Archive for the 'Baking' Category

Is it OK for gifts to be ugly?

Yesterday, I suddenly realized that I have no gift for the nice person who will take me in today so I can avoid sleeping at a hostel. I have been planning to bake a pie for her weeks ago and have even procured all the necessary ingredients (copious amounts of pumpkin puree that is) but then I realized that the pie dish is at somebody else’s house. (When you bring a pie to someone’s house, it’s kind of hard to claim the pie dish back when the pie has not been finished after all! I trust those people to bring the pie dish back to us one day though… they are extremely polite.)

So I needed a new strategy, and was so incredibly glad when I discovered that we have a glass of cherries stocked at home. Note to self: Get more of these cherries next time I am at Trader Joe’s, they are absolute life-savers. The truth is that, for some reason, the chocolate and cherry combination is absolutely irresistible. When I started off as a young baker, most things I have baked never really turned out right. Nowadays I got much better, but at the time, the only thing that truly worked for me was chocolate cherry cake. It is beneficial to get a recipe for which the dough is moist and chocolate-y and nice, but even if is not, the strong taste of chocolate and the moisture of the cherries can make up for sub-par baking skills and/or a bad recipe. I might be biased because this is my favorite baked good from childhood, but there is just something about it that makes this particular cake ubiquitously beloved. Unless you hate chocolate or cherries of course, but who would do that? Note to self 2: Tell Tessamon about this.

It so happens that I am not entirely happy with this recipe. The dough came out really really watery, and I really ought to skip some of the milk, but taste-wise and consistency-wise, these muffins are absolutely perfect. They might not look extremely pretty, but they are the most moist muffins I have had in awhile, and everything in it goes well. I have used Hershey’s cocoa which has a strong chocolate taste as well as chocolate morsels which allow for a nice, gooey surprise if you bite into a piece. It is also important to get rid of the cherry juice so the dough will not turn into mush, but apart from that, this is a fail-safe recipe. I mean hey, my watery mess turned into a great muffin after all!

A silly picture. Diet Snapple and salad courtesy of the department.

I assume that it is because of the general lack of cherries in a glass, but there aren’t very many good recipes for chocolate cherry cake in English. I pulled one of the many you can find on chefkoch.de and painstakingly converted all the measurements into cups. Here’s the result:

  • 1 glass cherries
  • A little less than 100g of chocolate morsels (eyeballing is fine)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3 Tsp cocoa powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup + 2 Tsp sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup oil

Recipe-wise it’s quite simple. Mix all dry ingredients together (except chocolate morsels and cherries), make sure to sift everything. Beat eggs and add all other wet ingredients. Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix carefully, add chocolate morsels and cherries at the end. Bake at 395F.

Halloween is also about making pumpkin items

Can you believe that this pumpkin pie and the one below come from exactly the same recipe? There are various reasons for that. The pumpkin puree I got in Germany back then was very sour, very orange and ultimately very strange. Also, I think that brown sugar comes in many different colors, where this pie’s brown sugar is strangely darker.

It’s a dark pie.

I also was not able to get ground hazelnuts from the store, so without the extra hazelnut layer, the pie was essentially a very old-fashioned pumpkin pie. It has only one layer of creamy pumpkin-ness and as it is so for most pumpkin pies, it’s very soft and almost spent an hour in the oven to set. Personally that is exactly the way I like pumpkin pie, although the hazelnut layer would have provided some additional sweetness which I found a little lacking this pie. Well, in theory you are supposed to eat them with whipped cream after all! (But I am too lazy to whip cream, especially considering how unhealthy it is.)

Nevertheless, after less than 24 hours, only a bit more than half of the pie is left!

Halloween owls have orange eyes

It appears that these owl cupcakes, made from Oreo’s are all over the internet. They come in different forms and shapes, but I got mine from here but even if you follow the credits, you would still have a hard time finding where the original idea is from, although these look pretty legit.

The first link I have posted shows all kinds of variations of owls, most of which were made with Oreo’s, like mine. In my opinion, the secret to especially cute Oreo owls is a colored nose (not just yellow) and slightly sad-looking eyes which are very close to each other. The recipe I used is really strange (it uses milk, apple cider vinegar and oil?) but came out as a perfectly moist cupcake base. This is especially serendipitous because I tried to follow the recipe exactly, but with all those eggs, milk and oil I thought it was way too much liquid and not enough flour. I ended up dumping in almost another cup of flour into the dough (it was perhaps 2/3 cups or so?) and voilà, it was the perfect cupcake. In this respect, I am not perfectly sure if I can recommend this recipe. It is certainly odd.

