Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Anchors Aweigh!

Ahoy! How exciting, two posts in one month! I'm on a roll. This post is brought to you by my sister's birthday, baking in a new kitchen, and viewers like you. Normally I do something completely crazy for my sister's birthday (see: TARDIS, panda cupcakes, cookie monster macarons) but I have the problem of my living situation being somewhat complicated right now and my baking tools being very far away from me. So I decided to go with something simple: cupcakes with fun anchor decorations because my sister loves anchors. Easy enough, right? HA.

The first decision to make was what to make the anchor decorations out of. Ever helpful Googling suggested just using Wilton candy melts and then piping the shapes. I seriously considered this idea because a) it's just melting chocolate and b) chocolate is yummy. However, it is August and chocolate is also melty. I wasn't confident enough in the anchors not melting after piping. Then I remembered the adorable glasses from the Smart Cookies that I piped with royal icing and they were super duper easy and dried perfectly. So I opted for royal icing. Next, I had to deal with the problem of having no tools whatsoever. I took a quick trip to Michaels and picked up the super awesome food dye kit (if you'll recall, I'm never dying anything again without this color palette of food dyes. Don't care about the cost. Worth it.) and investigated some piping tips. I didn't want to get anything too expensive but I knew that I needed at least two piping tips (one fine for the decorations, one large for the cupcake frosting) and I knew that my mom's piping bag is crap so I wasn't going to deal with that nonsense. Then my eyes fell upon a set of two squeeze bottles with #2 piping tips (the fine ones) for only $5. How wonderful! Seems like it will be an easy and not at all messy way of piping my decorations! You totally believe me that that's how it turned out, right? Finally, I got frustrated considering what to do with the big piping tip and just bought the tip I needed for $1 and said, "Eh, I'll use the method of cutting the corner of a Ziplock bag and call it a day."

Tools acquired, I asked my sister what flavor cupcakes she would like. She sent me four ridiculous flavors with no recipes attached. Because of course. I landed on the salted caramel cupcakes because they sounded yummiest to me and the most attainable. Did I mention that I have none of my cookbooks with me also? No? Well, I didn't. So boxed chocolate cupcakes it is and I'll have to find a salted caramel buttercream recipe on the interwebs.

The night before the birthday party, I set sail to pipe my anchors (get it?!?!?!). I made my royal icing which is pretty easy because it's just egg white, vanilla, and powdered sugar until you get stiff peaks for good piping consistency. I also dyed the royal icing black (I was originally thinking a dark blue but then changed my mind). This was probably a mistake because I always forget that the color card specifies 70 drops of black dye to get the color black and that much dye in that little icing turns people's mouths whatever color I'm dying it. Whoops. Too late. Once my icing was the right color, I started to put it into my handy dandy squeeze bottle. Or maybe not so handy dandy. Because the problem with a squeeze bottle instead of a piping bag is that it only has a small bottle-sized opening to put all the icing in through! So it takes forever and I had to develop a system of using the spatula to put some icing on top of the bottle and then used the back of a spoon to poke the icing enough to let some air through so it would actually go in the bottle. It was messy, it was slow, it was annoying. That's what I get for not just buying a piping bag. (I'd also like to point out that while I was raging in the kitchen, my mom and husband were paying exactly zero attention to my struggles. Too bad, it was pretty amusing.)

Anyway, once I finally filled the squeeze bottle, I started to pipe my anchors. The interwebs encouraged me to print out a template to put under my parchment paper but templates are for suckers. I simply googled "anchor royal icing decorations" and then eyeballed it from the image on my phone. And you know what? They came out surprisingly well! Piping with the stupid squeeze bottle hurt my hands and it was slow going but I think they came out pretty nice. They definitely actually look like anchors. Then I got bored of making anchors so I went rogue and did some fishies, some seaweed, and a few octopi (ok, maybe they're sept-or-fewer-opi). Then I offered the piping bottle to my mom and husband to see if they wanted to make any creations. Husband opted out and said he'd just eat them later and my mom attempted some shells and a truly horrifying mermaid (pictured below for your amusement). Off to bed to let them dry into perfectly professional decorations!


Now that went so smoothly so the rest of this will obviously be a shit show. First I had to make the cupcakes. Yes, I went with a boxed mix because I was short on time and didn't care. Unfortunately, this was needlessly difficult because it was an unfamiliar kitchen in my mom's fancy new shore house and I couldn't find a damn thing. And I'm extra annoyed because the box said it made 24 cupcakes but making 24 cupcakes with that amount of batter led to some very low cupcakes. Most of them didn't puff up above the ridge of the cupcake sleeve which made piping annoying and difficult. Not sure if it's because the cake mix was too fudgy or what but it was irritating.

Whatever, on to the fun part: salted caramel buttercream! I went through several recipes online and finally landed on one that looked relatively simple and caramel-y. A lot of recipes called for store-bought caramel syrup and that just didn't seem right to me. Eventually I found one that forced me to make my own caramel syrup. Buttercream is actually quite easy. It just requires a lot of butter and a lot of powdered sugar. Then for this recipe, I had to add my homemade caramel syrup. I was directed to boil water and sugar until it turns a light golden brown (super boring to watch, by the way) and then add heavy cream and vanilla VERY slowly. This almost went perfectly except for the part where some of the caramel converted to a soft ball stage and my spoon got stuck to the bottom of the pot while I was stirring. Oops. But it wasn't a whole lot so once the mixture cooled, I just poured in the amount that was pour-able and discarded the rest. Flawless logic. Baking is definitely not an exact science, right? Only thing left was to dye the buttercream a light ocean blue and assemble the cupcakes! (You can barely tell from the pictures because I'm bad at photography but I swear, the buttercream is blue!)

