Sunday, March 24, 2019

How Has It Been 6 Weeks?

I cannot believe it has been six weeks since I last blogged. Well, actually, I can - but it's just weird. 

When last we met (pre-Valentine's Day), I was fighting off a low-grade cold that I'd been fighting for probably a month. And, in the most frustrating of ways, it wouldn't get worse and it wouldn't get better. So mainly I spent a few months with no energy. 

Then (as I explain in the video, below), I was also working on an edit that was taking me much longer than it should have. And I was having to decide whether to put my bursts of energy to productive use on the edit or the blog. 

Well... The edit got completed last week. And my cold finally manifested itself strongly enough last weekend that I went to Urgent Care for antibiotics. The past weekend has been interesting with the full-on cold. My "favorite" thing is that it's been messing with my voice. Want proof? Here you go: 


Believe it or not, that's a massive improvement from earlier in the week. I had to speak in a work meeting and one person offered to get me flash cards... 

I'm finally on the upswing. Which, happily, is happening at the same point that the seasons are finally changing and what has been a brutal late winter is turning into a fairly decent early spring in Minnesota. 

I'll be baking this weekend, and should be back to a normal-ish blog next week. (Fingers crossed that I can speak well enough to be understood by the time I'm putting it together.)

Hope you've all been doing well! Don't forget to send me any kitchen (or editing) questions or comments, and ... I'll see you in a week. 

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Pre-Valentine's Day, but mid-cold

I'd love to blame the Polar Vortex for the lack of post last week, but it went back up to the Pole a couple of weeks ago. 

Unfortunately, Christopher has been battling a cold-type thing since before Christmas. And in the past few weeks the cold has decided that maybe it should try tackling me, as well. So, while we were battling the windchills of -50 degrees a week and a half ago, and then two days of major snow this week, we've been cheering ourselves if we can stay awake until 9pm. 

I thought about taking a photo of a shopping bag filled with Milk, Bread, and Toilet paper to commemorate the weather. But decided that was more Baltimore than Minneapolis. 

So today - as I'm feeling a little bit more back to normal - I decided to push forward with some traditional Valentine's Day cookies. Or at least they're traditional for my family. 

These are made with a basic sugar cookie (you can use a family recipe, or just some of the ones you can buy in the grocery store), and then an even more basic frosting (margarine, milk, and powdered sugar), which I pipe on using the frosting gun I used for the brownie bites

And, yes, these will mostly be getting shipped. Not in the "wreath" style of most of my cookies - because they'd stick together - but in layers separated by waxed paper. 

They're not the prettiest cookies you'll probably see this week, but they make me happy - and hopefully will make their recipients happy, as well. 

Hopefully we'll back on our feet - and I'll be back to blogging - in the immediate future. 

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Is there a comfort food that gets you through when you're under the weather? Anything I should know about? 

Friday, January 25, 2019

Hot Fudge for Cold Nights (or any nights... days... whenever, really)

Last week's Pound Cake recipe/experiment was all about serious measurements - and serious amounts of time. Yes, it was fun - and really tasty - but it was also one of those kitchen projects that you have to devote some effort and time to. 

This week's recipe... well... if I'm being honest (and I usually am), I actually made this while the Pound Cake was cooling. 

It's also not quite as glamorous when you're done. Personally, though, I think that glamorous foods are frequently over-rated.
Check it out! This week's special guest star is last week's Pound Cake!
Let's look at how this blog post came to be. 

So, there you go. It was kind of a "Mother Necessity" situation - I needed something that could go on the Pound Cake - and that wouldn't turn away any members of Book Club. (And the fact that it's a quick and easy recipe for a food I really really like doesn't hurt.)

Just how quick and easy is it? Well, here's my copy of the recipe: 
I'm not the only one who took a spiral-bound set of recipe notecards when I moved away from home, am I? 
Quick assembling of ingredients:
The only thing in this photo that I can't always guarantee I'll have on hand is the evaporated milk. But I try to keep a can on hand, just in case of baking or confectionary emergencies. 
One of the great things about this recipe is that there's no dealing with extra bowls or pans or anything. It all goes straight into a pan on the stove. (I use a two-quart stainless steel pan. That gives it room to boil, while also keeping a fairly even heat.)

You may have noticed that the recipe also doesn't have any extra steps. This is pretty much dump-heat-stir-go. (Well, and measure...)