When eating, the trick is to quickly disassemble the toppings to achieve the smallest amount of guilt.

Later, when I ate parts of a base, I was surprised at how moist and pleasant the texture was, but it wasn’t sweet enough and tasted like flour and cocoa powder more than anything else. (I also used dark cocoa powder, turning the cupcake almost black.) However, after I added a butter+sugar+chocolate frosting, it had pretty much exactly the right sweetness to it. Not too much but certainly also not too little. The power of frostings are terrifying. I don’t usually like making cupcakes because of the frosting – it’s like a muffin but less healthy and more complicated to make? – so a cupcake has to offer something special to make me desire wanting them. Like cute owl shapes.

Just like in the recipe, my cupcakes use M&M’s which I actually think are a tiny bit too large. Smarties would have been best! Taste-wise, the nuttiness of the M&M’s are quite perfect though, and wonderfully compliment the Oreos.

I quickly ran out of brown M&M’s so the rest have blue eyes.

In some miraculous event, the end result turned out to be pretty and cute at the same time. I am astonished and probably will never make these again because I am afraid I might not be able to reproduce its goodness. Who knows?

How I stopped worrying about apples

There is this MasterChef USA Season 3 episode in which my possibly favorite contestant got eliminated for putting cheese into an apple pie. Actually there are various things that are strange about that episode. All of the people actually cook the apples, and they make a big deal about the taste of the apples. But good apples pretty much stand for themselves – no apple pie should need more than a tad bit of cinnamon or nutmeg and copious amounts of sugar to be delicious.

Perfect crust, though the middle did drop down some.

For the longest part of my life, my baked apple goods turned into a fluid mess. Pies would always get soaked without fail, tarte tatins always drip to the floor instead of caramelizing etc. etc. The only thing that ever worked for me was Pochi’s infamous apple pie with a pre-cooked apple sauce filling. (That recipe also has the benefit of being able to use huge amounts of apples to generate a relatively dense apple filling, it’s quite lovely.) It turns out that the solution to that is to use baking apples. The apples we have at home are very sour, but also on the watery side. Hence, taste-wise they are perfect but they are not super practical. It turns out that all my woes were indeed due to the apples themselves, of which I have always bought the cheapest ones.

Pie and coffee – is that how you are supposed to eat them? Perhaps tea would be better.

For this pie, I decided to pick a very classical recipe (to be honest, almost everything preceded by “old-fashioned” is delicious) and stick to it religiously. I did the “pulsing in the food processor thing” to get a super flaky crust, and most importantly I got Granny Smith apples. After having a disastrous experience with cookies (how in the world did that happen? I mean, cookies?) which made me doubt my baking skills, this pie makes me regain the confidence that I can deal with both pie crusts and apples – important cooking staples. After all, besides the strawberry/rhubarb combination, baked apple goods are probably my absolute favorites.

After roughly 50 minutes of baking, the apples absolutely had the right consistency.

The pie was finished within 2 days, and I am almost tempted to make it again… But I have other plans kekekeke.

Birthday cakes always put me under considerate stress…

…until it is finally done. One thing I learned is to always get my recipes from chefkoch.de. The person who created the cake I made this year is also the originator of the cake from last year, of my favorite blueberry muffins etc. etc. I vow to myself to continue making birthday cakes only from recipes she designed (and she made a million cakes, so I’ll never run out), and to be honest, words cannot explain to me how incredibly amazing she is. The goodness of her recipes go beyond my basic comprehension of baking, and I come to the conclusion that this probably means that I have absolutely no understanding of baking at all.

Yup, I frosted the cake on a cutting board.

I pretty much followed the recipe exactly except that I used instant pudding (still surprisingly good) and did not really pay attention to how much mascarpone and heavy cream I put into each part. Basically the whole thing is just an almost random mixture of instant pudding powder, mascarpone, heavy cream and milk – and it was good that way. Oh I also used white chocolate pudding instead of vanilla pudding, because I prefer its taste. I even think that white chocolate pudding tastes better than normal chocolate pudding which… never really tastes like chocolate. The chocolate pudding was only good because I added copious amounts of melted dark chocolate chips, some of my favorite foods really.