Having abandoned my nonsense squeeze bottle, I filled a plastic bag with the buttercream, inserted the piping tip into the corner and cut the tip off. And it worked great. No messes, perfect piping. Lovely spirals of buttercream even though the cupcakes were way too short. I was rockin', I was rollin', I was...suddenly out of buttercream with four cupcakes left. Well, screw that, I'm not making more buttercream. Those four are now officially chocolate muffins for breakfast. Last but not least, I had to remove my decorations from the parchment paper to adorn my adorable cupcakes. First anchor off: no problem. Second anchor off: broke in half. Must've been a defective anchor. Third anchor off: DEAR GOD, WHY ARE THEY ALL BREAKING! I underestimated how delicate these decorations were and do not yet have a good technique for handling them. The result was a lot of broken anchors, amputated octopi, and a decapitated mermaid. But I did the best I could and put in the broken decorations so it looked like they were under the waves of the frosting. All in all, it didn't end up looking that terrible.

Seriously, my photography skills need some work. But most importantly of all, these cupcakes were DELICIOUS! Recall that I do not have a sweet tooth but I inhaled this cupcake. So so so so good. I could've used a bigger cupcake to carry all of that buttercream but whatever, it was nummy. Overall, another success even with some bumps in the road. Might need to revisit some cookies next, it's been a while...

Monday, August 21, 2017

PeCAN I Start Baking Again Now?

Eight months without baking. That's just not right, friends. Not just eight months without blogging about baking, no no. Eight months without baking. If I've baked anything between now and New Years', I don't remember what it was but it couldn't have been substantial. My metaphysical angst has returned and I believe it to be in direct correlation to the amount of dust on my KitchenAid.

Step one: Dust my KitchenAid.

Today seemed like the perfect excuse to get my bake on since I have some friends coming over for dinner. I started my morning by searching for the perfect dessert to go with kabobs. Just kidding, I definitely didn't think that hard about it. I pulled out the good ol' Martha cookies book and I thought about making something tried and true but that would be so boring. Then I saw that there was a recipe for pecan bars that I've never tried before. Pretty easy to get back into the groove of things. Or so I hoped.

The first thing I was told to do was preheat the oven. Check. Then make the crust. This involved creaming the butter and brown sugar and I miraculously managed to make that happen. You know, considering how long it's been since I baked, it's a genuine miracle that my brown sugar was soft enough to use. Then I added my salt and my flour and bam! Crust done. I pressed the dough into the pan and pierced the bejeezus out of it with a fork and then was directed to chill it for 20 minutes. What? TWENTY minutes? Why on earth did I preheat my oven when I started? Why does Martha think an oven takes 30-40 minutes to preheat? Does she think there's little miniature Boy Scouts sitting in my oven with sticks and leaves trying to start a fire? Silly Martha.

To be efficient while the crust was chilling, I put together the ingredients for the filling. It's just butter, brown sugar, honey, sugar, and heavy cream at first. I finally killed my honey bear with this recipe. I actually almost didn't have enough but I stood over the saucepan letting the honey drip out ever so slowly for approximately 10 minutes so I think I ended up with enough at the end. I squeezed that honey bear for all he was worth. All that is in a pot ready to be boiled and then I'll just stir in some salt, pecans, and vanilla extract. Hmm. Where is my vanilla extract? I searched every single cabinet that seemed even marginally related to baking and could not for the life of me find my big bottle of vanilla extract. Is it possible that I used it up and forgot about it? I dove into my pantry for a deeper hunt and allllllll the way in the back, I found a little box with Big Y vanilla extract! Success! And it doesn't even expire until...January, 2015. Hmm. How much of a risk do I think that is? I mean, I doubt it'll outright poison my guests. It's unopened but there's a chance I may not get that potent vanilla flavor. Hmm. Well, I'm not going out to the store so I guess it'll have to do.

I just took the crust out of the oven (yes, I'm mid-recipe while I write this) and I am supposed to lower the oven to 325 and let the crust cool completely. Nice try, Martha. I turned the oven off until the crust cools. I imagine it may take a while in 90 degree heat.

Oh my goodness! I literally just remembered that I brought back vanilla extract from Mexico! Be right back...

YES! Found it! And before you comment on the fact that it was staring me in the face while I was looking for the other bottle, let me say that the other bottle was a slightly different shape. So I obviously can't be held accountable for not seeing it. Obviously. Goodbye, vanilla extract from 2015. I'm not going to deal with your nonsense.

And now I'm just waiting for the crust to cool. And waiting. And waiting. And reading the rest of the recipe. I've got some real questions about the end of the recipe where I'm supposedly going to be able to just invert the bars onto a cooling rack with no problems whatsoever. This crust was baked in an ungreased pan so I'm going to anticipate some difficulties with this step. Stay tuned.

I'm back! That went...surprisingly well! No issues with boiling the filling or pouring it on top of the crust (though, to be honest, it didn't look like enough filling/topping and next time I'd probably add more pecans) or baking it and letting it cool. Then, as directed, I used a sharp knife along the edges of the pan, flipped the bars onto a wire rack, and then flipped them back onto a cutting board. No issues! Well, a few crumbs on the floor but it worked perfectly! Not sure what sort of voodoo magic allowed this to happen but I am not complaining.

