Thursday, May 27, 2010

Daring Bakers: Croquembouche

Wow. It's been a while. Like... nearly a year, a while. If I had gotten pregnant the day I posted my last Daring Bakers post, I would have had a 2 month old baby on my lap while I wrote this post. (I'll give us all a moment to collectively shudder at the thought of me with a baby...)

Okay... back? Good. Me too.

Like I was saying, I've been a slack Daring Baker since I moved to Georgia. But that all changes today. And I'm excited about that.

So... Hello, Daring Bakers! Hello, friends who read even when I'm not baking or baking daringly! Hello, extremely ambitious baked goods that I have no plans for consuming but will bake anyway just because it's fun! Let's get right to it.

The May 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Cat of Little Miss Cupcake. Cat challenged everyone to make a piece montée, or croquembouche, based on recipes from Peter Kump’s Baking School in Manhattan and Nick Malgieri.

Being me... I did exactly that. With just a couple of my own modifications, of course. If you want the original recipes, you can find them here.

First... I made the dairy-free version of the pastry cream. With dairy. Does that make any sense to you? Yeah... me neither.

I took a container of banana cream pie yogurt, added some confectioner's sugar to it, and then thickened it with cornstarch. It... worked. That's about all I can say for that.

Next, the dough for the choux pastry comes together really quickly on the stovetop.

After removing it from the heat, adding the eggs makes the dough less like play dough and more like a mashed potato consistency.

Even the piping is not bad. Throw that stuff in a couple of ziploc bags (I'm still out of piping bags. I know... for shame.) and you're good to go.

The baking bit is probably the most nerve-wracking, but luckily Alicia had told me to watch those things and bake them at a lower temperature than the recipe suggests. Mine came out perfectly.

Then it's just a matter of filling the profiteroles with the pastry cream (stuff, in my case) that has been chilled and building the croquembouche.

The building is tough too... My profiteroles were dipped in melted chocolate and then piled high. And... well... then they fell over while they were supposed to be chilling and setting in the refrigerator. As you can see here.

But! That's nothing a different angle with the camera can't fix. ; )

Oh, and the flavor of the things... Well. Hmph. They taste exactly how you'd imagine profiterole filled with thickened banana cream pie yogurt and dipped in chocolate to taste. Odd. Not bad, but not amazing either.

How-ev-er, I am very pleased with the fact that I am now a Daring Baker again. Maybe a struggling one, maybe a half-assed one, but a Daring Baker nonetheless.

It feels good.

But now I'm wicked tired. (Did I mention that I realized Wednesday, May 26th at 2pm that I needed to make this croquembouche post it in the next 10 hours? Well... that might have been how it went down.)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Dark Rye Bread: The Untasted Loaf of Mystery

I received the following text message the other day:

"Been meaning to ask you... Have you ever made a dark rye bread?"

Now, some of you might have read that as a question. But, I'm willing to bet that there were also some of you (those of you a little bit more like me) who read that as the glove-slapping, gauntlet-laying challenge that it is. In my head, the text might have well said:

"Dark Rye Bread: GO!" or "Dark rye bread today. Make it happen."

I took the challenge and scoured the interwebs until I found Lady Disdain's Drama-Free Rye Bread. The title caught my eye, but the recipe won me over. It really did look drama free.

So I went to the health food store and picked up Wheat Germ and Dark Rye Flour. Went to the grocery store for molasses and caraway seeds, but alas they were out of the latter. Next time.

If you want to look at the recipe in all its traditional glory, head over to Lady Disdain's blog. If you want to see how I did it, then follow me.

I tossed these dry ingredients into the KitchenAid mixing bowl.

1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) dry yeast
1 cup dark rye flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon wheat germ
2 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons buttermilk powder

I stirred it briefly, just to get everything mixed up.

In a small saucepan, I heated the following wet ingredients just enough to activate the yeast in the dry ingredients
1 cup water (to create buttermilk out of those 4 tablespoons of powder I used earlier)
3 tablespoons molasses
2 tablespoons canola oil

Slowly add to the dry ingredients and beat at medium speed.

Gradually add between 2/3 and 1 cup bread flour to create a slightly sticky dough.

Once the flour is incorporated, switch to the dough hook and let it knead for 8 minutes. This was the point at which I tweeted about how a bread machine is probably not in my future. I felt so odd passing off this part of the job on my KitchenAid. At this point in my life, I like the therapeutic aspects of kneading, I guess.

Anyway... Once that job was done, I placed the dough in a lightly greased bowl in a warm place (the closet my water heater lives in) to rise for an hour.

After that rise, I rolled the dough out on a lightly floured surface.

And then I rolled it up like a tight jelly roll (without the jelly, of course) and plopped it in a greased loaf pan to rise in a yet warmer place (my oven, heated to 150 and then turned off) for another hour and a half.

