Baking

Bonanza #1 — Oatmeal Cream Pies

After the past few days, I have needed to bake like nobody’s business, so I started my Bi-Weekly Baking Bonanza a bit early. I wasn’t able to make my brownies Thursday night because I wrongly assumed that my suitemates would be clearing out of the common room. That’s what you get when you assume things. . . .

For my first entry in my Bi-Weekly Baking Bonanza, I wanted to make the Homemade Oatmeal Cream Pies that I found on Beantown Baker’s blog, which she found on How to Eat a Cupcake. I thought I was so prepared, and I went to the store with a list of ingredients I needed (gelatin, light corn syrup, baking powder). I got those, and it turns out that I only had half of the amount of the most important ingredient! Silly, assuming me thought that I had more than enough quick-cooking rolled oats, but once again, I thought wrong, and therefore this time around I failed part of the bonanza.

This baking is not only supposed to get me to try out new recipes and techniques, but to also teach me to be patient and take the time to run down all the ingredients required and physically check to make sure I have the necessary amounts. In the end I decided to substitute in the other half of the rolled oats with steel-cut oats. I was a bit hesitant to do that, but in the end it worked out fine. I never ever want to have to do that again though, so the first thing I’m putting on my next shopping list is ROLLED OATS (and all-purpose flour, because I’m now running *really* low). I still can’t believe I didn’t have enough; usually I have rolled oats coming out my eyeballs! I guess it’s punishment for not checking before I had EVERYTHING all mixed up and ready to go into the oven.

The first thing I want to note about this dough was that it was extraordinary thick and hard to manipulate. I had a heck of a time mixing in the oats at the end. I think I must have done something wrong, but I really don’t think I mixed the flour too much and developed too much gluten. I didn’t see anything on Beantown Baker’s blog about this issue, so it must have been something on my end, I just don’t know what.

The overwhelming stiffness of the dough resulted in a VERY puffy first batch of cookies. I think maybe the baking soda and water mixture didn’t get sufficiently mixed into the dough, so there was nothing to counteract the baking powder that was sifted in with the flour. The cookies did not spread out at all like in the pictures on those other blogs, which rather disappointed me. For the second batch I only put three on the pan and I flattened them down myself before I put them in. Those ones came out much better, but they still didn’t look like the other bloggers’. So for the next batch I turned the temperature down to 400 degrees, put two tablespoons of dough together and patted them down into thinner disk shapes. I was very pleased with those results, and they were finally starting to look like everyone else’s–still a little on the thick side, but much improved.

Those other batches didn’t go to waste though, because the cookie itself is delicious both by itself AND with an added spread of peanut butter–they just weren’t suitable to be turned into the “ideal” oatmeal cream pie that I was going for.

It’s a good thing I wrote this first half of the entry before I started making the filling, because I would not have been nearly as happy after the fact. That darn filling nearly killed me and my little mixer (it did actually kill my shirt though, because I got so much stuff all over it). I should have known that this baking attempt was not going to be entirely pleasant just from how stiff the dough was and how dissatisfied I was with the initial cookie outcomes. Before I even started heating the ingredients for the filling I failed another aspect of the “Bi-Weekly Baking Bonanza” by not reading the ingredient amounts properly. Rather than mix 4 teaspoons of gelatin with 1/3 cup of cold water, I mixed the gelatin in 3/4 cup cold water; I accidentally read the 3/4 of a cup as water, rather than as sugar. Because of that mistake, I wasted nearly two packets of gelatin, and no, that stuff is not terribly cheap. Thank goodness I bought the four-pack.

Once I got it mixed with the correct amount of water, I heated up the sugar, corn syrup, and water. That went fine, as did mixing in the gelatin/water mixture. The trouble came after I was beating all of that up to make it marshmallow-y. As I was adding the powdered sugar, it was getting so thick that my little hand mixer couldn’t handle it. The filling was going up the beaters and toward the motor, greatly slowing it down. In the end I mixed it a bit with a knife, but I had to torture my poor mixer one more time when I added in the shortening. I didn’t plunge it all the way down to the bottom, so I had to go back and mix it some more by hand to make sure the shortening was well-incorporated.