They looked exactly like the picture! And they were soooooo tasty! Definitely sweet but not overly sweet. I think maybe I could use a little less salt next time but in general, these bars were a great success. Considering I only had two left at the end of the night, I'd say they were pretty well received! Glad to be back - looking forward to more adventures!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Merry Meringues

Guys, I used the WRONG walnut ball recipe! Brown sugar! My recipe lacked brown sugar!

(Ok, so this is in reference to my last post with the crumbling walnut balls. But I just needed to share my discovery of the truth!)

Moving on to this baking adventure! Just a quick post from a baking adventure last week. I had to bake cookies for a holiday party at work. I didn't have much time to do so and I also didn't want to do anything boring. I'm guessing you know what that means? Something completely crazy!

I decided on meringue cookies. I've made these a few times in the past with varying success. BUT! To spice things up and keep it interesting, I saw a recipe online for "merry meringues" which are striped like peppermints! I just had to try it.

I went back to the America's Test Kitchen meringue recipe because it is just the best and I'm positive always gives me the best results. And I love making meringues because they have so few ingredients. Just egg whites, cream of tartar, a pinch of salt, sugar, and vanilla. Making the meringues was so easy. To achieve the striped effect, I was directed to paint colored stripes on the inside of my piping bag. I opted for only 4 stripes of red to test it out. I think this would have worked better with non-plastic bags because I felt like I had trouble with the dye rolling around a bit but overall, I ended up with 4 thin red stripes in my bag.

Then I had to VERY CAREFULLY spoon the meringue into the piping bag without smudging the stripes. It helped that I was working with a gigantic piping bag. So I started piping and the first five or so came out completely white. Not a disaster because hey, they're still going to be yummy meringue cookies. After that though, I actually got the desired effect! I think next time I'll either add more stripes, make them thicker, or pipe while turning to get a spiral but regardless, I really loved how they turned out!

How cute are they?!? I tried to fit as many as possible on the two pans because I wasn't making two batches and actually ended up throwing out a bit of meringue. It was a travesty. I baked them for the appropriate amount of time then let them cool in the oven. When I finally took them out, they popped right off the pans perfectly. And when I bit into one, it was absolute perfection. It was just the right amount of airy goodness - little pillows of perfection. These are probably the most perfect meringues I ever made. Success! I brought them to the party and they were enjoyed by all. I got quite a few compliments on these. See? I can still bake! Ignore that last blog post! Hopefully more tales of holiday baking to come! Especially now that I know the correct walnut ball recipe!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The One Where the Baker Gets Burned (Literally and Figuratively!)

Welcome to the very special holiday edition of this blog! As you may know, at the holidays, there is a lot of baking that goes on but there is one yearly tradition that is an exercise in excess. That's right, the yearly baking with my dear friend where we do crazy things like make over 800 cookies in a single day! It's crazy! It's fun! It's festive! It's exhausting! It's successful! Well, normally, it's successful. This year...it was not. Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy ride...

This year, we were shooting for 1000 cookies. We say cookies but really that includes truffles and pieces of fudge as well. It was a lofty goal and we weren't going to be disappointed if we didn't hit it but dammit, we were going to try. And it was definitely attainable! After all, we had a plan! So here's our initial list of what we were going to make:
1) Cookie press cookies (quadruple batch)
2) Palmiers (double batch - makes a lot of cookies per batch)
3) Walnut balls (quadruple batch)
4) Hot chocolate cookies (double batch)
5) Penguin cookies (a late addition because we didn't have enough cookie types)
6) Chocolate truffles (white chocolate and regular)
7) Fudge (3 types)

It's a lot but totally doable. Plus we started baking earlier this year! We took out the puff pastry for the palmiers for it to defrost (yay thinking ahead!) and then we kicked it off with the cookie press cookies. A quadruple batch is more than my mixer can handle so we did two double batches. We settled on trees (obviously), snowflakes, wreaths, and teddy bears. Making the dough was easy. Coloring the dough was even pretty easy. We had our looming suspicions that the color combinations that the food dye package suggested wouldn't work but they did. We also had to use a hand mixer to color two of the batches because we didn't want to clean the KitchenAid four times that early in the day and it was a challenge but we got it done. I love cookie press cookies because you can make so many of them so fast. I also love that I have at least six baking pans so we could press all of the cookies and bake two trays at a time. Within about two hours, we already had 365 cookies. Well, 364 if you don't count the teddy bear cookie that got excluded because it somehow turned pornographic. And no, I don't have a picture of him but suffice it to say, he would be inappropriate to serve to children.

Promising start, no? Next up, we did the first step of the hot chocolate cookies. These cookies are a new one and are part of the "we're so crazy" lineup. Basically, they're sugar cookies baked into a cup shape that you fill with ganache, add super mini marshmallows to, add a pretzel handle and voila! A cup of hot chocolate! You're already shaking your head at me, aren't you? Stop shaking your head, it wasn't even close to the biggest disaster of the day. We used Pillsbury sugar cookie dough as directed (read: because we're lazy) and greased our mini muffin tins. There was some debate over whether we should roll the dough in sugar to help the cookies release from the muffin tin. It was a late addition to the recipe and as my friend pointed out, "If they had to update the recipe, it's probably an important optional step." Good point. So we pressed the dough into the muffin tins so that they looked like adorable little cups and tossed them in the oven. We used the cook time to clean up a bit (look how efficient we are!) and then checked the oven. They did not look done. At all. And a bunch of them rose so they just looked like mini muffins. Noooooooo. We had just finished discussing that worst case scenario, we'd cut out the middles and then when we checked back, they had collapsed again. Oooookay. Disaster averted? They definitely needed extra baking time but finally they started to look browned and done so we took them out of the oven. Let cool completely in pans. Seems like a good time to go get coffee, lunch, and more baking ingredients!