After that second rise, it mostly filled the pan. Next time I'll do both rises in my oven. I think I keep my house too cool for dough to really rise well without it. I thought it was getting warm enough to try again... but I'll just stick to what I know.

Lady Disdain's directions instructed me to bake the loaf for 35-40 minutes at 375 until the loaf is "well browned and sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom." Bakers... this question is for you: Do you honestly dump out your loaf just so you can tap it on the bottom to check for doneness? This seems so bizarre to me.

I didn't dump it out. I went by the "well browned" bit. I was afraid the top would burn and I know my oven runs hot... so my loaf came out at 25 minutes and looked like this.

So how did it taste? What did it look like on the inside? Was it cooked through?

Hmm... I'd love to know. I made this loaf for the texter I mentioned at the opening of this post. And... I gave it to him. But... he's busy and hasn't tried it yet. So... the results of my first attempt at a dark rye bread remain a mystery. Ah, well.

But... the construction of the bread was as drama-free as any bread I've ever made. The next time I'll just slice that sucker and make myself a reuben before I hand off the rest of the loaf.

Dark Rye Challenge: Met. (-ish)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Cheating on ice cream with...

this guy?

Yap. And it's delicious.

Take a few frozen bananas, slice them up, toss them into a food processor (do as I say not as I do, the personal blender sucked for this task) with a dollop of Nutella (optional), and blend.

Voila. Frozen treat that you won't believe is just... fruit. Well... and Nutella. But Nutella is a fruit too, right?

Right. And since this cup of goodness is sooo ridiculously healthy, you can splurge with the toppings. Like... say...

Some of that leftover red velvet cookie dough? Yes... yes, I think that will do nicely.

Don't judge this treat by my poorly lit pictures. Go ahead and buy some bananas, peel and freeze those suckers, and try this for yourself. Next time I'm even skipping the Nutella. (o_O)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Vintage Vardrobe Vednesday

See what I did there?

Maybe one day I'll give a blog tutorial on how to be perfectly witty on a regular basis. Until then, you should just try to smirk nonchalantly when you recognize my exercise of such skill(z). (See that! I just did it again! Ha.)

Where was I? Ah, right... a good vintage.

Let me tell you a bit about my good friend Blair.

Blair is a Southern belle, through and through. She has a husband, a dog, and an open door policy to friends and family looking for dinner, a glass of wine, a place to crash, or really anything else she can offer. Southern hospitality? She haz it.

She was born and raised in this here small town, and that fact is ridiculously obvious any time she is in public. ANY TIME. She will see someone she knows every single time I'm with her. This gives her a sort of local celebrity feel. She knows our waiter. She gets called out in checkout lines. We were kayaking (OUT OF TOWN), probably saw a total of 10 people other than ourselves, and she knew three of them.

She was proposed to about 8 times by 8 different people before she gave in to the right guy. And though 8 proposals surprised me, they don't anymore. She's quite the catch. Anyway... What's so vintage about Blair?

Her dress-up clothes. That's right. Doing some moving, reshuffling, reorganizing, Blair rediscovered the dress-up clothes that she'd been given by grandmothers and great grandmothers and great great great (I'm being serious... check Blair's comment on this post!) grandmothers to play with.

Luckily for me, this discovery was made while I was sitting on her couch. She unzipped a garment bag of goodness and my eyes got huge. She flipped through each of the dresses, showing me the different fancy bits, and telling me about the woman who wore them or what she used to pretend to be when she had them on. And, for a minute, I just stood and looked at them. In my head, I was wondering if I grabbed them up and ran if she'd be able to catch me before I got to my car. But I was also thinking, maybe these are the kind of vintage dress that people appreciate but don't actually wear anymore. Turns out both thoughts were silly (should have known) because when I timidly said, "Can I try one on?" Blair said, "Of course you can! Why do you think I pulled them all out?!"

So... between teacher training workshops, on a Tuesday, I played dress up at the age of 25.

The first one I grabbed was the most beautiful, in my opinion. I don't know what it is about me and a shiny blue dress, but I just can't help myself. When Blair pulled this one out, I wanted to die. She told me her grandmother felt very edgy in this number because of that flesh toned panel, and you know, I can see that.

I myself felt edgy for a number of reasons. First, it's not often that I wear something that fits so... glove-ish. Second, the corseting effect of that panel is a-ma-zing. And third, butt bows. Need I say more?

There were other dresses in the bag. One was a very pale pink, embroidered number that put young Blair in a very Alice in Wonderland place. That one did a similar here-is-my-waist-at-the-closest-it-will-ever-be-to-Scarlet-O'Hara's thing but the length was all wrong and my black bra was too.

There was a red number that was just not having any of my measurements, and there was a mink stole that... well... I don't know why we didn't get a picture of that stole. But I do have one last look to share. This... believe it or not... is a bathing suit.