I set up filling shop on the two tables in the common room and proceeded to use a rubber spatula to glob piles of filling onto the cookies. I think that must have been the easiest process of the entire afternoon. I ended up with 9 acceptable sandwiches and some open-faced ones of various sizes. Not quite the 24 sandwiches the recipe said it yielded. I did, however, use twice the amount of dough to make each acceptable cookie since they wouldn’t spread, so that explains the shortage.

After sitting overnight in my microwave and wrapped in plastic wrap, they’re not quite the soft cookies that I was told they’d be. They’re a bit on the crunchy side, but they’re still really good. The filling isn’t quite how I remember the packaged pies to be, but that might just be because I haven’t had one of those in YEARS. All in all it’s a good treat, but unless I can learn from my mistakes this time around (and can get a stand mixer), I probably won’t be attempting these again anytime soon. It was just too much work, which resulted in a mess of epic proportions and a very filled sink.

One thing I definitely learned from this experience is that I really want to take pictures of the ENTIRE process and not just the finished product. I generally like posts in other blogs better when there are a lot of photos, so why wouldn’t I post the same way? I also love photo-by-photo instructions, so why not give it a go myself. If only I had better lighting in the kitchen, but I’m still going to attempt this. In fact, I’ll add it to my list of goals with these baking challenges.

GOALS OF THE BAKING BONANZAS:

1. Read through the ingredient list and physically check that I have EVERYTHING in the proper amounts.

2. Read through the instructions at least once before taking anything out.

3. Pre-measure ingredients.

4. DON’T MAKE SUCH A HUGE MESS! (This one’s really important.)

5. Take LOTS of photos of the ENTIRE process, from start to finish.

6. SLOW DOWN and ENJOY the baking process.

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Baking, Celtic Thunder

Chaos and Insanity

My first week of the semester wasn’t quite what I expected. For starters, I didn’t think it would only entail two days of classes. You have to hand it to Mother Nature for making my school close down on the day I have three classes. Kudos to her, but missing classes means the course work has to be made up somehow, which brings me to my main complaint. I just had to rework the days that I would hand in assignments in one class, and it did not make me happy one bit, especially the fact that a paper due date was moved to the same day as for another paper. This semester is going to test my abilities to stay on task more than ever before, which means I need to learn how to NOT PROCRASTINATE. I have so many assignments in all of my classes that there is absolutely no wiggle room whatsoever. If I don’t stay on top of everything, it’s going to be disastrous, and I wish that was just an exaggeration.

In preparation of this week, I decided to not honor my decision to avoid baking for a little while and made some blueberry muffins to eat for breakfast as I’m going out the door in the morning. I made the To Die For Blueberry Muffins on Allrecipes.com, and I must say that they really are “to die for.” This also marked the inaugural use of my new muffin tin.

I made some of my own alterations to the recipe, and they turned out wonderfully. I did not use the cinnamon/sugar/butter topping the recipe suggested, but I did sprinkle a tiny bit of sugar on top before I put them in the oven. I also subbed in a half cup of whole wheat flour, and I couldn’t even notice that I did that. Next time around I will probably use half all purpose flour and half whole wheat flour, just to make them a bit healthier and more filling. I didn’t have it at the time, but I’ll also use applesauce in place of the vegetable oil, just because.

Unfortunately, the recipe only yielded 11 muffins, probably because I tried to fill the cups too high. I also wish they could have had a more golden coloring, but I didn’t want to leave them in the oven, for fear of drying out. I’m not sure how long I left them in, but any longer and I would not have been happy because they would have been dried out. I took them out at the perfect time to obtain maximum moisture, so in the end the coloring is just an aesthetic thing.

This snow day also yielded additional unfortunate news, beyond the changing due dates. I went to check on Fishy this afternoon to find him floating immobile on his side. He had a good long life, for a little fish, but I will miss him swimming around in his bowl on my desk, blowing bubbles up at the surface along the sides and then popping them. RIP Fishy, May 2010-January 2011.

After today, I really want nothing more than to listen to some Celtic Thunder and bake up some Best Cocoa Brownies, which I think I’ll do as soon as my suitemates clear out.

