Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Birthday Once Again

16 years ago, on December 26th, my baby brother was born.

So, this year, on bring it back day, the little rockstar is having himself a birthday party. And, as has been the tradition (even for my birthdays) since I was old enough to hold a full cake pan, I'm making the cake.

I've made a lot of birthday cakes in my day. Generally it's a traditonal homemade cake with traditional home-made frosting. The cakes are layered, occasionally, but always round or square, and decorated with true "Shabby Chic" techniques. Crumb coats have no place here and we're never above decorating with jelly beans instead of trying to pipe on numbers. Don't get me started on long sayings - since the 8th Grade "Congratutalons" cake that we picked up from the local bakery for my graduation, we stopped asking people, even ourselves, to spell in icing. But this year - oh this year.

It's all my mother's fault. She mentioned, off-handedly even, "Maybe a guitar cake..." Perhaps I watch too much TV and read too much Tartlette, but I assumed she meant one of those Food Network Challenge cakes that make average bakers shiver. But then I thought, wait a minute! I've watched enough of those shows... Really, how difficult could a guitar cake be? (Mind, at no point in my plan was the bridge included - I'm speaking strictly to the body itself.)

Turns out, she meant "Why don't you draw a guitar on the cake" but she didn't tell me that until it was too late.

So, today I made a batch of Marshmallow Fondant...bright blue (it took two tubes!), a batch of chocolate frosting and the chocolate cake - it's in the oven.

I'll let you know.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Good To Know I'm Not The Only One

This morning I jumped out of bed, called customer service to yell at a teller about a system error that almost cost me $300 (it didn't. fear me for I am the arch nemesis of poor 20 year old customer service girls everywhere.) and then descended upon my kitchen - which is still a mess from the approximately 150 albeit small cookies that I made last night to begin the "bring-whatever-you-want-as-long-as-its-fabulous-and-unique" dishes for our respective families.

During a brief moment of silence where the pastries were waiting for the oven and the rolls were raising I found myself with a few minutes to spare and checked in on the rest of the blogosphere.

Good to know you're all up to your elbows in butter cream, royal icing and flour too.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Daring Bakers - Pizza Pizza!

I read blogs at work.

I am one of the fortunate few who have a job which, while making the day pass at an alarming rate, still leaves me plenty of time to do absolutely nothing.

So, on an idle Wednesday morning, when I came in to take my morning glance at the RSS Feed after I poured my coffee, I found it more than a little ironic that the first of my Daring Baker’s challenges would be none other than Pizza Dough.


I have made, in my rather short life, hundreds of pizza crusts from dozens of recipes (and, most recently the “a non specific amount of warm water, some yeast until it looks like the right amount of yeast, a little sugar, a little oil and flour until it’s pizza dough” method.)

I suspect switching from our improvisational, we’ve-done-this-a-million-times-and-don’t-need-no-stinkin’-recipe method would have been difficult were it not for the fact that this pizza dough requires an over-night session in the fridge, putting all of that would-be-whining a little behind the times when it was unveiled on Friday evening.

Where toppings and sauce are concerned, we’re a hard sell around here. TheBoy likes a regular red sauce – from…a jar – mozz, pepperoni and sausage. No more, no less. And to boot – you aren’t even allowed to cook the pizza through. Just long enough for the cheese to melt and out of the oven it comes. Occasionally, the crust is so under cooked that it falls through the grates of the cooling rack and has to be poured onto the cutting board. My mother likes her pizza with a little bit of everything - olive oil instead of sauce, garlic under the cheese, mozz, basil, sausage and pepperoni. When it comes out of the oven, cooked until it’s crispy thin crust is crackery, my father devours a few pieces, someone rolls me a crust and by the time my classic olive oil, garlic, artichoke heart, feta and mozz with the occasional green olive combo is on the cooling rack, the garlic from my Mother’s pizza has made my Father ill and it’s on to me to pry my younger brother and his girlfriend apart long enough to make their own pizza. Usually replete with too much sauce and not enough cook time. No one eats it until two days later when the leftovers have had the opportunity to solidify a little in the fridge and it can be grabbed on the way out the door. At that point, someone either rolls the remaining crust out, spreads it with olive oil and garlic…a little salt, a little pepper a few herbs from the garden and into the oven it goes to make some yummy crackers or TheBoy prevails and cons one of us into shaping breadsticks which he will munch on for days with the same jar of red sauce.

