Monday, May 30, 2011

Baker v Homemaker

This past week the scale had definitely tipped in favor of baker.  But I have a little bit of an excuse as I was meeting with the future bride and groom on Saturday for a tasting. 

The bride-to-be and I had corresponded regarding design, servings, price and flavors.  I have a list of cakes and icings that I've had good results with and sent to her for some ideas.  I offered the tasting knowing that I would be baking a lot of cake for a small amount.  But you can only reduce a recipe so much without risking the integrity of the final product.  On Friday I ended up making four cake recipes that turned out to be somewhere in the neighborhood of six dozen cupcakes.  The hubs appeared to be getting a little worked up that I was just giving the couple a dozen cupcakes.  I had thought about this briefly myself.  But I quickly realized that I've given away dozens upon dozens of cupcakes to people who are not going to be paying me so what's the problem with a dozen cupcakes for a tasting?  None.  No problem to be solved and I still have cupcakes to get rid of.

Earlier in the week I had made the three buttercreams of my four icings, leaving only the milk chocolate ganache for Friday.  When the cupcakes were finished and it was time to turn my attention to the ganache, I noticed I didn't have as much cream as I had thought.  It still was enough though.  Enough if the ganache turned out perfectly.  Which it didn't.  I stared blankly at this ganache for the longest time wondering what I had done wrong.  I've made ganache dozens of times.  I'm still not sure exactly what I did wrong, but I did it wrong twice.  After running out to get more cream and more milk chocolate for a second batch, it turned out exactly the same:  cream of chocolate soup.  I decided I would chill it, see if I could whip it and hope for the best.  I did end up with something I could pipe, but not what I wanted.  

There is irony to the ganache saga.  Saturday morning I had the idea of melting some chocolate and blending it in with the ganache to firm it up.  Just before I was getting ready to pour the melted chocolate into my container of ganache, a brief flash of sanity overcame me and instead I added a small portion of the ganache to the melted chocolate.  It seized immediately making me so very grateful I'd not ruined all of my already marginal ganache.  I set the bowl of seized chocolate/ganache aside to deal with later when I had time.  That turned out to be Sunday.  I looked at it, poured a little milk over it and threw it in the microwave for a couple of 30 second bursts.  And about a minute later and some quick whisking I had the perfect ganache I had been looking for.  **Sigh**

The strawberry-chipotle preserves turned out fairly well.  The taste is awesome, but I will do a couple of things differently should I made this again.  First and foremost, I will double the batch.  This was absolutely not enough to process in the canner.  Second, I will rehydrate the chipotle chiles before adding them to the preserves.  Even after all of those repeated simmerings, they were still kind of leathery.  Finally, I will not keep the lid on the pot when I'm heating up the preserves.  The extra moisture from the condensation left me with soupy preserves.  But apparently soupy was my theme for the week.

The taste test - pass or fail.

Can you guess which?  Here's a hint:
I stopped short of licking the plate.
 So now that the preserves are done and the tasting is done, it's time to tip the scale back in favor of homemaker for awhile.  In addition to the mundane tasks (such as vacuuming stairs and dusting the ceiling fan hanging from the 14 foot ceiling) I also have a few gardening projects to accomplish.  Why I've waited until we're having near record high temperatures to work on gardening projects is beyond me.  Since I really don't even like hot weather, this will definitely be another test of my resolve.  We'll see how long it takes my resolve to melt.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cookbook Love & Strawberry Preserves

For the past several weeks, I’ve been craving something – something I just couldn’t put my finger on.  I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it needed to nourish me not only physically, but emotionally and even spiritually.  Not knowing what it was left me feeling restless and occasionally melancholy.

But I think I’ve figured it out.

Last night I made our third meal (in four nights) from At Home with Madhur Jaffrey.  So far, everything has been absolutely spectacular, even according to the hubs.  Friday, I made the Salmon in Bengali Mustard Sauce, saffron rice and steamed beans; Sunday, I made the Spicy Shrimp Stir-Fry (Bhuni Jhinga) with leftover saffron rice; and last night I made Goan-Style Chicken Moelho, Potatoes with Cumin and Mustard Seeds, and South Indian-Style Green Beans.  The search is over.  I am a happy woman.

