah.

5. Separate the mixture into two equal parts. Grease 2 sheets of foil, about 18″ long each. Pour mixture onto foil in a strip, and roll it up in the foil. The cookbook says to refrigerate overnight, but I always stick it in the freezer instead. That way when you serve it, it won’t get all messy and gross by the time people get to it.

This is what it should look like going into the fridge/freezer

6. When ready to serve, remove from foil and slice into pieces about 1/2″ thick. Put each piece into a cupcake baking cup.

On garage sale-ing.

Posted in Misc Musings, Things I'm Doing tagged , at 1:43 pm by Dani

Garage sales might seem like a fantastic idea when you’re staring at heaps of stuff you paid good money for, but simply don’t need anymore. DON’T DO IT. Donate. All at once. And don’t go through your stuff again once you’ve decided to get rid of it; you’ll end up keeping things you already determined toss-worthy. If you thought it was trash yesterday, it’s probably still trash.

garage sale

Never as glamorous as it seems. Plus, no one ever wants to buy books, which is pretty depressing. Even the library won't take books anymore.

Wish me luck in the selling tomorrow (starts at 7 am, and things need to be set up in the morning. Who wants to deliver coffee to me?)

April 1, 2010

On Cinnamon Buns; a discussion.

Posted in Baking, Misc Musings tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 8:29 pm by Dani

I was at the mall this afternoon with a friend of mine, and on our way out we smelled something we all know and love, and hate to love. Yes, kids, that would indeed be Cinnabon!

cinnabon logo

My friend told me she’d buy us a Cinnabon if I shared it with her. I couldn’t say no. Once you smell that delicious aroma, there’s no resisting. Yes, they’re 750 calories, according to Wikipedia, but hey! You only live once! I savored that gooey goodness. It was utterly oozing with buttery cinnamon and glaze. The dough in the center was just as I remember from when I was a kid: warm and soft!

cinnabon

Everyone loves cinnamon buns. Ellen Degeneres once said, “I really don’t think I need buns of steel.  I’d be happy with buns of cinnamon.” Tasty. It’s also about the smell. There are certain things in life that are universally irresistible. The taste of chocolate, the sound of ocean. The smell of cinnamon buns. The late great stand-up comedian Mitch Hedberg had this to say on the subject: “I like cinnamon rolls, but I don’t always have time to make a pan. That’s why I wish they would sell cinnamon roll incense. After all, I’d rather light a stick and have my roommate wake up with false hopes.”

You know what Mitch? They do sell them! You can also buy candles or fragrance oils. You can even buy cinnamon bun scented perfume, in case you want to be eaten by random passersby! Oh science, you have made my life just a little more enjoyable.

How about history? Where do these scrumptious pastries come from? Well, I don’t have any answers for you. I’ve seen lots of sources (ranging from credible to not-so-credible) talk about the origin of the sticky bun being Northern Europe. I read somewhere that they came to America via Pennsylvania from Germany. I’ve read that they come from Sweden, and in fact October 4th is national cinnamon bun day in Sweden (Our national sticky bun day is February 24th). None of these facts come from 100% reliable sources, and it is indeed a difficult thing to do, tracing the origin of a specific food. Foods evolve organically, depending on what foods are grown where, politics (which nations are doing trade with which?), and chance.

I mentioned Pennsylvania in the previous paragraphs, and it should be noted that Pennsylvania has its own style of cinnamon buns–they include raisons.

Lets talk now about what a sticky bun actually is. Historically, sticky buns are sweet dough rolls, cut, with spices (not always cinnamon). Historically, the “sticky” part of the name came from the fact that the method of keeping the buns from sticking to the sides of the pan was to douse the buns and pan in syrup. Yeah, that sounds sticky!

I know you’re all saying: when is she going to tell us what Alton Brown says? That’s right now, folks.

You may watch yourself, if you’d like. I’ll happily recap as well:

Here is the link to the second part.

The part of this episode I find most interesting is when he talks about cinnamon. Cinnamon, as he explains, is not actually cinnamon. It’s actually the cassia plant. The bark is ground to form what we buy at the market labeled “cinnamon.” There is a plethora of types of cassia plants, and each is subtly different. Cinnabon advertises the use of “Makara cinnamon.” Real cinnamon, however, only comes from one plant, and it is not as suitable for baking as cassia. The flavor is much less pungent and aromatic. Alton describes it as “meek.”

Of course, he also talks about making cinnamon buns. Basically, combine ingredients in a stand mixer (I REALLY NEED ONE), let rise, punch down and roll, fill, cut, let sit overnight, proof, bake, gobble. Gobble. Gobble.