Toffee, honey-glazed bananas, chocolate chips, whipped cream.

I am still not very good at frosting, especially when the frosting is made with only heavy whipping cream. All in all, a conditioner’s sugar + milk mixture is significantly easier to deal with. As a result, the cake actually looks best when you only look at its top – and I need to learn how to properly stiffen whipped cream to make frosting actually beautiful. One day, one day… Unfortunately I don’t think it is a healthy idea to experiment with whipped cream too much.

I think cake sections are more stylish than toppings.

Finally, of course the most important element is that such a cake looks good in cross-section. As you can see, the chocolate layer turned out to be way too thin, but that was okay. From bottom to top, these are 1 layer of white cake, 1 layer of bananas and vanilla pudding, 1 layer of white cake, 1 layer of chocolate pudding and 1 layer of chocolate cake. Originally they were supposed to all be the same thickness. But then chaos ensued and it did not turn out to be the same thickness. Such is life. But taste-wise it is a lovely cake (and it is so heavy that 40% of it is still in the fridge, hohoho.)

Freedom in a glass of cake

I have seen this posting about 3 years ago when it just came out, and absolutely loved the look of the section-type flag cake. Without having any patriotic feelings whatsoever (certainly not for another country, after all), I have always wanted to make this cake. It’s just… if a cake is just food coloring, it seems less interesting and appealing to me.

But the idea of making a flag cake stayed with me for years, and so finally, this year, I decided to give it a try. I don’t make cakes of this type very often – my staple are crumbles, pies, pound cakes and so on, the comparably more healthy type of cake. I rarely make cakes with lots of eggs, or lots of… anything. Most of all, I am worried that such a cake would turn out not moist enough, although for some reason I have improved over the last years. I do not recall the last time I made a cake where I got the impression that it turned out too dry, and that gives me hope.

I was delighted to see that the cake fit into my small cake glass.

I used this recipe, which got rave reviews on the internet. They were all right! The cake was moist and downright wonderful. But the pictures on the post are not all that promising, because I wanted a cake with the flat shape of the original cake. My prayers were answered. For some reason my cake turned out moist and lovely, but without poofing up unpleasantly in the middle.

The big drawback of getting a flat cake was the fact that it ended up being way too small, ahahaha. In the end, I cut the pieces of cakes in half and assembled a ‘half cake’, as evidenced by the last picture.

Aren’t these layers wonderful?

Due to lack of white chocolate (and generally the fact that chocolate is expensive), I went for a butter + confectioner’s sugar + milk frosting. For some reason I find myself incapable of following other people’s frosting recipes. What I do is to pour the base wet ingredients together and then add sugar and milk until I got the amount of frosting I wanted with the right consistency. In fact, I don’t even know what the right consistency is – I just make it thin enough so that it’s easy to apply the frosting, but for some reason I still find it hard to make frosting look good.

I am a complete newbie at frosting.

On a completely unrelated side note, I have recently discovered ponzu. It tastes delicious! (And it has a cute name… if I remember correctly, there is an irrelevant character in Hunter x Hunter by that name.) I think there should be more to it than soy sauce and something lemon-y because it tastes fairly acid. Ohhh this makes me want to make dumplings and put them inside!

My first attempt at actual cupcakes

I dislike cupcakes. That was the original reason why I have never made them. It makes a lot of sense to me: They are sweeter and less healthy than muffins, they are harder to make because unlike muffins (which are something like a one-pot-dish) you have to prepare at least two separate things, the base and the frosting. Furthermore, in a completely misguided argumentation, I figured I won’t like cupcakes because all the store-bought cupcakes I have had so far were pretty disgusting – bland and they literally just tasted like sugar and food coloring. Lastly, I always found cupcakes strangely cheap. They are like the cake for the poorly educated and the little girls, less homely feeling than muffins and less elegant than cakes; there is no tradition associated with cupcakes and worst of all, there is a huge fad about cupcakes, with tons of cupcake stores opening everywhere in the country. Enter this lovely cupcake book.

I am still not very good at frosting them.

At the end I made chocolate banana toffee cupcakes because I had a banana leftover (as always) and a bit less than 100g of Lindt 90% chocolate, which I disliked as is. I honestly think that they got a little ruined during transportation, and water seems to have mixed with the chocolate. In any case, I figured cupcake frostings would be the best way to put them to use. Chocolate cupcake frosting is the ideal way to use high quality chocolate, actually, apart from perhaps ganache. Frosting is literally made out of melted chocolate and confectioner’s sugar (and perhaps a few drops of milk). I added much more chocolate, less sugar and much less milk than the recipe called for to create a very strong taste of chocolate – and oh my God it was perfect.