Fast forward to about an hour later where we've already decided on only two types of fudge but to just add nuts to one of them and where we discovered that Dollar Tree was completely out of truffle and cookie tins. Despite these setbacks, we're still feeling good. We checked on our now-cooled hot chocolate cookie cups and well, a chisel wouldn't have released them from the pans. After staring at them for a bit, we decided to try putting them back in the oven to soften them. Miracle of miracles! It worked! It's like we're real bakers with knowledge or something! At this point, we're already patting ourselves on the back for how well we're doing. Fools. We lost about nine of the cookies because the bottoms stuck to the pan too much but overall, we had some adorable little hot chocolate cups. We put them aside to fill later and moved on to the palmiers.

I was smart this year and looked at last year's blog post to see if I had any palmier tips. I did and the tip was "only one pan at a time". The problem with palmiers is that, even though they're only two ingredients, they take forever to bake all the batches and require sustained attention. This year though, we quickly remembered how to fold the cookies properly, were again amazed at the FOUR CUPS of sugar we used on these cookies, and we remembered that while we're doing these cookies, we can actually get a lot of other things done too. So while my friend did the Oreo fudge (I can't report on this at all because I definitely didn't touch any part of it), I manned the palmiers. Here's what I forget every year: they're a pain to flip over and to get off the pan because the sticky sugar gets all over the spatula. So what I end up doing every year is forgoing the spatula and just use my fingers. This is easier when I have long nails (I do not at this moment) but after a few seconds of letting them cool, they are cool enough for a very fast flip. This works great and I made it halfway through the batches (out of, I swear at least 12 batches) before I got distracted by talking or thinking or something shiny and didn't wait any time before touching the cookies. Bam, burn. I feel like a baby because it's so small but let me tell you, a sugar burn on the tip of your right index finger is obnoxious and painful.

It all goes downhill from here.

I truly mark that as the moment where everything that was going so very smoothly just went to hell in a handbasket. Because after this point, nothing at all went right.

Let's return to our heroes who are still baking palmiers, shall we? Once the Oreo fudge was done, we started working on the ganaches for the truffles. I measured out a combo of unsweetened and bittersweet chocolate for the regular truffles and heated up the heavy cream to melt the chocolate. Then I did the exact same thing for the white chocolate. Let me re-emphasize this: I did the EXACT same thing for the white chocolate. I did notice that the white chocolate melted chocolate seemed a bit more liquid than the regular chocolate but didn't think much of it because white chocolate has behaved oddly in the past. Anyway, they both went into the fridge to chill. Then we made the ganache for filling the hot chocolate cups. It was basically the exact same process except actually hot cocoa mix gets added as well. This was actually uneventful and we filled our hot chocolate cups with ganache pretty easily. We also added the super mini marshmallows (they're called marshmallow bits and they're actually stocked by the hot chocolate, oddly enough) and these little guys looked adorable. The last step was to add the pretzel handles but we needed to wait for the ganache to harden first. So off to the side they go again.

And now the fudge. Bear in mind, we are still rotating pans and pans of palmiers at this point. I very stupidly picked a Martha recipe for the fudge. I'm sure it makes excellent fudge but it's very complicated and involves a candy thermometer and let's just say the Oreo fudge did not. Oh yeah, and we doubled the recipe. We actually discussed in advance which would be a bigger regret: doubling the recipe or not doubling the recipe and risking not having enough fudge. So we doubled. Mistake. We thought we were being smart - when it said things like "use a medium saucepan" we used my big pasta pot and thought that would suffice. It did not. Somewhere in the heating cream, melting chocolate stage (during which time we almost forgot to put in half of the chocolate!), the pot got very very close to boiling over. And we were supposed to let this boil to soft ball stage. The problem was, the chocolate was rising above where my candy thermometer temperature line was. And there was nowhere left for this mixture to go! I think we finally called it when we were two degrees below soft ball stage. We really didn't want to clean boiled-over fudge off the stovetop. So we hoped it had cooked enough and put it into a giant metal bowl. Then Martha directed me to add the pieces of chilled butter to the top of the mixture to let melt. The butter was a little less chilled than I would have liked because it was so so hot in the kitchen at this point. We don't normally bake on a day that's almost 60 degrees! Anyway, time to let the fudge cool down for an hour to 112-118 degrees (yes, seriously) and time to take a short break and watch Home Alone. I'd like to point out, the movie had been playing in the background for hours and we technically sat down to watch it the third time when we finally took a break.

Whew. Pain...setting...in..... Sustenance....needed....