Goan-Style Chicken Moelho; Potatoes with Cumin and
Mustard Seeds; and South Indian-Style Green Beans
The spices.  That’s what I needed.  Turmeric, paprika and cayenne, cumin and mustard seeds, garlic and ginger – individually simple ingredients that when blended together create layers of flavor, complex and intensely satisfying.

Now, I’m not going try to cook my way through the entire cookbook.  Such endeavors with other cookbooks have already been done.  Nor am I of the misguided impression that I’ll love every recipe in this book as much as the ones I’ve made in the last few days.  There’s a lengthy section devoted to lamb (not surprisingly) and I’m still rather ambivalent about lamb.  I’ve only enjoyed it once of the three times I’ve tried it.  Mussels do absolutely nothing for me at all, and I’m a bit iffy on squid.  I won’t get started on my feelings about okra. 

Beyond my passion for my new cookbook, there is still the matter of the seven-day strawberry chipotle preserves.  (Digression:  it’s actually six days.  Which when I discovered that made me sing to myself, ala Tim Curry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show,  “In just seven days – maybe six – I can make you a jaaa-ha-ha-ha-haam.”)  On Day Two, the fruit and its juice were separated, the juice boiled and poured back over the fruit.  Days Three, Four and Five were repetitive:  the preserves were brought to a simmer and cooled twice a day and refrigerated over night.  Today is the day to finish them.  I’m going to get the jars and canner ready, but if this is anywhere near as good as it should be, I think I’ll skip the processing and just keep it in the refrigerator.  It’s warm and humid in Southern Illinois right now and I’m not overly enthusiastic about a large vat of boiling water adding to it.

The rest of the week will be occupied with cake.  I’m meeting with a couple on Saturday for a tasting in preparation of doing cake and cupcakes for their wedding in September.  They will be sampling Pumpkin Pie Spice cupcakes with Cream Cheese Buttercream, Cappuccino Cupcakes with Mocha Buttercream, Peanut Butter Cupcakes with Milk Chocolate Ganache, and Lemon Cupcakes with Coconut Buttercream.  That sentence alone contains enough butter to make Paula Deen jealous.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Days of Whine and Roses

I snapped this pic before all of
the buds had opened.
Let’s do roses first.  This year our two rose bushes are going crazy.  Earlier this year I had gone out with the snips and just went berserk on them.  Apparently they liked it.  Some of the canes are absolutely weighed down with flowers.  It started me thinking I needed to be doing something with some of those roses besides letting them fade and fall off of the bush. 

The first thing I made was rose petal syrup.  I’m not sure what I’m going to do with this yet, but a few things have come to mind. 

·         I’m thinking of a pistachio cupcake, brushed with a little bit of rose syrup and/or a drizzle of gorgeous red rose syrup over the icing.
·         Mixing a bit with some champagne or sparkling wine would produce a beverage akin to the sweet, rose-scented Asti Spumante.  (Full disclosure:  it’s an idea, but not one I’ll likely be trying.  I really don’t care for sweet champagnes/wines; I’m definitely a dry kind of gal.)
·         A few drops in a cup of hot tea would be like aromatherapy as you inhale the scent of the rose while taking a sip of steamy tea.
·         Maybe mixed in with some club soda or sparkling water for a rose petal soda.

Even though I don’t exactly know what I’m going to do with it, I was very pleased with the result.

The next thing I made was rose and vanilla bean shortbread.  I love shortbread.  It’s one of those things I like to experiment with to come up with interesting and different flavors.  For this experiment, I took a recipe I’ve used dozens of times before (already altered beyond belief from Martha Stewart) and changed it up a bit.  I was trying to rely on memory, but memory failed me and I only took two sticks of butter out of the refrigerator to soften instead of three.  Given my inadequacy in the area of patience, I decided to try to do 2/3 of the recipe instead of waiting for more butter to soften.  Seriously, I think that extra stick of butter would have been soft by the time I did all of the calculations and conversions.  At best, it was a practical application of Culinary Math.