One last thing. Check out this great t-shirt from zazzle.com!

synonym bun

Love it! Yeah, I'm kind of a nerd.

March 31, 2010

On passover pies and some baking gospel.

Posted in Baking, Holidays, Pie, Recipe tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , at 4:06 pm by Dani

It all began saturday. I was babysitting for a family I’ve worked for before. Babysitting is a great gig–good pay, in cash, and (depending on how pleasant the family is) you get dinner out of it too. Sure, usually it’s the other half of the grilled cheese the kid wanted but didn’t end up eating, but still. And hey, I like grilled cheese.

Grilled Cheese

Yum. I mean, really. YUM.

I arrive at this home, and the mother opens the door. Once pleasantries were exchanged, we wandered into the kitchen where a huge paper bag was sitting on the table. She says to me, “You like to bake, right? [I assume she’s seen me facebook about baking] Well I made this really great almond pie and it was a huge hit. The recipe is on facebook, and here are all the ingredients.” I look inside the bag, and lo and behold: everything I need to make a pie! She included pre-made crusts (2 of them), almonds, sugar, corn syrup, and honey. She also said that before I leave I should take butter out of the fridge too. Wow.

Amazing, right? So thoughtful. Now I’m really excited to make this pie except….it’s passover! Crusts are NOT kosher for passover. Before I’ve even put my purse down I’ve started thinking about how to work around this. Sure, there’s corn syrup in the pie, but not all jews avoid corn syrup. And anyway, I can substitute honey or sugar water if I’m baking for a jew-crowd. But this crust thing was a problem.

Well, I figured the crust out, and my sister had a baby shower to which I could bring the pie. I had all the ingredients! The trifecta of baking is complete!

Lets review:

THE TRIFECTA OF BAKING:

1. Have somewhere to bring the completed product. It’s no good making a beautiful cake if no one is going to eat it. Have some event to bring it to. Not that I’m not guilty of aimless baking from time to time…but this is why I LOVE holidays!

2. Have a plan (or have your recipe). Know what you’re going to make. This is especially true if you’re going to be making something up, or altering something to the extreme. For example, when I made my girl scout cookie cupcakes, I had it all written out. What frostings, what cakes, how many. Everything. I knew exactly what I was going to be changing before I stepped into the kitchen.

3. Have all the ingredients. If you’ve ever been in the middle of a complicated recipe and realized you were an egg short, you know. Never get caught with a missing ingredient once you’ve started. The only exception is if you’ve accounted for this in the planning stage, and you know that something is going to have to rest and you’ll have time to run to the store.

Almond Pie

Almond Pie

Crust:

4-5 sheets matzah

1/3 cup butter, softened

3 tbsp cocoa powder

2 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp brandy

1. Preheat oven to 350. Run matzah through a food processor with brandy. Let sit for 5 minutes.

2. Add cocoa and sugar, and mix using food processor. Matzah should be pretty fine, at this point. More coarse than matzah meal, but fine enough to press into a crust. Add softened butter and process until the texture is consistent throughout.

3. Grease an 8″ or 9″ pan, and work the mixture into a crust. it might crumble a little–that’s okay as long as you work it until it holds together. If it really refuses to hold together, add some more butter, just beware adding too much butter prematurely.

4. Bake 10-15 minutes.

Filling:

1 pie crust

3 eggs

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup*

1/3 cup butter melted

1/4 cup honey

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup sliced almonds toasted

*For passover, 1/2 cup corn syrup can be substituted with 1/2 cup honey or you can heat 1/2 cup water and dissolve 2 tbsp sugar into it. Either way. Just remember that you also have 1/4 cup honey in the recipe, so if you go the honey route it’s a total of 3/4 cup honey.

1. Leave oven at 350 degrees. Mix eggs in large bowl with whisk. Stir in sugar, corn syrup (or substitute), melted butter, honey, and almond extract. Mix well with whisk. Stir in almonds last.

2. Pour mixture into crust. Bake 45 minutes.

3. Optional. Decorate with whipped cream!

Note that during the rest of the year, a pre-made crust will work just fine. I don’t usually use pre-made crusts unless I’m in a rush, but soon I’ll post cookie crust directions! You can make your own graham cracker crusts and it’s really easy.

March 30, 2010

On salvaging failures.

Posted in Baking, Cake, Holidays, Misc Musings, Recipe tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 1:36 pm by Dani

This is the story of a cake. This is the story of an inedible, nasty cake. This is the story of making a bad cake good. This is a cake rehab story. So it goes.