(That dark circle below the armpit is a patch... not a sweat stain. Sorry... just couldn't let that go out into the interwebs without mentioning it.)

Blair and I don't know what decade this one comes from, but it was her great grandmother's great great great grandmother's bathing suit. Her great grandmother great great great grandmother wore it on the beach, her grandmother great grandmother wore it as a costume, and I would wear it as a dress. And a darn cute one at that! I would probably forego the bloomer like pants that accompany it, but those sadly aren't around anymore anyway.

While I was trying on each of these dresses, my first reaction in each of them was to laugh at myself. It cracked me up to put on such legit dresses that Blair used to play in as a kid. Well... for one thing... I was surprised that I could pour myself into them. For another, these dresses are so classily pretty. Even the bathing suit.

So... now I'm sitting on my bed, eyeing my dresses and wondering if 70 or 80 years down the road anyone will even look twice at my ratty old dresses. I don't even know if my T.J.Maxx filled wardrobe will last 50 years honestly.

What has happened to our clothes?! Where have all the flowers gone?!?

(Too much?)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Just a day in the life...

I don't have anything terribly witty or sugary to give you right now. What I do have is an early morning conversation with a friend. She'll forgive me. I hope.

Anyway... the other day I woke up angry. And with a very clear reason for that anger. Poor Bridget was online... so... the following conversation happened.

The "me" is... well... me.

And this is why we're friends.

Ugh. And if, by reading my lyrical representation of that godforsaken song, you've gotten it stuck in your head too... then I'll give you the trick Bridget gave me shortly after we settled this authorial bit.

Yellow Submarine

You're welcome.

Friday, May 14, 2010

A Stately Graduation Cake

Doesn't my friend Danny look like an angel?

Well, he is. But this post isn't about him. So go ahead and forget about that note.

What this post is about is the cake in Danny's hands, so let's get on with it. A couple of weeks ago, my friend Alicia asked me to help her make a graduation cake for our friend Paul. He's the one in the middle there. His girlfriend, Ashley (on right), told us he liked fruit flavors and LOVED the margarita cupcakes he got as a reward for playing designated driver for Girls Night.

Well, I'm not one to mess with a good thing. (If you know me at all, you know how completely untrue that is. I mess with good things like it's my job. Hmm... and in a month or so it may be... but let's not get into that. Anyway... it was exam week and I had to make two cakes. For Friday night parties. So this one time, I didn't mess with a good thing.)

I made one - extremely level - 9x13 layer margarita cake, cut it in two halves, and layered them to make one 6.5x9 cake.

And remember when Alicia asked me to "help" her with the cake? Well... what we very quickly decided that meant was that I would bake the cake and she would decorate it. It seemed like the perfect arrangement. I got to do the fun part, and she'd do the pesky fondant, finishing stuffs.

Alicia has a different idea about what should classify as "the fun part," which is exactly why this arrangement worked like a charm.

So I got to play prep baker. I dirty iced, I chilled, and then I did a thicker layer of icing to cushion the fondant. And I chilled again until Alicia picked the cake up Friday morning. And what did the fondant fairy put together for the graduate?

The California flag. Yep. And a darn good one at that. And it only took her 40 minutes, start to finish. That's pretty dang impressive.

And... the celebrants agreed. Some of them may have even taken forks to the thing. But I can assure you that I was not one of those people. I am much classier. Related: That's also not my bedazzled flask in the background there, giving me away. I swear.

Alright, alright, it's in my closet!*

Anyways... collaborating with Alicia on this cake was too much fun. Baking and icing was a breeze since I didn't have to worry about the visual aesthetics. I just paid attention to baking and icing a delicious little cake. And I loved it. I foresee future collaborations...

*Family inside joke. Basically, me and Danny were the biggest offenders when it came to treating the cake as our own personal portion. Sorry, Danny, but I'm totally taking you down with me!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Week of Wardrobe: Inspiration Strikes!

Last week I found a new-to-me blog that soaked up a full two hours of my Monday. Was it worth it? Absolutely. That amazingly inspirational blog is Skinny's FitforaFemme. Skinny's wardrobe is perfect. It's inventive, chic, retro, and saucy, all at the same time. The same could be said for the blog layout itself too. I'm beyond jealous.

So while I looked through the archives on Monday, I decided that I needed a bit more style in my life. Now, if I tried to go from zero to Skinny in no time flat, I'm pretty sure I'd pull something. I mean, come on, the girl wore this outfit on moving day. But... I did my best. I pulled the skirts and dresses to the front of the closet and dusted off the heels. I also embraced the jewelry I usually eschew.


In all honesty, this outfit was put together after my workday for Happy Hour with the girls. But... this was my first attempt at a FitforaFemme inspired look. And Alicia told me I looked "very pin-up." Alll-riiiight.