First up - BEFORE you turn on the heat: 3/4 c of white sugar 

Next: 1/2 c of cocoa
I really prefer Hershey's Cocoa for this. I've tried other brands, and they just don't turn out the same. Maybe it's because it's what I grew up with - but why would I mess with a good thing? 
On to the wet ingredients. 2/3 c of evaporated milk.
Gee... what will we ever do with the other half of the can? 
 I have no idea why I took the next photo:

And then the 1/3 c of light corn syrup:
No, I didn't clean it out after the evaporated milk. They're going to get mixed together anyway, so why bother?
I know it doesn't look like much, yet.

Maybe if I put the 1/4 c of margarine in, it will look better?

Still not really all that exciting, is it? 

Well, let's add some heat (I go for medium heat) - and stir pretty much the entire time as it gradually blends together. 

It will, believe it or not, start to take on a much fudgier look.

But the boil is actually the important thing. So you have to slowly coax it to the boil as you stir. 
I tend to stir all the way to the edges and even clear them down. This isn't a really particular recipe, so you don't have to worry too much about that causing it to crystallize. 
Once it's boiled for a full minute, it's time to turn off the heat and add in the vanilla (I always vote for the full teaspoon).
I didn't catch a good photo of the moment the vanilla went in, but it's one my favorite moments of making this sauce. The vanilla causes it to bubble up kind of out of nowhere. 
After just a bit of cooling, I poured mine into a small pitcher. You can see how it sticks to the edges as it cools down. Even warm, this stuff has some seriously thick aspirations. 

Why is it in a small pitcher? Well...

And, since we don't want the Pound Cake to feel left out...

Of course, it would make no sense to have them side by side without putting them together, so here's one more look.

For the record, at Book Club, people quite enjoyed the combination. And, afterward, Christopher and I had Hot Fudge Sundaes at home. But not many of them, because the sauce went pretty quickly.

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Do you have a spiral-bound set of notecards of recipes you took with you when you moved out on your own? What was one of your favorite things in it? Is it still something you make? 

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Pound Cake (actually by the pound)

If you've been baking for any length of time, you know that most pound cakes aren't actually made using pound measurements (at least not in the States). But I was reading "Consider the Fork" by Bee Wilson (a book I would highly recommend if you're interested in the evolution of how people have cooked/kitchened over time), and it got me thinking that I should try it.



Plus, I got a new Bundt pan at Christmastime, so... it was really kind of fate.

Some day I will look up how to set the still images on YouTube videos. Today is not that day.

Here's a better look at the pan:

One of my favorite things about Bundt pans (which, now that I'm typing it out feels a bit ironic based on this post), is that they tend to put the volume of the pan right on the outside of the pan. This "Skyline" Bundt pan is a 12-cup pan:
But how many pounds is that? 
The basic recipe I went with was from Alton Brown, and I found it on the Food Network website:
I trimmed off steps 1 and 2, because they didn't really have anything to do with the full process. 


As usual, I started out by getting my ingredients together.
Yep. That's really all the ingredients. 
First step: Creaming the butter and sugar. As a reminder, we're doing this all by pound, so we started with:

I went ahead and creamed that all by itself, first. Because it always seems to blend with the sugar better if it's got a head start. 

Next, since I wasn't using a pre-portioned pound of sugar, I turned on my scale.
As you can see, it's currently at Zero pounds.
Of course, you can't just pour sugar on a scale, so first I had to add on a bowl (I chose one with a handle and pour spot)...
Who knew that my bowl weighed almost 3 pounds?
...and then zero out the scale.
Yay! Back at Zero!
In went the sugar.
I feel like I should have checked the cups, just because... but I didn't.

Adding the sugar to the butter was actually a bit of a zen moment for me. Both the sound and the shimmer were kind of cool.

Now, the recipe calls for creaming the butter and sugar for 5 minutes, which I'll admit seemed like a bit of overkill. But when I was looking at other recipes I actually saw comments about how they had skimped on the creaming time (which also helps the batter get more air in it), and had regretted it. And, by the time that the timer went off, I could see why.

It was light and fluffy and seemed kind of miraculous.
Also - having just read "Consider the Fork" - this got me thinking about how long it would have taken to beat these by hand to get to this consistency. Or how long it would have taken someone's kitchen help back in the day. Ugh.
One interesting thing that happened in all of this. If you've ever worked with Kitchen Aid mixers, you know that they're heavy. Well, during the five minutes of mixing, this one pivoted about 45 degrees on my prep table.
Usually, it's at an angle across the grain of the table. But after 5 minutes, it was in line with  it.
So I straightened out the mixer (or un-straightened it, I guess), and moved on to the eggs. Lots of weird feelings about measuring the eggs by weight. But I realize that we also never really measure them by volume, either. Instead, with eggs, it's kind of "Hey. This is an egg-sized thing. Let's assume it's the same as those other ones." Which, when you think about it is a little odd. Right?