Cake

My mommy’s birthday is on Wednesday, so for the passover seder sunday night (we did it a night early) she requested I make her a layer chocolate-strawberry cake. Easy thing for her to ask for; not so easy for me to produce. I spent days trying to find a cake recipe that worked, but when sunday came around, I had nothing. So I used the recipe on the potato starch box, which was a very last minute decision. It was also a complete failure.

It was extremely dry. I took a bite of the pre-assembled cake and I ran straight for a glass of milk, resisting the urge to drink straight out of the carton. My throat was on FIRE. I DO NOT recommend this recipe. I know I know, passover cakes are always dry. Well, use the boxed mix then. Don’t waste your time on a from-scratch cake that’s going to be gross anyway. Or if you have a great passover chocolate cake recipe, leave it for me in a comment.

“So,” you ask, “what did you do? Time was running out, you needed a cake, and all you had was a dry, spongey, brown block. How on EARTH did you salvage this atrocity???”

I couldn’t help thinking about the mexican favorite: Tres Leches cake. It is the polar opposite of my dry, gross, THING. What makes it unique is that a mixture of evaporated milk, condensed milk, and cream is poured all over the cake, super saturating it.

Tres Leches Cake

Tres Leches Cake. This is wet, not moist.

Drippy cake was not what I wanted, and condensed milk kind of freaks me out (it’s goopey!), so I did this to save the cake:

1. Combine approx. 1/3 cup whipping cream with 1 cup non-fat milk (or alternatively, 1 1/3 cup whole milk)

2. Fold a 2 layers of paper towel in half, twice, to make a cloth thats 1/4 the size of a standard piece

3. Cut cake so that it will be layers, each about 1/4″ thick

4. Soak paper towel in cream/milk. Squeeze out enough cream/milk so that it’s no longer dripping, but still saturated

5. Dab each layer with saturated paper towel. Don’t skimp, but don’t go overboard either. Make ganache and spread between layers. Skewer to keep stable.

If you’re unsure about the cutting into layers, ganache, or skewering steps, read this post. I talk about the basics of layer cakes. But, for those who are too lazy, I’ll do a quick, concise review at the end of this post. But first: frosting!

I had a multitude of fresh strawberries (and also a lemon tree) so I made Fresh Strawberry Frosting:

1 box confectioner’s sugar

1.5 tbsp unsalted butter

3 strawberries, chopped fine

1 tsp lemon rind (Your’e all thinking, I can just leave about the rind. Don’t. Trust me, it’ll be a million times better)

1/3–1 cup milk/cream/water

Combine all ingredients except milk/cream/water. Beat on high, slowly adding milk, cream, or water until the texture is smooth, yet thick. Tastes like candy! Yum.

In the end, no one knew my cake started out as a big hot dry mess. It wasn’t drippy, and the ganache helped to keep all the milk from sinking to the bottom. From epic failure to success: that’s what I call a good day.

Keep reading for layer cake basics. Aka, click me!

March 26, 2010

On donuts (with bacon).

Posted in Baking, Recipe tagged , , , , , , , , at 2:39 pm by Dani

Straight from the things-that-seem-gross department, Bacon donuts:

Bacon Donut
I apologize for the quality. Phone camera. Who wants to buy me a camera?

Oh, so you want a little more explanation? Fine, be that way.

First thing’s first. Gotta give a quick shout out to my friend Sarah, with whom I have a friendship based entirely on our love for food. In short: We like cheese. Without Sarah’s support, I never would have had the courage to throw bacon on a donut.

 Bacon Donuts (and regular ones too!)

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know by now that I live (well, bake mostly) by the word of Alton Brown. So, without further ado, I give you where I started:

***PLEASE NOTE: This is not the entire episode. This is part two.

If you don’t want to watch, of if you can’t memorize all that: here is the recipe all written down for you. Food network dot com is wonderful.

First thing I do when baking from a recipe is gather the ingredients and measure them all out into containers. This might mean more dishes, but it makes everything so much easier. The end result looks like this:

Ingredients

Now lets talk about the bacon element. I really wanted to fry the bacon donuts in bacon grease, which meant I needed a lot of it. So, when I went to the market to buy bacon, I looked for the fattiest one I could find. In order to save the grease, what you have to do is lay the bacon onto a cooling rack or something similar (It needs to have holes big enough for the fat to drip through, but not too much space that the meat falls through. And of course, it needs to be oven-safe). Then put the cooling rack or equivalent into a cookie sheet or baking pan; something that can catch all the grease. This is what it should look like:

Bacon
Really really really fatty bacon. You might want to spread them out more, but I found that it was fine like this.

