Friday, November 17, 2017

Christmas (Cake) Is Coming!

It took a bit longer than expected, but I did finally get the Christmas Cake put together tonight.

I started - as you may have seen last week - by getting out the recipe
I got the recipe from a friend of mine in England - via her husband, who is on social media. The notes on it are hers.
I started by going into the downstairs pantry (yes, we have a back-up pantry in the basement for things we seldom use), and figuring out what dried and/or candied fruit we had on hand, then went to the store to supplement.

I don't know that I've ever really known what currants are. These are them when they're dried. I'm still not sure what they are when they're just current currants. 
Most of this stage of the prep process was just amassing and weighing things, but the dates did need to be chopped. I could have bought chopped dates, but - once chopped - they all seem to be coated in sugar (I'm guessing so they don't stick together). I didn't want the extra sugar, so I went for whole dates.
Don't worry - I bought them pitted. I'm not that crazy.
After much chopping and knife-clearing-off and more chopping, they got to here.
Yes. Still glad I didn't buy the chopped ones.
The following photo may look like a duplicate, but it is - in fact - a photo of raisins being chopped. 
How can I be so sure? I enlarged it to verify.
Finally, I reached for the tower o' questionable fruits that has been in the basement pantry for a few years. One of the nice things about candied fruits is that they seem to have a shelf-life which is roughly the length of an ice age. 

Biggest problem: Figuring out which ones I wanted to use.
The Candied Red Cherries were obviously a must.
Yes, they also come in green. No, I didn't have any green ones that were "pre-chipped" - and the whole ones have their own use in Spritz cookie wreaths.
The note on the side of the recipe specifically calls out the ability to ignore the grated lemon peel because it's already in the mixed fruit. So that meant that the Candied Lemon Peel was a must.
You know how you're only supposed to use the bright yellow zest, and not the white pith in most things? That rule apparently doesn't apply, here. 
Finally, I decided to go with a fruit I remember from my grandmother's fruitcake: Candied Pineapple.
All done atop the scale, so I could make sure I was getting decent proportions.
After a quick stir, it all seemed rather festive.

And what makes a fruitcake more festive than dousing it with booze? I have no idea!
I recommend not prepping this recipe around open flames.
Into a bowl and covered to hang out for 4 hours...

Then, when you realize that you're missing an ingredient for your cake, into a Ziploc bag so you can put it in the fridge until you're ready to use it all...
Some of the colors have definitely melted together since I started, which wasn't a big surprise considering how the entire bag seemed to have become a solid boozy fruity mass.
This brings us to tonight, so let me recap:

Yep. We're finally to the point of using eggs!

Everyone ready? Let's get this put together!

First, the ingredients (with stunt-double dried and candied fruit, since the rest is already prepped):
I mentioned the mixer in the video, but I ended up doing this all by hand - it just seemed easier.
Does everyone remember how to cut a paper liner for the base of your pan? It's easy, if you use the "snowflake" method that we talked about a while back.
In case you're wondering, yes, that's actually a 9-inch springform pan. The recipe calls for a "deep" pan, and that the smallest deep pan I have. (I probably should have just gone for a normal 8-inch. Live and learn.)
I know that I only showed one stick of softened butter in the video, but there are two in the recipe.
Butter by itself is kind of boring in a bowl.
I weighed most of the ingredients for this recipe. I figured it was the safe thing to do.

The sugar goes in with the butter (pretty standard baking procedure)...

And then the eggs go in. (I didn't pre-beat them, I just put them in one at a time.)
I think the choice of "large" eggs was the right way to go.
I was a little surprised that this only takes two tablespoons of Molasses (subbing in for the Black Treacle). But it did make the kind of anemic batter...
Molasses - the sulfur-y, tangy, sweet smell - is a Holiday scent for me, because we really only use it in cookies we make this time of year. 
...take on a ruddy complexion.
Oops. You can see lumps of butter, now. Maybe I should have used the mixer...
Weighing out the flour, mixed spices, pecans, and almond flour looked (and smelled) rather festive.

The first half of the flour and nuts and such went in quite quickly, followed by the - whew - pungent - boozy fruits. 
Remarkably, out of the bag, the fruits were back to being rather vibrant. Kind of makes me wish I'd had those green cherries, after all.
Mixing all of this together - and the second half of the flour - did get a bit more difficult as it built up a rather solid batter.
Could have left that spoon in there for days and it wouldn't have fallen over.
 Into the pan...

...which got a nice Edwardian collar...

...then into the oven.
I'd like to point out that this photo - though taken while the cake was still in the oven - was taken after the full cooking time had elapsed and the oven was turned off.
After it cooled for an hour (note to self: if I make this again, I need to start early on a weekend day - not after work on a Wednesday), I flipped it over and removed the pan.
SO glad I'd done this in the springform! Yes, it's a bit wider and flatter than it would have been, but at least it came out with no issues.
I was honestly a little nervous about peeling off the paper, but it came off with nary a crumb attached.

Somewhere in the midst of all of the evening's activity (probably about an hour into the cooking time, really), I started to notice how nice it smelled. As I peeled the paper back, I got another strong whiff of the spicy, fruity, boozy, Holiday-y aroma. It's a comforting smell, really. Even though I don't truly love fruitcake.

Next up: more Brandy, because something has to preserve this cake for the next 6 weeks.
I just realized that this photo looks a little like Neil Armstrong on the moon. Or maybe Matt Damon on Mars. 
I did add just a bit more than the prescribed two tablespoons at this point, because the wider surface area of the cake made it nearly impossible to cover with just that bit of liquid.
You can actually see the darker areas where it has been drizzled upon.
So... How does it taste at this point? Let's find out:

Yes, I changed clothes between videos. After all, it was past my bedtime by this point!