This was such a pretty dough coming together.  The rose petal and sugar mixture was gorgeous and I loved the flecks of petals in the dough. 

Now for the whine:  It’s really a shame that it’s absolutely awful.  Not only does it not taste good, the mouth feel is horrible.  Even though it baked for a little over an hour, I don’t think it was long enough.  There was still that raw flour taste and feel.  And speaking of taste, I think half the amount of rose petals would have been just fine and twice the amount of vanilla bean.

While it was tempting to immediately toss it in the garbage, I’m keeping in mind that shortbread often develops its best flavor and texture a few days after baking.  I’ll keep sampling it over the course of the next few days to determine its fate.

I’m not going to bother with the monumentally disappointing shortbread recipe, but here’s how I made the rose syrup:

Rose Syrup
4 cups lightly packed fresh, ORGANIC rose petals, washed and spun*
1 cup sugar
2 cups water

Place the rose petals in a saucepan (with a lid) and pour the sugar in the center.  Pour the water around the sugar like a moat.  Bring to a boil over medium heat.  Boil for one minute to fully dissolve the sugar, turn off the heat and cover.  Let steep until cool.  If there is any condensation on the lid of the pan, let it drain into the syrup.  There will be a lot of essential oil from the petals in the steam.  Strain the syrup and discard the petals.  Pour into a bottle or container and refrigerate.  Makes approximately 3 cups of syrup.

*Use ONLY organic rose petals.  If you’re not sure, don’t use them.  If using petals from one of your own untreated rose bushes I recommend taking flowers only from the top of the bush.  Avoid any lower flowers that may be within leg-lifting reach of local canines.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Tragedy of Strawberries

How could I even say such a thing?  Fresh strawberries are one of my favorite fruits:  their sweet/tart, juicy flavor; the intoxicating scent of ripe berries; the gorgeous contrast of bright red berry, yellow seeds and green stems and sepals.  They’re practically a harbinger of summer.  I love fresh strawberries.  Where’s the tragedy in that?  The tragedy is that I’m a tad bit allergic to them.

strawberry with cracked pepper
It’s not a severe allergy by any means.  I can eat a couple of them without incident; with an antihistamine, a few more.  But occasionally common sense and good judgment abandon me, and I eat more than I should.  The hives that began appearing before I went to bed Wednesday night told me I went a little bit too far.  And I wasn’t surprised to see them.

strawberries with vanilla sugar
In addition to the berries that begged to be tasted while I was hulling them Wednesday, I also thought a smoothie with fresh strawberries and almond milk would be really good.  It was.  Then a few hulled berries left over with some vanilla sugar on top.  And then of course there was the spatula from the pâte de fruit that needed to be sampled.  I went a bit over board.  Apparently I’m as inept with moderation as I am with patience.

Given my impatience, the project I’m undertaking next will be a test.  I’d recently come across a recipe for Strawberry-Chipotle Preserves.  The title sounded interesting enough for me to save it without reading completely through it.  Since I still had half the flat of strawberries left, it seemed a good time to try it – thus necessitating actually reading the recipe.  As you may recall with caramels and pâte de fruit, I find waiting 24 hours for results to be excruciating.  This preserve recipe takes seven days.  Seven.  Days.  It so better be worth it.

I also had enough berries left to dehydrate a few for future use in another take on the cocoa-nut granola.  I'm thinking chocolate, almonds, strawberries . . .  The nice little cubes I wanted didn't quite work out as planned. 


I thought I would use my butter cutter to slice down the strawberries and then cut them in half.  As it turns out, it just smashed them mostly.   So much for my shortcut. 
 (I have tried five times to change the size of the above text.  Sometimes Blogger is incredibly frustrating!)

And so much for my even little cubes.  Apparently I need to be practicing my knife skills a bit more.