We used this time to keep pulling the never-ending pans of palmiers and to assess the situation. Cookie press cookies: done. Palmiers: will never be done, but done. Oreo fudge: done. Chocolate fudge: cooling. Truffles: cooling. Hot chocolate cookies: drying. Walnut balls: not even started. Penguin cookies: abandoned. But fear not! Our cookie total isn't looking sad because I had forgotten that I bought holiday chocolate chips (they're just red and green but they're too cute. How could I NOT buy them??) and my friend found them so we decided to whip up a quick batch of Nestle Toll House cookies for good measure. So, after assessing how screwed we were, we ordered pizza, bid Kevin and the Wet Bandits goodbye and got back to work.

My friend took the chocolate chip cookies and I took the walnut balls. At first we were reluctant to tie up the mixer because we'd need it again for the fudge but when I checked the temperature of the fudge, it was still at about 180 degrees. And the bowl was still piping hot to the touch. Hmm. I won't say much about the chocolate chip cookies because they're easy and they looked great and that was cool. I will, however, tell you very carefully about the walnut ball process. If you recall, the plan was to quadruple the recipe. That would require 6 cups of walnuts. But alas, I didn't have enough walnuts! Or maybe I did but couldn't find them but we were also worried that it wouldn't all fit in the Cuisinart so we downgraded to tripling. So if a quadruple batch needs 6 cups, then a triple batch needs 4 cups, obviously. Oh, you math nerds are telling me that's wrong? Well, you're right, it is wrong. I forgot a half a cup of walnuts. Ooops. As this unfolds, you tell me if you think that was the fatal flaw. Then I added 3 cups of flour, 6 tablespoons of sugar, and 3.5 teaspoons of vanilla (ok, it was supposed to be 3 teaspoons but I forgot that we were tripling and not quadrupling momentarily). Finally, I added the three sticks of butter and the dough looked exactly right. It felt exactly right. I had to leave it in the mixer for a bit to attend to some other things but walnut balls are so easy, how could I get them wrong?

I stepped away from the walnut balls to roll my chocolate truffles which were now ready. We did not double the chocolate truffles because we also had the white chocolate truffles. So I rolled out the truffles, covered my hands in chocolate, and started getting worried that we wouldn't have enough. At this point, our truffle tins were looking like they would be 3 pieces of fudge and 7 truffles (mixture of white and regular). We figured that worst case scenario, we could double up on each of the fudges. I'll spoil it a little...this was not the worst case scenario in the end. It was worse.

After rolling the chocolate truffles, I checked on the white chocolate and it was still liquid. Didn't seem to be thickening at all. And we were running out of time. So I put it in the freezer. Meanwhile, the chocolate fudge was still way too hot. We moved it to a different room and hoped it would eventually cool off. All that done, we decided to circle back and finish our hot chocolate cups. All that was left was to melt white chocolate and break off pretzel pieces to make adorable handles. Except I bought the wrong pretzels. Something we noticed AFTER melting all the white chocolate. Ughhhhh. So I called my dear husband to see if he could pick up the correct (smaller) pretzels on his way home.

Tired yet?

We rested our weary feet and sat in front of the TV rolling the walnut balls. We were careful not to make them too big and we did a very nice job on consistent sizing and they looked great. Tossed them in the oven at 300 degrees for 35 minutes and cleaned up a bit before the pizza finally arrived. So we had an actual break! And we got to see Kevin booby trap his house!

Our break sadly ended when the walnut balls were done. We had made a note last year to sift the powdered sugar so it would be less lumpy and we sifted two bowls of sugar so we could both roll the walnut balls in powdered sugar before they cooled. At this point, we were completely out of counter space and were planning to sit on the floor to roll the walnut balls. We pulled the walnut balls out of the oven, waited a minutes, and then tried to pick them up. And couldn't without them crumbling. So we panicked. Were they not cool enough? Were they not cooked enough? We didn't think they looked as browned as usual and we were making a lot so we put them back in the oven for another few minutes. In the meantime, we started prepping truffle coatings. At this point, we realized our frozen attempt at white chocolate truffles was still liquid and unlikely to change. So we set about rolling our sad number of truffles in walnuts and covering them in red and green chocolate. Or at least that was the plan until "Oh wait! The fudge!" It was now finally cool enough to put back in the mixer where I was instructed to mix it until it started to hold its shape, about 3-8 minutes. About 16 minutes later, I was afraid my KitchenAid was going to overheat. No luck, still liquid. It was thickening but I'm pretty sure we were done for. We mixed pecans into half of it, tossed it into pans, and put it in the fridge and hoped for the best.

We didn't get the best.

The fudge never fudged. It's still in my fridge and is surprisingly soft (though maybe is cut-able now, days later). I bet if you went at it with a spoon it'd be delicious. But there was no way that fudge was making the truffle tin cut. So for those keeping score, we're now at one type of fudge and one type of truffle for our truffle tins. The ones rolled in walnuts were fine. The ones dipped in green were fine(ish). The ones dipped in red were fine until the last one where we ran out of melted red chocolate to dip, had to melt some more but the chocolate wouldn't melt to a dippable consistency, got a fresh bowl of red chocolate, tried to make that last one look nice, and promptly gave up. Meanwhile, I was too sad to dispose of all of the white chocolate ganache and it was a really nice piping consistency so I filled a piping bag with it and made beautiful designs on some of the truffles. At least they were beautiful for about 5 seconds after I piped them and then the white chocolate would just sort of roll off the truffle. I thought I was going crazy. I would look at ones that I swore were piped well and they looked bad so I would repipe them. Finally, my friend informed me that I wasn't losing my mind, the truffles were just losing their white chocolate. This whole fiasco ended with my friend saying "that last red truffle looks pretty bad" and me saying "who are we kidding? ALL of these truffles look pretty bad!" and the two of us literally falling on the kitchen floor laugh/crying.