I think I already warned you that this isn't being seriously cut into until... well... Christmas. So we'll be checking back in on it in a few weeks. (Question for those who've made these before: Do I really have to do almond paste and fondant and things on top of it?)

What food is the perfect ingredient in your Holidays? Is it something you want me to try out on the blog? Let me know what you're looking for, and I'll see what I can do! (Assuming, of course, that I don't keep misplacing ingredients...)

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Cake Post That Wasn't Actually There

I've been having one of those weeks (or two or three of them, actually), and just when I thought I was going to turn a corner I ran into another hiccup. Let me explain:

So, there you have it. The cake is still in the ingredients stage (or at least the "most of the ingredients" stage), and I am set to show you the clips that haven't been shown before - but which I seem to have kept on my phone for no good reason. (Yay! Now there's a reason!)

(You may be able to play them all in a row from this link, or just scroll through them one at a time, below. Don't worry - they're very short!)

Here we go:

Let's try that again...

So... maybe we won't use a book next time?

Maybe what I need is fewer props.

Oh, come on. Once they're baked I should be okay, right?

With any luck, I'll have the Christmas cake put together and baked by next week, and we'll continue to move forward.

In the meantime, please send me any questions or comments you might have - or suggestions for recipes - and I'll see what I can do to work them into the blog!

Friday, November 3, 2017

Nestle Old-Fashioned Soft Pumpkin Cookies

Just past Halloween. Not quite to Thanksgiving. It's the perfect time of year for pumpkin cookies! After all, they have all sorts of fall flavor - and they're not as spice-heavy as Christmas cookies.

Let me explain:
Before we go on: How great to do those tomatoes look?

Here are some images of the recipe (which can also be found here):
Note: If you didn't watch the video, I feel I should point out that I used Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour in these.

Can you see the gluten-free flour in there? 

Honestly - these are not hard to make!
I opted to make these in a bowl by hand, instead of getting out the mixer. It probably would have been equally as fast either way - and this way I didn't have to keep scraping down the sides and dealing with the gunk on the beater.

Dry ingredients went together, first:
Can you believe it? I think this is actually kind of an interesting dry ingredients photo!
 A quick whisking, and...
Yep. Boring, again.
In another bowl (in my case, a really nice, big pottery one), I creamed together the butter and sugar.
Okay. I won't lie - this step would have been easier with the mixer.
Now for the really wet ingredients - one of which really didn't want to come out of the corners of my measuring cup.
I'm not really sure what that looks like. Maybe a dual-star nebula of some kind? 
The one thing that will never be quite the same mixing by hand (instead of using an electric mixer) is the "blend until no lumps are left" idea. After a good mixing, this still had lumps of softened butter.

I wasn't quite sure if I was okay with that, so I switched over to a whisk, which did get it a little smoother, but not much:

Finally, the dry and the wet ingredients got to play together in the same bowl.

It feels a little weird adding it in in stages (that's usually something you do for cakes), but when you realize that you normally add flour "a cup at a time" this makes more sense.
One caution: as the batter gets thicker, it will want to stay on the inside of the whisk. Bashing the whisk against the side of the bowl will put inertia on your side and help you get it out of there. It may, however, also result in some "backsplash."
Not gonna lie - it smelled a lot better than it looked at this stage.
Finally, all of the flour mixture is in, and the batter/dough smooths out.
And, c'mon - is that color not exactly what you think of when you think of pumpkin?
I used my small scoop, and was able to get 2 dozen on each greased cookie sheet. If you do the "rounded tablespoon" called for in the recipe, you'd probably only want to put about 15 or so on here.

You may notice that one photo is missing from this set: the "in the oven" photo. I was good this week and didn't open the door to take any pictures! Aren't you proud of me?
I did use the recipe guidelines of the sides of the cookies being "firm" when they're done. There was a pretty significant change in the cookies when that happened, so it was worth testing with your fingers.

These do need to rest - twice. Once on the pan for a couple of minutes to finish setting up before being moved to a rack, and again on the rack until they're cool so that you can glaze them and the glaze won't just melt and run off.

Speaking of the glaze... The ingredient list for it is in the final step of the actual recipe. (Not a great way to do it, but... oh, well.)
Yes, I decided to add in some cinnamon (which isn't in the recipe). I just thought it would go better with the cookies than a plain sugar glaze.
I've never made a glaze using melted butter, so that was a new experience. It turned out well, and it stayed a little softer than most of my glazes usually do.
Due to the camera angle, that butter pan looks huge! In reality, it's only about 3 inches across - while the bowl is about 12 inches.
It's funny how you kind of forget how much color cinnamon and vanilla extract have in them. But 4 cups of pure white powdered sugar went beige/tan pretty fast when it all got mixed together.
Quick poll: Would a spoon or a straw be your preference when faced with a bowl like this? 
I don't have any great secret for how I glaze cookies like this. I just kind of drizzle the glaze off the spatula as I go back and forth. Sometimes that works better than others. (Check out the wrap-up video - and the eventual outtakes - for examples...)

I did double the recipe, but - still - I got a lot more cookies than I expected.
So, how did they taste - even with the gluten-free flour? Let's find out:

Oh, and if you want to see what happens when I get ahead of myself (or forget what I'm talking about, or get distracted by something shiny), I may have a treat for you in the coming weeks.

Looking for something to fill the fall food void? Wondering what to bring as a side dish to the office Thanksgiving potluck? Trying to find the perfect food for a New Year's party? Let me know and I'll see what I can do!