On Monday, while looking through the blog, I promised a friend that I would wear a skirt the next day, come hell or high water. Well, wouldn't you believe it, we had torrential downpours all. damn. day. But... a promise is a promise! So I took my car to the shop in the pouring rain in a light pink denim skirt and paisley rainboots.


Nothing says, "I got this" like a DIY obi belt. Nothing says, "Don't mind me" like a Biology teacher necklace and a Joseph Smith approved shrug. Combining these stuffs for final exams just seemed like the right thing to do.


I felt very hip and femme in this multi-patterned, multicolored look. And it's a good thing... because I completely lost all color on...


Blair picked out this cheetah patterned, Mad Men inspired, Calvin Klein number for me. I added the bow flats and bold bracelet to pull together the Flintstones feel. What do you think, Kate? Is a Starbucks cup still the perfect accessory?

(Friday continued...)

One of my students broke bad on Friday. And it was absolutely hot as blazes in GA. I got home around 5pm, exhausted and aggravated as hell. But... I have a feeling that one last accessory can improve both the outfit and the outlook...

Ahhh, yes. Much better. No offense, Kate, but I think this jewel encrusted flask of scotch is better than any Starbucks cup I've ever seen. This girl is now ready for the rounds: Happy Hour, a birthday party, and a graduation party. (You've seen the birthday cake. Keep an eye out for the graduation one!)


See what I mean about the color waving goodbye on Thursday? I didn't realize it until I was putting this post together, but boy was the end of my week a drag. I'd like to defend myself by pointing out that Friday's shirt has a silk bow collar that you can't see in the poor lighting, but you and I both know I wore the same jeans both days. Stuff happens.

To buck up a bit, I took the clippers to my hair Saturday morning. But... I bet you can't even tell. Most every day this week I ended up pinning my bangs back or under so they wouldn't be driving me crazy, so the visible change is more subtle than the piles of hair on my bathroom floor would suggest.

So... some conclusions on my FitforaFemme inspired Week of Wardrobe:

+ Purposefully dressing like a girly girl is hard work.
+ I need more clothes. And shoes. And jewelry. And eye makeup.
+ Dresses are the GA girl's best friend. A friend let me in on this conclusion, actually, but I plan to run with it.
+ My kitchen posing leaves A LOT to be desired. A. Lot.

Annd... if you missed them, here are my previous Week of Wardrobe posts, complete with links to my sister's WoW posts.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Chocolate Peanut Butter Birthday

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

Seriously. Try to tell me that isn't one sexy cake.

It's fine. Don't hurt yourself trying. I know you can't, in good conscience, act like that cake is just okay. (Am I getting a bit puffed up? You are more than welcome to smack me.)


This three layered chocolate peanut butter cake is not a first run cake for me. I made it last summer and carved it into a hot tub. But... this occasion called for a more traditional presentation. So I layered the rich chocolate cake with creamy peanut butter buttercream.

And coated the whole thing with that very same icing, reserving just a bit for later. And then... ooooh... and then... I made up a thick semi-sweet chocolate ganache with a healthy dose of peanut butter melted in.

I let it cool a bit so it wouldn't completely get away from me, and then I poured it over the top and encouraged a little over the sides. Just enough to look tempting and rich, but not enough to cover all of that gorgeous buttercream.

Finally, I fit a piping bag with a star tip and filled it with the leftover buttercream. Next time I'll add more sugar to this decorative buttercream so I can have big, poofy pillows of buttercream on top. These stars are a bit retiring.

Despite the retiring stars, no one complained about this festive bit of decadence. The birthday boy, who requested something rich and chocolate on par with this blast from the past, was beyond pleased. Just today I received a text in which he proclaimed me a "miracle baker." Well... I don't know about all that... but I sure can follow a recipe. ; )

By the way, how do you like the birthday boy's cake slicer?

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Dear Mom,

Something random that always, always reminds me of you: the sound of teeth on thick plastic.

TELEFONA on deviantART

French braids on long haired little girls require two hands, but precision in the aforementioned braids requires a comb. So... while your hands worked, your teeth held the comb. Back and forth it went. The bite on the comb making the exact same noise every time.

(I couldn't find a yellow one. But I tried really hard.)

As much as I love this crisp, hollow little noise, my buzzed head hadn't thought about it for years. Until I was putting away some laundry in my grown ass home. One of my fussy, grown ass shirts was refusing to cooperate and I accidentally discovered that these hangers, when bitten, make exactly the same noise.

Only these though. The skinnier ones are different, and the metal hooked ones are only good if you enjoy memories of being a large-mouth bass.

So... there you have it, Mom. I love my hair short and I can't imagine it any other way, but every once in a while, I wouldn't mind sitting backwards on the closed toilet seat and having you braid my hair. My biggest concern being which one of these I would end up with.

All my love,