Baking

My Bi-Weekly Baking Bonanzas

With the semester and all of the work that goes with it looming on the horizon, I’ve been reading baking blogs like crazy and stockpiling countless recipes for future use. I’ve also been searching for the perfect cake recipe to bake up for my 21st birthday next month. I’m never content to just have a couple of options. I always need to have too many options to count, which ultimately poses a problem when it comes to finally narrowing things down and making a decision. In the last day alone I have found so many things I want to try out, and I just don’t know when I would be able to find the time to tackle even half of them; which brings me to the topic of this post. Inspired by Yarn Harlot’s own Self-Imposed Sock of the Month Club, I will be doing the same with my baking, except I will make something every other week, since doing it weekly would be insane, given my schedule. I think the hardest part of this entire endeavor will be to actually narrow down all of my options to about 7 or 8 must-make recipes–just enough to last the semester, since I don’t know what my summer plans will be or if they will include a kitchen. They need to be things whose ingredients I won’t lose interest in if they’re not chosen until weeks from now–ideally classic recipes, but with a twist. There always needs to be a twist. It’s the twist that differentiates one recipe from another and makes it extra special. I want the twist to be included in the recipe, because it will also be a test of my ability to follow what’s written and to check that I actually have everything I need before I start.

With that in mind, during these blog explorations, I think I found my birthday cake. It fits me perfectly, in that the woman that posted about it wrote “There are just quite a few components to this cake, so it takes some time. Be sure to read through everything before you start this project.” It seems like it was written to me, because I’m notorious for not checking for ingredients and just diving in based on my own assumptions of what I have. Beantown Baker’s Chocolate Overdose Cake greatly resembles a cake my school serves at its Sunday brunch. I haven’t had it since the end of my freshman year because I haven’t had a meal plan since then, so I’m itching to make it, but I must wait. I know I said I didn’t want to alter recipes, but I want to make it resemble the dining hall cake even more by adding a crunched up Oreo cookie layer on the bottom. I hope I can get that to work, because I think it would be amazing!

Edit:

Well, that was a lot easier than I thought. It only took me a few minutes to pick and choose, and here is what I will be making as part of my “Bi-Weekly Baking Bonanzas”. I really need to get a better title for this, too, because this one is just too gosh darn long.

1-30 (actually 1-28) Homemade Oatmeal Cream Pies — Beantown Baker

2-13 Pomegranate White Chocolate Chunk Cookies — Two Peas and Their Pod I think this one will be one to make around Valentine’s Day, simply because the colors coordinate.

2-27 Chocolate Bacon Cupcakes with Caramel Frosting — Beantown Baker EDIT 2/20: I’ve decided to change this one for a couple of reasons. 1.) Two of my main treat eaters can’t eat bacon. 2.) I want a chocolate break after eating that INSANE birthday cake. No more heavy heavy desserts for a while, in order to prepare myself for the chocolate extravaganza that will ensue shortly after this. I’m replacing it with Oreo Cupcakes — Beantown Baker. It’s one of her most popular recipes, so why not give it a try.

3-13 Irish Car Bomb Cupcake — Beantown Baker This one will have to wait at least a few weeks, so that I can legally obtain the copious amounts of alcohol required.

3-27 Homemade Hobnobs — Cookie Madness

4-10 Peanut Butter Cup Chocolate Cake — Baking Bites

4-24 Deep-Chocolate Brownie Cupcakes — Grace’s Sweet Life

5-08 Strawberry Lemonade Cupcakes — Big Black Dog This one will definitely brighten up a cold winter’s day (or rather a sad stressful finals weekend with two papers due that week) with thoughts of spring/summer and freedom.

I think I’m going to take a pass at making something this coming week because I’ve just been baking so much lately. I will at the beginning of February with the Oatmeal Cream pies, which will help me to not be overloaded with all the chocolate I will be consuming with my birthday cake I’ll be making that next week. Then it will be the Pomegranate White Chocolate Chunk Cookies the week after. After that is up in the air at this point, but at least I have my options narrowed down to a select few sure-to-please recipes.

There’s also something of my own creation that I’m dying to make come St. Patrick’s Day. I recently bought a shamrock cookie cutter, and I was thinking that I will bake up a single layer, thin-ish chocolate cake, frost it with green frosting, and then cut out little shamrock cakes. I think the final product will be adorable, and I’m only posting about it right now so that I don’t forget, because I know I’m going to if I’m not making it for a while.