So for Day One of Strawberry-Chipotle Preserves, I washed and hulled about three pounds of berries; added some sugar, lemon zest and juice; a pinch of salt and two dried chipotle chiles.  The instructions said to coarsely chop the chipotles.  These things were not going to be chopped with any knife I own.  I had to cut them up with scissors.  Chipotle seeds were flying everywhere.  The berries are still macerating with their liquid waiting for me to proceed to Day Two.  Day Two is going to have to wait until I get home from a shopping trip to Belleville. 

After all the strawberry love, I made our first meal out of the Madhur Jaffrey cookbook I just got. We had Salmon in a Bengali Mustard Sauce with saffron rice and steamed green beans.  When the hubs saw that I was cooking salmon, and it was with our usual Yoshida's sauce, he was worried.  He didn't say as much, but he didn't have to. 

I stayed pretty true to the recipe this time.  I did decrease the amount of cayenne by about half and make up the difference with paprika.  The jalapeno is what was available instead of more authentic bird chiles.  And I didn't have any mustard oil on hand.  But it still worked. 

You can't imagine how satisfying it was to totally surprise him.  So now empowered, I'll be attempting a lot more recipes in the future.  I guess I need to find some mustard oil.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Lucky Number Three

When I was a little girl, my grandma and I would visit my aunt in Southern California nearly every summer.  One year while Grandma and I were visiting, my aunt and her incredibly chic friend, Maxine, decided we should all pile into Maxine’s convertible and drive to Las Vegas.  So we did. 

After arriving, finding a hotel and going up to our room, I wanted to go back to the car to get something.  No one else was interested in leaving the air conditioning and, at that time, no one thought anything of sending me on my own to retrieve what I wanted from the car.  On my way back to our room, a well-dressed gentleman in a smart black suit called out to me, “What’s your number?”  Being the naïve, Midwestern girl I was, I started to look at the room key in my hand for our room number.  “No, no.  Your lucky number!”  Feeling a bit embarrassed I sheepishly replied “Oh.  Three.”  He then flipped me a silver dollar and said he was going to go bet on it.  I was too dumbstruck to even say thank you.  I never saw him again and to this day I wonder what he played and if he won.

I don’t remember every detail of that trip (I think I was only six at the time) but a few things have stuck with me:  I’ll never forget Maxine and her red convertible; I’ll never forget that we stayed at the Stardust; and I’ll never forget “lucky number three”. 

Apparently, the pâte de fruit needed a lucky number three. 

This is only about a quarter of the berries I have.
I bought a flat of strawberries yesterday, doing so with the intent of trying another batch of pâte de fruit.  This time, given the quantity of berries I bought, I decided to go with the full recipe instead of cutting it in half.

While I was in school I had purchased a pea-sized melon baller in anticipation of needing it for a final project.  That need never arose, but I discovered yesterday that it’s an awesome tool for hulling strawberries.  Making quick work of nearly five pounds of berries made it worth it.

Before getting started, I made sure that this time the parchment would be greased.  Instead of buttering it, I sprayed it lightly with our olive oil mister.  The fact that I finally remembered this was a good sign in and of itself.  The next step was to make sure all of my ingredients were assemble and measured out.  (I can’t stress how important this is.) 

This is where I hit a small snag and got a little panicky.  I had run out of sugar 100g – about a half of a cup – shy of what I needed.  A jar of vanilla sugar stashed in the cabinet with my tea came to my rescue.  And since I was using a bit of vanilla sugar, why not toss in a vanilla bean? 

mise en place
The procedure was the same as for the mango-chile pâte de fruit.  I did make sure to whisk the pectin thoroughly this time, and made sure it was at a full boil before adding the glucose and sugar.  So far so good.  I boiled and stirred and dreamed of perfect pâte de fruit.  Waiting until this morning to find out was excruciating.  Could it be?  It could.

These cut like a dream compared to the mango.

