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.

Advertisements

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.

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.

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.

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.