I’ve tried, in the past, to break this little routine of ours. I’ve made buffalo chicken bites and provided blue cheese. They devoured them in hand. I’ve tried ham and pineapple. The were ignored and the pineapple was thrown away because I’m allergic to it. I’ve implored people with pepperoncinis and occasionally prevailed but, in the end, we all have our loves and no one really wants to branch out on their pizza because that is the pizza they’ve been looking forward to for two weeks and, after stealing a little bit of everyone’s, you’re too full by the end of the night for experimentation.

I didn't make many changes to the recipe. I did add the flour by feel, rather than by the called for amount, because it's been a little damp around here lately and I consider that good math. :P Other than that, I went for broke with active dry yeast rather than instant. (I can't keep TWO giant bags of yeast in my freezer.)

As for the process - it's strange, as much pizza as I make, I haven't made pizza by hand, without the crutch of the mixer, in for-ever. So, today, I went old school - a bowl and a spoon and the butcher block. This dough - majorly sticky, which is fun in it's own way. And I'm sure TheBoy will love cleaning it up off of the board and out of the bowl just as much tomorrow as i enjoyed kneading it. (And no, my hands didn't really stay that clean while I was kneading. TheBoy made himself available to take pictures just after I washed my hands to get the board knife and cut it into dough balls.

So, for now, the step one phase is done and the dough is in the fridge on Thursday night....(And also, world bread day! Pizza is kind of bread? Right... Come on!)

To Be Continued.....

And the answers, they are here :) This pizza crust was renowned in our house - it's definitely on the rotation :)

Original recipe taken from “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” by Peter Reinhart.

Makes 6 pizza crusts (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter).

4 1/2 Cups (20 1/4 ounces/607.5 g) Unbleached high-gluten (%14) bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled -
1 3/4 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Instant yeast
1/4 Cup (2 ounces/60g) Olive oil or vegetable oil
1 3/4 Cups (14 ounces/420g or 420ml) Water, ice cold (40° F/4.5° C)
1 Tb sugar
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting


1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).

2. Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed. If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.

NOTE: If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time.The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour, so that it clears the sides. If, on the contrary, it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water.
The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50°-55° F/10°-13° C.

3. Flour a work surface or counter. Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment. Lightly oil the paper.

4. With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you want to make larger pizzas).

NOTE: To avoid the dough from sticking to the scraper, dip the scraper into water between cuts.

5. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them. Gently round each piece into a ball.

NOTE: If the dough sticks to your hands, then dip your hands into the flour again.

6. Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil. Slip the pan into plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.

7. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to thee days.

NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil(a few tablespooons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.


8. On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.

9. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F/260° C).

NOTE: If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan. Do not preheat the pan.

10. Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal. Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper. Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.

NOTE: Make only one pizza at a time.
During the tossing process, if the dough tends to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue the tossing and shaping.
In case you would be having trouble tossing the dough or if the dough never wants to expand and always springs back, let it rest for approximately 5-20 minutes in order for the gluten to relax fully,then try again.
You can also resort to using a rolling pin, although it isn’t as effective as the toss method.

11. When the dough has the shape you want (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter - for a 6 ounces/180g piece of dough), place it on the back of the jelly pan, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.

12. Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice.

NOTE: Remember that the best pizzas are topped not too generously. No more than 3 or 4 toppings (including sauce and cheese) are sufficient.

13. Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for abour 5-8 minutes.

14. Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer it to a cutting board or your plate. In order to allow the cheese to set a little, wait 3-5 minutes before slicing or serving.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

BSAPSM's - Acronym Muffins

Brown - Sugar - Apple - Pumpkin - Spice - Muffins


This month, I'm participating in Sugar High Friday's. Mostly, because I wanted an excuse to make a baked good. And also because I have like 7 pounds of Cortland apples on my kitchen counter, two butternut squishes and two pie pumpkins (plus the four cups of pumpkin puree that is used to be in my freezer.) ... Well, it seemed like time to do some baking.

This month, Dessert First hosted and, well, who doesn't go directly for Sugar and Spice?

Unfortunately, naming these monstrosities? Kind of a problem. So, I bring you Brown Sugar, Apple, Pumpkin, Spice Muffins. (You could probably cut this recipe in half - but trust me, don't. I actually made a second batch because I was sure that if I only brought one to work there would be a mutiny.)

Acronym Muffins
makes approximately 24 muffins

3 1/3 C Flour
2 C Brown Sugar
2 t Baking Powder
1/2 t Baking Soda
1 t Ground Ginger
2 t Cinnamon
1/4 t Nutmeg

4 Eggs
2 Sticks Melted Butter
2 C Pumpkin Puree*

2 Cortland Apples Cut Into Tiny Tiny Pieces

Mix the dry together, making sure to break up any clumps. Mix the wet ingredients together in a separate bowl. Combine until just mixed. This is a thick batter. Fold in the apple pieces gently. Use an ice cream scoop to fill greased muffin pan. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on a cooling rack.

Eat too many.

Take Pepto.

Eat more.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Snickers Cheesecake

Thursday night was my Father’s 35 to the 8th birthday and, since my family has a bi-weekly pizza extravaganza anyway and it just-so-happened-to-fall-almost-exactly on his birthday, we combined the two events in a show of gluttony previously unparalleled outside the confines of Thanksgiving dinner.

There is was a block of mozz the size of War and Peace, fresh basil from the garden, pepperoni imported by the local Italian deli otherwise known as The Happiest Place On Earth, Greek feta, Spanish olives, artichoke hearts, hot Italian sausage, phenomenal olive oil and homemade crust perfected over a decade of pizza nights. It started out as a once in a while thing when I was about 12 and has grown into a beast of a bi-weekly event with girlfriends and boyfriends…it’s the envy of my in-laws house and the bane of my dishwashers existence.

In the spirit of keeping candle wax off of the pizza stone, we kept the birthday festivities to a minimum but gifts were still a glorious requirement and I, in my well intentioned but poorly executed attempt, endeavored to get my Dad something he would really like this year. Every year for Father’s Day I renew his subscription to Cooks Illustrated but his birthday is somewhat of a trial for me. After all, when you’ve already bought the man the perfect gift, where do you go from there? So, I bought him a KitchenAid Immersion Blender. Why did I buy him the KitchenAid Immersion Blender? Because I have vivid memories of a sunny Saturday afternoon spent with the food processor in my parent’s avocado green sink trying to pour the most disgusting looking brown bean soup into the bowl a little bit at a time to puree, then trying to pour it into another pan without spilling. It took us two hours and the entire kitchen was covered in brown splatters for years. Still, we haven’t made the brown soup since and, even though I use mine on a near constant basis for everything from ice cream to pie filling to pasta sauce (gotta love that metal wand), I wanted to make sure he would use it before wasting a birthday gift on something useless. So, I did what any self-respecting birthday surprise ruiner would do - I asked.

The KitchenAid made the cut, but I still needed to make up for the surprise factor….and that is where the pie came in.