But it's not over yet! Don't forget, there are still walnut balls to handle. Or rather, to not handle. Because picking them up was like picking up a ball of sand on the beach. The lightest pressure and it would just crumble into a billion pieces. We managed to roll maybe 4 of them before we just gave up. We tried googling this walnut ball issue to see what went wrong. We quadruple checked the ingredients I added and while mistakes were made, that didn't feel like the problem. Our working theory is that the kitchen was warmer than it's ever been when we were baking and baking is a fickle thing. But regardless of how it happened, we are heart broken. Everybody loves the walnut balls. I love the walnut balls. But we have no walnut balls to give. Four cups of walnuts gone to waste. We had even sifted powdered sugar! And we never sift! Wasted sifting! I tried to think of ways to use the crumbled walnut balls but my brain was way too fried after nearly 12 hours of baking. My friend asked if they at least tasted good aside from the texture. I popped one in my mouth and nearly choked. It was impossible to separate the taste from the texture because the second it hit my mouth, it just crumbled and dried out my entire mouth. And so, garbage. We called my husband and told him to forget about the pretzels because we were DONE. We had the bitter taste of failure and a whole kitchen to clean up. It was so disappointing because we started out so strong and then the hits just kept on coming.

We sadly boxed up our cookies and truffles and fudge but it was half-hearted at most. I was counting on a lot of gifting of cookies and truffles but was just so embarrassed by the truffle tins that I may not gift them at all. The cookies at least make a presentable tin though there is a pretty heavy emphasis on cookie press cookies. We didn't even continue counting our cookies. We definitely hit over 500 but the number target just wasn't important in the end. Sigh. I guess after so many successful baking endeavors we had to have a failure. Just wish it wasn't at Christmas.

Next year, it's Back To Basics 2017. No truffles, no fudge, no cookie recipes we haven't tried before (well, maybe just one or two). Like a phoenix, we shall rise from the ashes of failure to emerge even more triumphant than ever before. Also, 2016 sucks.

Looking on the bright side, the cookies that we did make look lovely. Take a look and see for yourself.

The cookies:

The truffles:

The truffles do look very nice in the tin though. Somehow that makes it a bit better. 

The failed walnut balls: (And yes, I did Hulk smash the entire pan of cookies in my sadness and rage.)

I almost forgot the best part! While we were tinning up the cookies, I pulled out a tin and put it on the table. Minutes later, I said, "Oh wait, we already filled this tin." To which my friend replied, "No, we didn't...." That's right, my friends. I found in my kitchen a half-empty tin of LAST YEAR'S CHRISTMAS COOKIES. They looked surprisingly not-disgusting but I'm still alarmed that I found that. Must keep better tabs on my cookie tins this year. I consider it a sign though. It's like the universe is reminding me that we can be good at this and we will one day succeed again.

Don't worry, I will have more successful upbeat blog posts before we actually hit Christmas. In fact, I made some remarkably perfect meringue cookies that I'll tell you all about soon. In the meantime....FA LA LA LA LA FA LA LA FAIL!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

American as Apple Pie Cookies: An Election Day Distraction

Oh my goodness, I have been DYING to bake! I've been so busy that I've felt like there hasn't been a second to spare. Of course, the day I decided to do some baking, it wasn't like I actually had a spare second. But I was desperate. The siren call of my KitchenAid was drawing me in.

I was having a little shindig at my house so clearly that calls for cookies. And naturally, I can't do things the easy way and decided to make two types of cookies. I very creatively Googled "fall cookies" to try to find whatever looked weird and interesting and ended up with Hot Chocolate Cookies and Apple Pie Cookies. I was mostly intrigued by the Apple Pie Cookies. I glanced at the recipe and my first reaction was "But wouldn't these make an ooey gooey mess?" I was pretty convinced that these little bites of apple pie wouldn't be good so the Hot Chocolate Cookies were really there as a backup. They looked pretty safe. Just a pretty basic chocolate cookie with a piece of dark chocolate pressed in and a marshmallow pressed on top. What could go wrong?

You must be forgetting who the baker is if you think nothing could go wrong.

Naturally, I strategically made both types of cookies at once. I started with the chocolate cookies because the dough had to chill for two hours. It started out nicely straightforward: melt butter and a whole bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips. I didn't actually have an unopened 12 oz bag of chocolate chips so I looked at my opened 36 oz bag of chips (yes, they sell bags that big to the general consumer) and eyeballed about a third of the bag. Measuring chocolate chips is for suckers. While the chocolate was melting and was supposed to be constantly stirred (oops), I combined the brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Next I had to add the chocolate mixture. Now, a clever person would have removed the KitchenAid paddle to add the chocolate. A clever person would not have contorted in a vain attempt to pour a pot of chocolate into a partially obstructed bowl. I am not a clever person, apparently. I somehow managed to actually splash warm chocolate all over my shirt, pants, cabinets, and floor. If you're trying to picture how that would happen and can't...well, I have no explanation for you.

After a slight time-out to clean up chocolate (and to realize that I should really wear an apron when I bake), I added the rest of the ingredients, namely cocoa powder, flour, baking powder, and salt. At this point, my dear husband wandered in to say "Wow, that smells really really chocolatey! Overwhelmingly chocolatey. Why are you covered in chocolate?" Go away, I don't want to talk about it. Then my overwhelmingly chocolatey dough went into the fridge to chill for a few hours.