Baking

Cinnamony Breakfast Treats

My favorite spice is definitely cinnamon. I love it in my apple pies, my cinnamon rolls, my oatmeal, and even in my hot chocolate. While I was at home I was itching to make cinnamon rolls, but my sleep schedule didn’t really allow it, seeing as how I started sleeping until noon with great frequency. When I make cinnamon rolls I like to make them in the morning and eat them fresh out of the oven while they’re still hot and gooey. There’s nothing better than that delicious cinnamon flavor mixed with soft and tender dough. Making them is truly a labor of love, and I guess that’s why I don’t make them all too often; it’s probably also because there’s just so much butter and sugar in them that they are not in the least bit healthy, and I can’t convince myself otherwise. Why must some of the most delicious things be the worst for you? I’d like to believe in all things in moderation, but it’s just so hard to resist these when they’re sitting in their pan, looking and smelling so irresistible.

While these aren’t exactly winning any health food awards, they are considerably less butter-laden than my go-to cinnamon rolls. These Cinnamon Bun Muffins from Crepes of Wrath are such a simple alternative to all of the rising and rolling and flour mayhem I usually have to go through when I want a cinnamony breakfast  food. I made them over break as a quick substitute, and my father likened them to the Drake Coffee Cakes, but better. I have to agree with his assessment, at least on an aesthetic level because most of them didn’t rise up and have actual “muffin tops”; they just kind of stayed in the tins and did their own little thing. I don’t know if that’s my fault or the yeast’s fault.

I can safely say, though, that there was too much yeast in them, because I could taste it. Maybe it’s because I didn’t get the milk hot enough to dissolve or because I used whole milk. Next time I make them I will also probably just use one packet, rather than two, which was what my measuring out four teaspoons somehow amounted to–don’t ask me how that happened.

This one was one of the only ones that miraculously rose up well, and might I say it looked and was very yummy; yeasty, but yummy. The icing helped to mask the yeast flavor, so plus one for the icing. I didn’t make the icing the way the recipe said, however. Instead, when I was making the cheesecakes, I set aside some of the cream cheese and powdered sugar mixture in the fridge and added just enough milk to get it to a nice consistency.

Yesterday, I was craving some sort of cinnamon something, and so I dug up a recipe I found a while ago for Donut Muffins. I omitted the nutmeg (I’m just not much of a fan), and instead substituted about a teaspoon and a half of cinnamon. I also added some additional milk to the recipe because it was just SO thick. I then baked them up in my mini muffin tin, and got adorable little mini donut muffins; they look just like doughnut holes.

Then, because there wasn’t enough cinnamon yet, I added a couple of shakes of it to the glaze I made. It was just powdered sugar, milk, vanilla, and cinnamon–really simple.

Once they cooled, I dunked each mini donut into the glaze and put them aside to set. Two of them happened to mysteriously disappear before I took this picture. I wonder what happened to them.

They are SO yummy. I might try a plain batch next time, just for kicks and giggles.

Crafting

Nook, Nook, Nook!

I obviously can’t be left alone to my own devices in an empty dorm with a semi-stocked kitchen and crafting stash. Ever since I got back I have parked myself in the common room, watching CSI marathons and creating. The first night back I made the cake, yesterday I made a cozy for my Nook, and today I made mini donut muffins (a post about those later) and started a new crochet project that I’m really excited about. Having the kitchen and common room to myself for this short period of time has allowed me to get some final creative projects completed before classes start and I no longer have time to do things for fun.

My epic fail of a trip to Michael’s before I came back was with the intention of finding materials to make a case/cozy for the Nook Color I received at Christmas. I was looking online for inspiration for the style, and I certainly found some creative and absolutely adorable ideas, but I ultimately settled on a simple fabric and felt slip case. It took about three hours and a ripped apart and re-sewn seam, but I’m delighted with the final product.

I did have a small bit of white fleece left in my stash, but it wasn’t enough to line the whole cozy. I compromised and only used it on the side which would be touching the screen, so as to provide some extra softness. I’m not too worried about scratching the screen because I have a protector sheet on it, but the extra cushioning gives me some additional peace of mind when I know this will be spending a considerable amount of time in my backpack. For the other piece of lining, I just used some white felt.