Since I wanted to cut even squares, the ruler came out.  To keep it from sticking to the pâte de fruit, I coated the top with sugar before removing it from the pan.  My first hint of success was that when lifting the parchment from the pan, the pâte de fruit separated cleanly from the parchment.  I believe I felt my heart flutter.  I still went through three knives and a pizza cutter trying to decide on the best tool for the job.  In the end, a thin bladed, sharp knife dipped in warm water seemed to do just fine.  They were cutting cleanly and lifting cleanly off of the parchment.  My excitment was building as I rolled them in the turbinado sugar (the only sugar I had left).

While I’m not certain that these are perfect (they're a wee bit soft and extremely sweet), I think I’m thisclose to pâte de perfection.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Improvised, Adapted and Overcame

. . . or Vegan Cupcake Success.  (And I couldn't resist another Clint Eastwood reference.)

Although the calendar told me I was going to be starting on the graduation cake today, plans change.  Justin got a job, so the party has been postponed.  From a scheduling standpoint, I'm okay with that, but it would have been nice to have the $$ for the shopping trip I'm going on with my friend, Tracie, on Friday.  Now I'll have to do a little more browsing than shopping. 

But.  Since I didn't have a cake to work on that left me with time to rework yesterday's vegan chocolate cupcakes.  And truthfully, I'm not mad at the results at all.  I made some significant changes resulting in the batter being much thinner today.  I wasn't sure if they were going to rise or be hockey pucks.  Fortunately, they did rise.  And, not only did I keep them vegan, but I also made them gluten free. 

Oh yes I did.

If you've read any of my other recipes (thank you if you have!), you've probably figured out that I am neither vegan, nor gluten-free.  But as a wannabe baker, I want to know how to bake for those on restricted diets whether it be because of choice or necessity.  Not only do I want to learn how to bake for restricted diets, but learn to do it well. 

I think the only thing about these cupcakes that isn't 100% is the texture.  While they don't fall apart in your hands, they do sort of melt in your mouth.  Not that this is a bad thing; it's just that most people expect the texture to have a little bit of "chew" to it. 

Some time ago I had read on Gluten Free Girl and the Chef that teff flour provided a good texture to gluten-free baked goods.  Other things I've read recommended xanthan gum.  I may try adding a very small amount of xanthan gum in the next batch.  But all in all, I'm considering this recipe a success.  So here it is if you'd like to try it.

Gluten-Free Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes
Makes 10 cupcakes but can easily be doubled

2 oz raisins
2 fl oz boiling water
1-1/4 oz natural cocoa powder
7 fl oz almond milk*, divided (3+3+1)
1-1/2 tsp cornstarch
2 oz brown rice flour
1-1/2 oz sweet rice flour
1/2 oz teff flour
1/2 oz potato starch
1-1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3 oz finely grated carrots
 1 oz agave nectar
3/4 tsp vanilla extract

Glaze (optional)
1 Tbs almond milk
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar

Preheat oven 350°F.  Line cupcake tins with foil liners.

Put the raisins in a small bowl with a lid and pour the boiling water over them.  Cover and set aside to soften for 20 minutes. 

Heat three ounces of the almond milk in a glass measuring cup in the microwave until steaming hot (about 90 seconds).  In a small bowl, add the hot almond milk to the cocoa powder.  Whisk until no lumps remain.  Set aside to cool.  Combine one ounce of cold almond milk and the cornstarch and stir until dissolved.  Set aside. 

Combine the flours, potato starch, baking soda and salt and whisk to combine.
Transfer the raisins and their liquid to the bowl of a food processor and puree.  Add the grated carrots and remaining almond milk to the raisins and puree until smooth.  Add the cocoa mixture, dissolved cornstarch, agave nectar and vanilla and process until combined.  Add the dry ingredients and process until everything is completely mixed.  Since there is no gluten, you don’t have to worry about over mixing.