Time to start in on the Apple Pie cookies! I should preface this with the fact that I haven't successfully made an apple pie. I tried once and let's just say it overflowed all over the oven and I'm still not sure how. Whatever, it was a long time ago. The general outline of this recipe is as follows: make apple pie filling, make pie crust, roll the dough flat, put caramel and apple pie filling on top of it, make a lattice for the top, cut out cookie shapes with cookie cutter, bake, eat. I won't even pretend that sounds simple. So let's take it step by step...

Let's make some apple pie filling! I peeled the apples moderately successfully (now I know why I don't make apple pies...peeling is annoying) and then had to heat up sugar, brown sugar, water, cinnamon, cornstarch, and nutmeg. I was supposed to boil it until thick and then add the apples. Just as I was wondering when I'd be able to tell if it was thick, it turned on a dime and all of a sudden turned into a practically solid mixture. I panicked and frantically threw in the apples and covered the pan. Yes, I actually warrior-yelled as I tossed in the apples. Husband was mercifully out of the house at this point.

From here, I moved on to making the pie crust. I went with the food processor method but I had the problem of frozen butter. So I had to carefully warm up my butter just enough to cut it with my knife and then toss it into the food processor. I don't think I entirely succeeded though because I still had some large chunks of butter. My solution to this was to move it all to a bowl and use my pastry blender. That was also no help. I then went with the "just do it by hand" method which worked pretty well. Still trying to figure out the best way to make pie crust I guess. Otherwise, crust making was uneventful. I tossed that dough into the fridge to chill for an hour, did a quick cleanup, and then my perfect timing told me it was time to bake the hot chocolate cookies. But wait! First let's check on those apple slices that have been simmering away. I was told that apples should be soft but not mushy. Ummm....what do you do if your apples are mushy? Is that just it? Game over? A couple of my apples may have gotten a bit mushy but you couldn't really tell once everything got chopped into tiny pieces. Whatever, moving on. Ugh, so tired already.

This recipe was supposed to make 24 cookies. But after scooping out the cookies, I decided I didn't want to make another batch so I ended up with 20 cookies. Close enough! I tossed them into the oven, cut the marshmallows in half, and broke up my dark chocolate bar into 20 pieces. This was a small problem because I was supposed to be using 8 oz of dark chocolate...but my friendly neighborhood Big Y ran out! So weird! I ended up with only 4.5 oz instead. I was originally thinking I could do half dark chocolate, half bittersweet, but looking at how much chocolate that was broken up, it seemed like double the chocolate would be way too much. So I just used smaller pieces than I was supposed to. Turns out that it was a good thing I did because some of the pieces were almost too big for the cookies as it was! After 10 minutes of baking, I pressed the chocolate pieces into the center of the cookies, topped with a marshmallow, baked a bit more and voila! Hot Chocolate Cookies!

I'll save you the suspense: these were delicious. Definitely very chocolatey but also incredibly smooth. I don't really care for marshmallow but I didn't notice or mind it much. Not sure what it has to do with hot chocolate but it was a pretty good chocolate cookie. Also, you'll notice that some of the cookies had two marshmallows. That's because I had already cut 24 marshmallows and the cookies were pretty big so some of the cookies looked sad with only one marshmallow in the middle.

Now back to the mess.

Where we last left our hero, she merely had to assemble her apple pie cookies and bake them. No big deal, right? Well. First I had to roll out my two pieces of pie crust to unspecified sized discs on the counter. The dough wasn't really cooperating though and I kept ending up with the dough breaking into star-shaped discs. Not too big a problem because I knew I'd be cutting out cookies so there would be some waste at the edges. Then I had to spread caramel sauce on one half. Yes, I could've made my own but that would have been too ambitious for the day so I used the Hershey's jarred caramel sauce. I'm sure it's not the worst. Next, I had to spread my apple pie filling on top and lightly press down. Yup, already a mess.

The final step of the layering was to cut the other half of the pie crust into strips to make a lattice. Now, I have never made a lattice before but my hands were sticky, my dough wasn't rolled very well and I just did not care at that point. So I did my best. The lattice definitely didn't make it to the edges all the time, some pieces were thick and some pieces were thin, but in the end, it looked pretty close! Yay! Now it's cookie cutter time. I was told to use a 2.5 inch round cookie cutter. Then I realized that I don't really have cookie cutters other than the 101 plastic animal shapes that my friend got me many Christmases ago. I rummaged through and managed to find a 4 inch and a 2 inch round cutter. So I went with the 2 inch and hoped for the best.

So I cut my first cookie and surprise, surprise, apple pie filling just OOZES out between the latticework. Plus my dough is now pretty stuck to the counter because this all took so long. Eventually I developed a method of cutting a circle, peeling off the dough around it, sliding it onto a pastry scraper, and popping it out onto the pan. It. Was. Messy. There was apple everywhere. My hands were sticky. Sometimes the bottom part of the dough would get rolled up or stuck. A few times, the cookies just fell apart in my hands. Eventually I got a reasonable number of cookies onto pans (about 16, which apparently was all this was supposed to make) but there was an awful lot of waste and my counter eventually looked like this:

Finally, I had to brush the tops of the cookies with egg and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Except I'm out of eggs. And I don't care. So I just tossed some cinnamon sugar on top. The tops of the cookies were sticky and oozy from the filling anyway. Probably the tops didn't get as nicely golden brown as they could have but I was just done at this point.