In the end I think it was a good idea for only the front to be fleece because, with the added thickness paired with my measurement “skills”, the cozy would not have been big enough. As it is, it’s a tight fit, and I’m hoping that, over time, things will stretch a bit so that I don’t have to fight with it as much as the first couple of times. It’s manageable right now, and at least I know my Nook won’t accidentally be falling or slipping out of its new home.

Baking

My First Night Back

I made it back Saturday mid-afternoon, and for once my parents were able to find a parking spot near my dorm. We unloaded, unpacked, and parted ways, leaving me to my own devices in my empty suite. That empty suite could only mean one thing–BAKING! My baking cabinet was suitably stocked, and I got to it very quickly. I combed through my bookmarked recipes and settled upon a Dorie Greenspan recipe I found as a Tuesdays with Dorie entry on Amy Ruth Bakes: the Dressy Chocolate Loaf Cake. I had been eying this cake for some time, but I didn’t have a proper loaf pan to bake it in, before now. A couple of weeks ago I went and bought some glass mixing bowls, a loaf pan, a muffin tin, and a round cake pan. When I got back, I realized that as my bake-ware collection is slowly being completed, my kitchen is quickly running out of storage space. It’s like a puzzle–this can go here, that can go there, but that can’t go there, so where will it go? My only answer is I don’t know. Thank goodness I’m so tall, because I’ve been able to use the space on top of the cabinets because no one else can reach or has shown the desire to stand on a chair to reach up there.

Generally I am skeptical of recipes that only call for cocoa powder, because it doesn’t give me as satisfying a chocolate taste as it would if I used melted chocolate. I usually add additional chocolate to those recipes, but for some reason I didn’t want to this time. Search me for as to why; I have plenty of chocolate chips I could have used.

I’m not sure what the actual consistency of the cake batter is supposed to be, but mine was as light and airy as a mousse. Granted I had to make a last second substitution because, silly me, I forgot I didn’t have any eggs. Instead, for each egg I needed, I mixed together 2 Tablespoons of water, 1 Tablespoon of oil, and 2 teaspoons of baking powder. I really need to start checking for every single ingredient before I even think about beginning anything. I wonder if the substitution had any effect on the batter. I’ll have to find out by making this again sometime, but after everything is mixed as the recipe states, I’m going to add some melted chocolate.

The cake baked up beautifully in my new pan. A couple of corners were darker than the rest, but what can you do. I think I took the cake out at the perfect time, because when I cut it it was super moist.

It was a painfully long wait for it to cool down to semi-room temperature, and I probably should have waited longer, but it was getting late, I was exhausted, and I wanted a piece of cake gosh darn it. I miraculously had just enough raspberry jam for the filling. Next time I might try it with strawberry and add a little more because the flavor wasn’t as noticeable as I would have liked.

I also had just enough sour cream left to make the frosting. I had never before used only melted chocolate and sour cream as a frosting, and I thought it was an odd combination at first. It’s actually surprisingly good. I like the tang the sour cream adds.

The next thing I need to add to my kitchen collection is a long, flat plate for cakes. I know the cake sunk a bit from my poking a hole in it during the baking process to check it, but the plate just exacerbates that and does nothing to add to its levelness. I know that’s a nit-picky thing to notice, but when I think of loaf cakes, I think of long, flat, level cakes, and this attempt does not quite fit that profile in my opinion.

It’s not my best frosting job ever, and it doesn’t exactly match the “dressy” in the title, but the frosting was a bit tough to deal with because it was so warm and melty. I could have waited for it to cool a bit, but again, it was late and I wanted cake.

Doesn’t it look super yummy?

You can just barely see the raspberry jam between the three layers.

Upon taking my first bite, I was surprised that it actually tasted good. I was fearing that the lack of eggs was going to result in disaster in terms of taste, but I was pleasantly surprised. The cake was moist and rich, even without the additional chocolate in the batter. It’s okay in terms of chocolate taste, but not quite as satisfying as other recipes I’ve made. I’m still not a fan of the color of the cake, but once again, I’m becoming extremely nit-picky.

One final note about this cake. It’s definitely NOT a one-bowl cake. Thank goodness for my new mixing bowls, because I ended up using 1 bowl for the wet ingredients, 1 bowl for the dry ingredients, 1 bowl to make the filling, 1 bowl and one pot of simmering water to make the frosting, my 1/2 cup and 1/3 cup measuring cups, measuring spoons, the loaf pan, a hand mixer, a spoonula, a fork, a knife, two plates, and a spatula to make it. That’s a lot of dishes, and I finally got them all washed.