Anyway. I needed a pound of eggs. Alton's recipe called for "9 large eggs" but I wanted to make sure I was on by weight, so I cleaned out my bowl and started again.

The first egg came in at 1.75 ounces. Which - based on math - meant that 9 should be about a pound. Assuming of course, that they were all the same.

Eight eggs later, we were at 15.75 ounces. Which I figured was as close as we were going to get.

The recipe calls for adding in the eggs one at a time while the mixer is running. But, of course, I had them all in a bowl/pitcher at this point. Thankfully, eggs kind of stick together, even when they're out of the shell.

So, as you start to tip the pitcher, the egg whites start to move, and they take the yolks with them.
Can you see the white going into the bowl, pulling the yolk behind it? 
Honestly, it's kind of cool to watch. I'd recommend egg pouring as something to try the next time you want to impress a small child in the kitchen. (Just don't mention where they came from - or what they're made of.)

I feel I should mention that there different opinions on how to add the eggs to the pound cake batter. I, obviously, went for whole eggs going in all at once. But some recipes say you should only add the yolks in at this point, then whip up the whites and fold them in at the end.

One of the reasons for this is that the batter can look "broken" otherwise. What does that mean? Well... it means it could look like this:

And, if you happen to get a phonecall at this stage and walk away from the mixer for a few minutes, it could even end up looking like this:

Even so, I'd rather deal with a batter that looks a little odd than have to whip egg whites and fold them in later. So... There you go.

I added the vanilla and salt (not a pound of each), and then went back to the scale.

Today, at least, one pound of flour...

...was right about four cups. Flour - because of the way it can settle - is actually one of the worst culprits for holding different volumes at different times. (And that doesn't even factor in sifting...)
There's something very wintry about this photo. 
I was good and added the flour in three installments, as the recipe recommended.

And by the time it was done, the batter was thick and, well, luscious. It held its shape when I took the paddle out of the bowl, even.
I will neither confirm nor deny whether I tried any of it at this point. Because - obviously - raw flour and raw eggs are both really dangerous. But, if I had tried it, I'm sure it would have been kind of airy and softly vanilla-ed. 
Next up, getting it into the pan.

Oh. Crap. I forgot to mention that I sprayed the pan with Pam Baking spray. It has flour in it, and works really well for me in most baking. (I also really like the Bak-Kleen baking spray for the same reason - but one Pam is available in the grocery store, and Bak-Kleen is typically only in cooking stores.)
NOTE: Because this has flour in it, it is NOT good for people who can't do gluten. When I bake for my gluten-free friends, I go for the old-fashioned butter and (gluten-free) flour in the pan.
Looking at it as I put it into the 340-degree oven (I compromised between the 325 and 350 recommendations), I realized I should have smoothed the top a bit better.

According to Alton, I needed to aim for an internal temperature of 210 degrees, and since the woman at NordicWare had cautioned me about how a deeper Bundt pan can bake, I didn't take any chances and inserted my thermometer as we got close to an hour.

As we passed the hour mark, we were getting really close.

When the thermometer beeped, I pulled the pan out of the oven and set it on a cooling rack to set up for about 10 minutes. Possibly the most difficult part of the entire process.
Also, this is when I noticed that the portion of the cake closer to the back of the oven had risen a little better than the rest.
Ten minutes gone, I placed another rack on top and started praying. In part, I was hoping it would come out. 

I was also hoping my hands would be big enough to grab the sides of the two racks and flip them over without the pan sliding out.

Success!

I know I usually don't have random video in the middle of my posts, but this was too exciting a moment to only use photos:

And, yes, it came out of the pan so well that pretty much nothing was left behind:

Once it had some time to cool, I moved it to a plate for photos. I may have moved it too soon - you'll find out why I think that in the video below.


At this point, you could drizzle it with glaze, but I opted for some basic powdered sugar - just enough to really show off the design.


So... how'd it do?

I'd have to say that, pound-for-pound, it turned out pretty well.


Although... It does kind of look like it needs... something. (If you watched the wrap-up video, you already have a spoiler as to what's coming next week.)

By the way: Before I cut into it, I put it back on the scale. Remember that I measured everything by pounds - a pound each of four ingredients (butter, sugar, eggs, flour), plus a little bit of vanilla and salt. So that should give us a four-pound cake, right?

Well, no. Because the cake rises as the moisture in it expands. This forces it all to grow. But then the moisture also evaporates. And, in this case, took about 7 ounces of the cake with it.

Isn't kitchen science fun?

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What's a recipe that you've always wanted to learn more about? Is there something you've always heard of but never tried? Let me know and I'll see if I can work it into a future post!