Bake in oven at 400 degrees F or until the fat is almost completely melted away. Be careful not to let the bacon burn because you’re waiting for the fat to melt off completely. Something to try: Maybe cut a big portion of the fat off and “cook” it without the bacon for about 10 minutes, then add the strips of meat. I didn’t do this, but it’s something to think about. I almost burned all the bacon waiting for the fat to liquify. If you really want to go all out, you could buy the fatty bacon and also a package of bacon to cook for the meat part. That way you could cook the first former without worrying about overcooking.

I poured all the grease through a regular strainer to get all the chunks out. If you have a cheesecloth you could run it through that to get a pristine oil, but this was sufficient. I ended up with about 2 cups of grease, which was enough for a small saucepan. Yeah, I know, you’re not really “supposed” to fry things in saucepans, but I can tell you from experience that it works, so who cares? This amount of grease lasted me about 10 donut holes, which was quite enough. Lastly, crumble bacon once cooled. You’ll be sprinkling it onto the donuts at the very end.

Left: Grease. Right: Bacon.

DONUT TIME!!!

Follow the instructions on the food network site I linked to at the beginning of this post. Yeah, this one. But first, read the next three paragraphs. Don’t have a stand mixer? Neither do I. Read the next two paragraphs.

two donuts: a warning
See the one on the right? That’s why you should read my advice first. The left was the second attempt. Lots of flour. You’ll understand in about 2 paragraphs.

This is the part where you’re going to think I’m crazy (assuming you didn’t already think that). I watched Good Eats, and proceeded to spend half a day trying to find a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment to borrow. Seriously. Half a day. I REALLY wan’t one. Anywho, in the end I didn’t manage to get my hands on one, so I kneaded the dough by hand. After sufficient googling, I felt confident that this would work just as well. In fact, I found many webpages dedicated to the question, “Can the dough hook ever replace kneading by hand?” I took this to mean the two are relatively interchangeable. So I used my hand mixer to mix the dough until it was too think to use with my sad little-engine-that-could machine. Then I started kneading. I kneaded for about 45 minutes total.

If you use this recipe and decide to do what I did, note that the dough will be VERY VERY sticky. One option is to flour your hands and add flour until kneading is comfortable, but I didn’t want to do that because I worried that it would ruin the fluffiness of the donuts. So instead I went the patiently-deal-with-dough-stuck-to-everything route. I just kept working at the dough even though it made my hands look like Incredible Hulk hands, only not green. At first it didn’t seem like anything was happening, but I kept working the dough until eventually it was more interested in sticking to itself than anything else. The key point here: Patience.

Also worth noting is how much flour you need when rolling out the dough. The answer is: A lot. The dough was really soft, which is good, but it also means it doesn’t hold its shape so well when you try to pull it off the counter. So remember: LOTS OF FLOUR. Again: LOTS OF FLOUR. Cover your surface ENTIRELY before you start working with the dough.

Next time we’ll talk glaze. Stay tuned.

March 25, 2010

Sorry guys! Tomorrow I promise.

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 8:23 pm by Dani

New post tomorrow. So tired. Every time I sat down this week to write (after monday, which was when I had all my midterms), I remembered something else I had to do for art class! Tomorrow. You have my word.

But meanwhile, watch this: My two favorite people! Yes, I watch Ellen every day (dvr, people) and you know what? If it was between her and Gerry, I think I would choose to meet her. Because she’s wonderful. If you can, you MUST watch her HBO special entitled Here and Now. It’s absolutely frikkin’ brilliant.

For the record, I support Ellen Degeneres world domination. I want a flag.

March 23, 2010

On future posts, and also a correction.

Posted in Baking, Celebrities, Misc Musings tagged , , , , , , at 11:32 pm by Dani

First, and most important: I’d like to retract what I said about Gerard Butler being Irish. I just saw a commercial for him appearing on The Ellen Degeneres Show and they discussed that he is SCOTTISH. My bad. Still hot though.

Also, things I’ve already made, with posts coming soon:

  • Donuts (with bacon)
  • Chocolate and Cookie Dough Truffles

Also next week is passover, which means I’m going to be posting some passover-friendly recipes that are AMAZING, and in some cases family recipes. I know I’m going to be making a passover layer cake for my mommy’s birthday, which is going to be a complete experiment since passover cakes tend to be really dense (not at all suitable for layers). We’ll see how that turns out…luckily Costco has some really nice strawberries right now, so if all else fails I’ll make her something strawberry and she’ll be happy.