Overall this cake was a success, and I’m definitely going to make it again, albeit with a few alterations to suit my palate and aesthetics.

Crafting, Uncategorized

Oh Look!

And so ends another stay at home. My break here has ended, and I’m getting back to the city to work for a couple days and then begin classes the week after. All I can say is, I’m not sorry to be leaving. Three weeks here is more than enough, but I think I’ll miss certain materialistic things about being home, ie having a couch to lounge on while watching tv, having lots of counter space on which to make messes while baking, sleeping in a queen size bed, being able to have lots of sun coming through ample windows, having a light and airy atmosphere because of the sunlight, and the general cozy feeling I’ve been experiencing here. All in all, I want to get back to school and resume my hectic life, albeit I could do with a little less hectic and a little more calmness, but where’s the fun in that, may I ask? I still have some time before classes are in full swing, but work will keep me busy in the days leading up to it. I look forward to Tuesday when I go back; I haven’t seen those kiddies in five weeks, and I can’t help but think that maybe they miss me? Maybe I’m thinking too highly of myself, but if I miss them, who’s to say they don’t miss me as well.

I took a trip to my local Michael’s today in order to spend a gift card before leaving, but I have to say that I actually had a hard time spending money there. I went with the intention of procuring adorable fabric, fleece, and a matching button, but I was sorely disappointed. I found out that they no longer carry fabric squares or fleece. What kind of craft store is that? On a whim I looked for some Sharpies in assorted pretty colors, but oh look, those were no where to be seen either. I didn’t want a large set for $30, but just a couple of pretty colors sold by themselves. After wandering around for nearly 45 minutes, I ended up with only some new sewing needles in their own little case, two pieces of felt in a gorgeous shade of pink, a shamrock cookie cutter, some shamrock muffin tin liners, and a calendar on clearance for $0.50 (for my parents). It all came to a grand total of $6.35 . . . and I still have $18.65 to spend who knows when, because to the best of my knowledge, the closest Michael’s is up on Columbus Ave in the 90’s, and I’m not spending $4.50 in subway fare to get there and back. I wish they had an online store, but I guess that’s too much to ask, seeing as how they can’t even stock fabric anymore. I must give them some credit for their assortment of stickers though, it was very amusing to look at all of the adorable sets.

But I guess today was at least a minor success. I managed to spend (with the help of a friend) a Panera gift card that had been sitting in my wallet for three or four years. I also found two pairs of flats at Payless; they don’t stand a chance if I wear them outside to walk to work/home/class, but I can wear them inside while I’m at work or in class. There’s no way I would last the day wearing my big heavy boots, so until I get some all-purpose, sturdy as heck, miracle shoes, this is the best solution I have.

While I was packing up my things tonight, I looked at my clarinet case sitting at the foot of my bed, and for the first time since the end of senior year, I opened it and put the two center barrels together. I want to bring it back to school with me and try to play. I realized during my Celtic music course that I really miss it. Band was a part of my life from fifth grade, right through high school, and I can’t believe I just cast it aside once I got to college. Something that meant so much to me shouldn’t have been so easy to let go and to allow to fade away. I don’t want to let this go on any longer; I won’t be playing on a strict, daily schedule, but if I could at least get my clarinet out once I week I think I could get my abilities back soon enough. I probably won’t be playing some of the more extreme pieces I encountered in high school anytime soon, but just to play some scales and simple tunes would be wonderful. I used to get so much enjoyment out of it, and I want a bit of that old part of me back. It won’t be the same, but it will be something, at least.

Oh look! I’m using this entry as a means to procrastinate. I’m no where near done packing, and I leave at 8:30am. . . . It’s not even worth it to sleep now. I can sleep in the car, and that way I’ll hopefully avoid the sick to my stomach feeling I’ve lately been getting on buses when I travel. I’ll pop in my ear buds, listen to some good music, and sleep the hours away, like I *should* be doing right now. Instead, I’m blogging and watching the first season of Merlin–not a bad alternative, but not the best thing to be doing at the moment.