I thrifted the cakeform for 3 dollars, and it fits 3 cupcakes (or 4 muffins with one on top) perfectly.

I should have known that I’d completely fall in love with these cupcakes. They taste amazing and I don’t think I have been so addicted to a piece of baking as much as I have to this. (Pound cakes aside.) After they were done at something like 11pm last night, I have already eaten 3 cupcakes! No wonder I am gaining weight @.@ But to be honest I am still thinking of having another one…

Blueberries on sale, and I am in muffin heaven

It’s hard to find the perfect blueberry muffin recipe. It’s a simple thing and last time I made them they came out absolutely perfect. But today, I don’t have buttermilk, so instead I opted for browned butter muffins.

This Crate&Barrel plate also has a matching up and bowl. <3

Browned butter makes the muffins taste so different! Incredible really. You can taste the brown butter very strongly even after coming out of the oven. I made a mistake by letting the muffins in the oven a little too long, but miraculously they are still extremely nice and fluffy! Actually I also made another mistake. I don’t really understand what browned butter means. I literally burned the butter such that it turned completely brown, then put it into the freezer for a minute (because I believe that the mix of hot butter and whisked eggs is not very good for anything). I did not have any vanilla and I tried to follow the recipe exactly until I realized that it totally does not have the right consistency. I added more milk to it, and the muffins puffed nicely and turned out pretty fluffy. Maybe this is because the butter browning process evaporated too much liquid from the butter, but from some comments saying that the muffins are very dense, I get the feeling that it was a good thing to add that milk.

With that said, I think blueberries are my favorites when it comes to baked goods. Even before strawberries. (I am still deeply in love with Starbucks’s blueberry scones. I need to learn how to make them, the Pioneer Woman has a recipe for the vanilla scones.) Next thing I want to try are cupcakes though.

Blog revival!

It’s been a long time since I have posted something and I probably have made many, many things since then. Now that I feel a resurfacing desire to make things, here we are.

I made it with Lebovitz’s tarte dough and 2 pounds of strawberries with about a cup of sugar and 3 tablespoons of cornstarch (cooked for 10 minutes on the stovetop). The cake was in the freezer for 30 minutes (hrr hrr) and then in the fridge for the rest of the night, and will be given to my grandparents for my grandmother’s eightieth birthday.

Of course this pie is a whole lot like the pie I made for pi-day – a simple apple pie with a large “Pi” on it.

This is perhaps the simplest cake possible, but it took me forever to do. First, this is because it’s been awhile since I have made a cake like this, second, dealing with strawberries takes an eternity! (It’s even worse than apples.) But from the leftovers I have eaten so far, it was definitely worth it. Hopefully they’ll like the pie.

Pie for the lazy mind

Most of the vegetables I have mentioned in my last post are still there, and what’s more… I actually went to the Farmers’ Market! (I can barely believe I spent something like 120 dollars on groceries. Now I have an amazing amount of food at home… mostly spices and pantry though, thank God.) Among all the food, the pears desperately needed to be made into something. Originally I wanted to make a nice-looking pear tarte, but the amount of work I needed to put into that scared me off so much. Instead, this is a simple pear cobbler that took me about 20 minutes to put together.

The unpleasant brown color comes from the dark brown sugar I used.

I followed this recipe exactly and blame my baking powder and soda. Now, they are indeed incredibly old (something like over a year?) but it’s still annoying that you have to buy them in huge packages… I actually think I did a good job by using half of my baking powder during this year. The problem with baking powder is that it doesn’t work as much anymore, and it totally showed in this cobbler. It’s not really a problem because the dough turned out beautifully flaky, just how I like it – but wasn’t the whole thing supposed to be more puffy? Well, I love pie doughs and so it’s fine.

In restaurants cobbler come in a bowl and sort of crushed, why is that?

However, for pretty much no reason (I accidentally let much more cinnamon fall into the mixture than expected), this turns out to be the most delicious baked item I have made in forever; though my last lemon not-really-sponge-cake was exceptionally good. Cobblers are really, really wonderful though – much less of a hassle than pie, but very close in taste and texture. This definitely is the best 20 minute cake I have ever made in my life.