So stay tuned; there are some exciting things around the corner–I plan on posting the donut shenanigans on thursday.

If you’re looking for some internet entertainment (get your head out of the gutter, I didn’t mean THAT) I suggest you peruse this website. It has nothing to do with anything I’ve talked about on this blog, but they have some cool posts about art that’s going on right now, especially guerilla art and advertising. Modern stuff.

March 22, 2010

On over-using phrases.

Posted in Misc Musings, Rants, Uncategorized tagged at 11:22 pm by Dani

I have this one professor who says “if you will” at the end of every sentence. An example I jotted down in class tonight: “There is a band of clouds, if you will, around the equator. These clouds create albedo, if you will.” You know what, Professor? You really need to stop wondering if we will. Because honestly, we students WILL pretty much accept and regurgitate anything you tell us. We want A’s. So to answer your question once and for all: Yes. I will. Please stop asking.

March 21, 2010

On layer cakes and Oreo frosting.

Posted in Baking, Cake, Recipe tagged , , , , , , , , at 1:46 am by Dani

A few weeks back I was watching the Good Eats episode entitled “The Art of Darkness III” The first recipe he talks about is for Chocolate Ganache. I had never before realized just how simple ganache is! Just bring together equal parts chocolate and creme. That’s it. No really, I promise. Don’t believe me? Watch it yourself:

That is it; I was hooked. I had to make something with ganache and it had to be immediate. So I went out and bought some prepackaged cake mixes (I’m usually very anti cake mix but the need for instant gratification overpowered the distaste for shortcuts) in white cake and devil’s food cake, a box of confectioner’s sugar, a box of Oreos, Ghiradelli’s 60% Cacoa chocolate chips, and creme. This is the result:

Cake

I'm into making things pretty. I only wish the frosting went on smoother.

What you’ll need:

(2) 8 or 9 inch round springform pans

(1) Serrated knife

(1) Electric Mixer

(2-3) Heavy Duty ziplock bags

(1) Pair Scissors

(1) Knife to spread with

(4) Long skewers

(2) Cake mixes, and any ingredients called for on the boxes

(1) Package confectioner’s sugar

(Approx. 15) Oreos

(10 oz.) Chocolate

(10 oz) Whipping creme

(1/3 cup) butter, room temp

(Approx. 1/4 cup) Milk

Optional: Food Processor, small pot, mixing spoon

1. Prepare both cake mixes, baking each in one of the springform pans. Chill them in the refrigerator.

2. Combine confectioner’s sugar and butter with hand mixer on high, add milk a little at a time until the consistency feels right. I’ve talked about this process before, and you’ll see it again because I LOVE FROSTING.

3. Put 6 Oreos into a ziplock bag, and crush against the counter or with the flat side of a knife. As fun as beating up cookies can be, please refrain from being too aggressive. If the bag breaks it’s not so fun to clean this up.

4. Add Oreos into frosting and set aside. Do not refrigerate.

5. Ganache time. Chop up chocolate either with a knife or food processor. Heat the cream barely to a simmer, and pour it over the chocolate. Let this sit for 2 minutes. As Alton would say, “Just walk away.”

6. If using a food processor, pulse it 2 or 3 times, or until the creme and chocolate are combined completely. If using a spoon to mix, quickly stir until the same blend is achieved.

7. Lets return to the cakes. Use the serrated knife to even out the tops, and slice through the cakes parallel to the bottom of the pans, to create 2 thinner layers out of each cake. I used the Betty Crocker mixes, and they held together great.

8. Pile up the cakes while the ganache it is still warm and liquid-y. Pour about 1/4 of the ganache over the center of the bottom layer, and spread it around, avoiding the outer 1″. Place the second layer over this, and repeat with the 2nd layer, then again with the 3rd. Over the 4th layer also add ganache, but this time spread it all the way out, and also coat the sides of the cake.

Cake Innards

Cake Innards

9. Use the 4 skewers to stab the cake from the top all the way through, evenly spaced, to keep the layers from sliding around as the ganache sets.

10. Refrigerate for a few hours, or until ganache is stiff and cake is solid.

11. Now you can frost the entire cake with your Oreo frosting, and use the rest of the cookies to decorate. I suggest filling a plastic bag with the frosting and cutting of 1/2 inch from the corner, and using this to pipe the frosting over the cake before trying to make it smooth with a knife, and putting the leftover frosting in the last bag and cutting off a much smaller tip to decorate. This is how I decorated, but you can let your imagination run wild.

Top of cake

Stay tuned for my next layer cake: Mommy requested one for her birthday, which happens to be passover. Should be interesting.

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