Use an ice cream scoop to portion batter into the prepared cupcake liners.  Bake 16 – 18 minutes or until a tester comes out mostly clean.  Cool on a wire rack.
Make the glaze if using.  Add the almond milk to the confectioner’s sugar and whisk until no lumps remain.  Spoon the glaze over the cooled cupcakes.  Alternately, the cupcakes can simply be dusted with confectioner’s sugar or a mixture of confectioner’s sugar and cocoa powder.

*What I used today was actually called an almond "drink".  Ordinarily I try to get Silk Original Almond Milk, but the supply is sporadic around here.  I think either would work just as well.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Cupcakes

Before the cupcakes, the Share our Strength Food Blogger Bake Sale was yesterday and Stefani reports it went well.  I hope they sold absolutely every last morsel.  I hope next time I can actually be there in person.

Okay, now back to cupcakes.  Yesterday was the first opportunity I've had to bake since I did the wedding cake in April.  It's been almost a month and I was getting a little antsy.  Since it was a Saturday, I knew I would be home alone with cupcakes until Monday; therefore I decided to make cupcakes that wouldn't do quite so much damage if I ate them.  All.  So here's the (totally subjective) low down on the cupcakes:

The Good:
  1. With just 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, they have very little added sugar.
  2. There's no added fat - absolutely none.
  3. With raisins, carrots and whole wheat pastry flour, they're high in fiber.
  4. There are no eggs or dairy so they're vegan.
The Bad:
  1. they have very little added sugar
  2. there's no added fat
  3. they're high in fiber
  4. they're vegan
The Ugly:

Before.  Need I say (show) more?

Seriously, do not spend a lot of time analyzing the appearance of this batter or you may decide to just throw them out completely.  They do look slightly better after baking.


This is a recipe I've been playing around with for awhile now.  I think this is the fourth time I've made some sort of incarnation of it.  My goal is to keep thefrom being nutritionally evil while still keeping them tasting like they're evil.  I've not reached that goal yet.

For this go around I made half the recipe for 10 cupcakes.  And I substituted most of the water with some flat Young's Double Chocolate Stout


1¼ cups (½ + ¾)
10 fl oz (4 + 6)
boiling water, divided
4 oz
¾ cup
2 ½ oz
natural cocoa powder
2 cups
9 oz
whole wheat pastry flour
1 Tbs

baking soda
½ tsp

¾ cup
6 oz
finely grated carrot
1 cup
8 fl oz
water, cool room temp
1 Tbs

¼ cup
2 oz
brown sugar
1 ½ tsp



Put the raisins in a small bowl with a lid and cover with ½ cup boiling water.  Cover and set aside to steep for 20 minutes.  In a large bowl, blend together the cocoa and ¾ cup boiling water.  Stir until no lumps remain.  Set cocoa aside to cool.  Over a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. 
Heat oven to 350°F.  Line muffin tins with foil cupcake liners. 

Transfer raisins and water a food processor and puree.  Add carrots and cool water to the raisins and puree until smooth.  Dissolve the cornstarch in the apple juice. 

Stir the raisin and carrot puree, dissolved cornstarch, sugar and vanilla into the cocoa mixture.  Before proceeding, this mixture should be at room temperature.
Quickly whisk the dry ingredients into the cocoa mixture.  Do not stir longer than needed, but do thoroughly mix the two.  Use an ice cream scoop to portion batter into the cups.  Bake for 15 – 17 minutes.  Remove to a wire rack and cool completely. 
Makes about 20 cupcakes.

There would be more cupcake to eat if I had used foil liners.
This stuff really sticks to the paper.
As you can see, I didn't use foil liners for this batch.  It makes a difference.  There's a lot of cupcake left on that paper.  I've not iced these, but if I do, I'll make a glaze of a bit of Young's and some powdered sugar.

What will I do differently the next time? 

For sweetness, maybe replace some of the water with unsweetened apple juice and swap the brown sugar for some agave nectar.

For texture, use a blend of whole wheat pastry flour and unbleached all-purpose flour and maybe add a tablespoon or two of olive oil or coconut oil. 

Or maybe next time I'll just make lots of sugar, full fat, non-vegan cupcakes.