My father loves few things and a few of those things are cheesecake and snickers so, a few weeks ago, when I ran across a recipe for Snickers Pie I copied, pasted and made mental notes that this would be the dessert to end all desserts for my Dad’s big day and all was well. The part of me that has a love/hate relationship with her to-do lists pleasantly checked that off and started focusing on other things…

Until two days before the party, when I pulled up the recipe for said Snickers Pie and panicked. Aside from an echo of chocolate and caramel in sauce form, the only inclusion of anything Snickers-like were the actual snickers embedded in the cheesecake. Now, I don’t mean to slight the author of this recipe. They made the crust, the cake and the sauces from scratch but, still, I wasn’t looking for a cheesecake with Snickers in it, I was looking for a Snickers with cheesecake in it. So, I went back to the drawing board and with the help of two friends, I came out with something much more true to what I was looking for.

Snickers Cheesecake

This version is, for the most part, the recipe I made. However, I made some adjustments based on the end result. I dropped the butter entirely from the crust and went with peanut butter b/c I think the peanut-y taste got a little lost in the face of all of that chocolate and caramel.

2 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
1 ½ cups chopped peanuts (I used honey roasted)
8 ounces peanut butter

There are two things you should know about the crust to this cheesecake. The first is that I like a lot of crust. Not a crazy amount – but a lot more than those silly little already formed crusts offer. The second thing you should know about this crust is that peanut butter, much like chocolate, does not melt into a nice neat puddle in the microwave like butter does. Don’t over-do it.

To make the crust, chop the peanuts in your food processor until their less than chunky but slightly before “peanut powder.” Place in a small bowl. Grind graham crackers and combine with peanuts. Melt peanut butter and combine the ingredients.

Use your fingers to press the crust into the bottom of a springform pan. (If you’re really really insistent that it be perfect, you could use a smaller springform pan/cake pan to press down to get an even layer, but that’s a little anal.)

1 cup sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream
8 oz fine-quality semi-sweet chocolate, chopped**
1/2 cup sour cream
3 (8-oz) packages cream cheese, softened
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350

In a heavy sauce pan over medium heat (I used cast iron), stir the sugar slowly until it is melted and amber in color. Or, ignore my instructions and ask the ever present and incredibly brilliant David Lebovitz, because I used his directions anyway :P When the caramel is done, turn the temperature down and add in the heavy cream. Cry because your caramel looks like a disaster. Stir until it doesn’t anymore. Remove from heat and whisk in the chocolate until it’s smooth. Add sour cream.

In your mixer, beat the cream cheese until it’s fluffy and there are no more lumps. Scrape the sides of the bowl often. When you’re sufficiently satisfied, add chocolate mixture and beat on low speed until combined. Beat in eggs, one at a time and vanilla. Scrape the sides in between each addition and, remember to be gentle at this point - eggs hold air and when the cheesecake cools, it may crack if you over whip at this juncture.

Pour filling over crust and bake for 55 minutes or until cake is set 3 inches from the edge but still jiggles in the center. (If you’re curious about wet cooking methods, I see no reason this cheesecake would mind having it’s bottom wrapped in foil and being cooked in a water bath.)

Use a knife to loosen from pan edge and let cool completely. I made mine Thursday evening and served it Friday afternoon.

** the original recipe calls for bittersweet chocolate. I used two bars of 60% cacao and was disappointed with how sharp the chocolate was. Again, this is a Snicker’s Cheesecake, so I did want some of that cloyingly sweet Snicker-yness and I felt like the more bitter chocolate killed some of that…so I changed it. But, if you like Snicker’s Dark or you’re not trying to be as literal as I was, definitely use the bittersweet.

Caramel Sauce:
1 cup sugar
4 oz butter (salted or unsalted depending on your preference)
¼ cup heavy cream

Repeating the process used for the caramel in the cheesecake, evenly spread sugar on the bottom of a heavy pan and cook until melted, stir until amber in color and, when the caramel is done, lower the heat, add butter and heavy cream. Stir until incorporated/remelted. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Before serving cheesecake, pour caramel sauce over the top. (Yes, this is an excellent way to hide imperfections. :P) You might also consider sprinkling some chopped peanuts over the top.

And, I know, you're wondering "Where are the pictures??" Well, to be honest, I don't have a particularly good excuse. The cake had to be transported and I didn't want to put the caramel sauce on before we got there for fear that it might explode all over me, so it didn't get removed from the pan and assembled until we got there and I forgot the camera. Yes, that's right, I plain old forgot it. Deb, however, has some lovely pictures on the original recipe.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Grocery Store Sunday

It's Sunday morning and, even though the newly unemployed one could take a list to the store any day next week, I kind's the going to the grocery store. Now laundry and dishes? Those are things I'm happy to leave until the weekdays. After two days of pizza. baguettes and this morning pumpkin waffles, flour is the first thing making the grocery list. After that, it all depends on the menu for the week.

Monday: Pot Roast and Panzanella (didn't I tell you I made baguettes)
Tuesday: Garlic and Lemon Tilapia w/roast potatoes
Wednesday: His Mom's Chili
Thursday: Chicken Satay's & Peanut Dipping Sauce
Friday: Ham w/mashed potatoes
Saturday: *
Sunday: Bacon Wrapped Sirloin Tip Roast

*my parents haven't let us cook seven meals in a week I try to leave a day open for visiting others and, if all else fails, we'll make pizza or break out some of the lasagna I made for the freezer.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Farmers Market Day!

Saturdays are a good day around here. It means that the many farmers in our area share some of their wares with us at local markets. Today, it was raining, which was great news for me because I love walking in the rain. (My joints, on the other hand - not big fans.)

The other great success of farmer's market day was running into my mother by the Lettuce Lady and finding myself the proud recipient of some almost-past-their-prime-but-still-good-enough-to-slow-roast-and-jar peppers, a ton of overflow grape tomatoes and a few garden fresh onions.

All in all, it was a good day.

Friday, September 12, 2008

An Introduction

My mother always said, “If you need to follow a recipe, you can’t really cook.” My mother also always burned the potatoes and made dry pork chops, so there is that.

See, wasn’t that better than a “Hi! My name is…” opening statement?

My personal philosophy lies somewhere in between t0-the-letter-recipe-following (even with baking) and throwing the rules to the wind. I prefer, rather, to work with guidelines. I buy yeast by the 1lb bag and store it in the freezer for months. But I still at leas try to proof it. I turned a basic pizza dough recipe into a sour dough recipe by making too much and forgetting it in the fridge for a week. (It was, as it were, delicious.)

My name is Kay and I’m a 23-year old Customer Service Associate. Yes, I work at the bottom of the proverbial hill and, you know what, I enjoy it. The intermittent phone calls and generally dull days drive my co-workers absolutely bonkers, but they offer me a golden opportunity to spend time doing something I truly love. Or, rather, preparing to do something I love – cooking. I cannot begin to tell you the number of hours and days I have spent sifting through hundreds if not thousands of recipes online looking for that perfect thing to keep a Tuesday afternoon meal from tasting like something my mother-in-law whipped up. (Though her chili…now that I would kill for the recipe for.) The internet is replete with foods that I must-cook-right-now…no, you don’t understand – I must cook them right-now. And this is why I joined a 24-hour fitness center. Still, it is with a heavy heart that I admit I have food allergies. Not the cool kind that land you in the hospital because you ate a cookie. I have the crap kinds that are bad enough to make you completely miserable, but not actually bad enough to make anyone careful about inadvertently slipping you a piece of fruit.

Because this blog was started with Daring Bakers as it’s impetus, it seems appropriate to share my numerous allergies so that when you encounter a DB challenge of mine that seems entirely unlike anything that was assigned…well, at least everyone knows why.

The rundown as it stands currently. (This list changes from time to time. Kiwis and Plums have been added in the last six months. I expect it to grow to include the rest of the stone fruit family. Which is a bummer, because I love apricots.)
  • peaches
  • pears
  • plums
  • nectarines
  • pineapple
  • kiwi
  • cherries
  • vodka

I have transient and varying intolerance to:
  • eggs

So, for now, I'm looking forward to sharing a few of my own recipes and trying a lot of new ones along the way.