Remember back when I said that I was pretty sure these would make a mess in the oven? Well, I was about 80% right. The apple pie filling didn't exactly ooze out but the bottoms of the cookies were surrounded by that lovely golden brown, sticky, caramel-y goodness that makes cookies impossible to remove once cooled. They weren't burned but they were SO stuck to the pan. I had to toss them back in the oven twice just to soften them enough to pry them off the pan. But when all was said and done and I had finished cursing the world and my stupidity, they looked...pretty good. If by pretty good, you mean "like a distracted kindergartner put these together."

I mean, they certainly could have looked better and a bigger cookie cutter would have helped but it was pretty close. Taste-wise they were also pretty good (but I think they needed a bit more cinnamon) and all of the cookies were demolished in no time. All in all, an exhausting day of baking but it all turned out yummy in the end.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Salty Caramel Pretzel Goodness

Hello there! Seems like a good day to bake! I was originally going to make these adorable cookies that are bears hugging almonds but alas, I did not have a bear cookie cutter with long enough arms. So first plan abandoned, I found a recipe for Salted Caramel Pretzel Chocolate Chip Cookies which sounds relatively easy and definitely yummy.

So I started off with my two sticks of butter as any good chocolate chip cookie recipe starts. Unfortunately for me, I didn't have any sticks of butter in the fridge so I had to go to my backup stash in the freezer. Thus began the dangerous task of softening butter in the microwave without melting it. Anybody know why butter melts from the inside out? Anyone? Anyone? It doesn't seem to make any sense. Anyway, this task is additionally complicated by the fact that my microwave doesn't have a time setting lower than 15 seconds. Not sure why that is either. But with enough attentive care, the butter successfully did not melt from the inside out but it could've been a bit softer. This was ingredient problem #1.

Here comes ingredient problem #2. I decided to refill my big container of sugar with a smaller container of sugar. The problem is that the sugar got a bit clumpy in the smaller container. And by a bit clumpy, I mean it was basically one giant block of sugar. In my infinite wisdom, I thought I could just plop it into a big container and then break it up with a wooden spoon. Long story short, this was a bad idea and there's sugar all over my counter. Time to move to phase two of problem solving. A food processor! I'm always forgetting I have this but this time I remembered! So I poured all of the sugar into the food processor (and I totally didn't spill it all over another counter...) and processed it until it was super fine again. Success!

After all of that drama, it was fairly smooth sailing. It's pretty much a standard chocolate chip cookie recipe with a bit more brown sugar and a bit more flour. I also used sea salt flakes instead of the usual kosher salt. I chopped up a bunch of pretzel sticks to toss in with the chocolate chips and mixed it all up and bam! Dough done. At this point I started thinking to myself, "When am I supposed to put the caramels in?" Then I checked the recipe and figured out that I had to unwrap the caramels (duh), cut them in half, and then press a caramel into the center of each cookie ball, making sure to completely cover the caramel with dough so the caramel didn't leak out in the oven.

Now, I don't know if you know this about me but I don't like getting my hands messy. So reading this direction in the recipe made me pretty sure that if I had read it in advance, I wouldn't have made these cookies. I just don't really like sticking my hands in cookie dough. Ugh. Whatever, I've come too far. I was supposed to use two tablespoons of dough per cookie but that seemed insane so I made them a bit smaller than that and then did my best impression of Emeril and bammed some sea salt flakes on top of the cookies.

Ok so this isn't so exciting. They're just cookies with extra stuff in them. But they came out really great (once I added an extra four minutes to the recommended baking time) and when you crack them open, the caramel just oozes out and that's kind of awesome. Plus they're tasty. Something more exciting next time, I promise!

Monday, August 29, 2016

C is for Cookie...

Get ready because today is another mission in achieving adorable cuteness! This adventure is brought to you by: my sister's birthday. I have now historically made several adorable desserts for her birthday including panda cupcakes and a TARDIS cake and this time, I decided to surprise her with Cookie Monster Macarons. The reasoning for this was twofold. First, I've never made macarons so finally we have something new and exciting for me to try not to screw up and second, who doesn't love Cookie Monster? I found this idea here and the tutorial is pretty excellent and includes the world's most adorable gif of Cookie Monster macarons eating a row of cookies. So cute. Let's get started!

Aaaaaaand the recipes are in metric. Huh. Now we have a threefold challenge. Now the baker must convert metric measurements to US measurements. First step is to make the macarons starting with 100g of egg whites. A quick Google search revealed that 100g of egg whites is "around 4-5 egg whites but it shouldn't really matter to your recipe." Alarm bells everywhere! I know that macarons are difficult to make and I've discovered that baking is an exact science (who knew?) so there was no way in the world that I was going to guess on the number of egg whites going into this batter. So I ended up with another first for me: using my kitchen scale to weigh ingredients! Yes, for my wedding, I (I mean, we, but let's face it, my dear husband doesn't even know it exists) received a kitchen scale ostensibly for moments like these. So there I was, weighing egg whites. I should probably also mention that it was already pretty late at night and I had a terrible migraine so all decision-making needed to follow the path of least resistance. Turns out, 100g is five egg whites minus a little bit that I scooped out with one of the egg shells. I tossed those into the mixing bowl to come to room temperature while I dealt with the dry ingredients.

Actually, let me backtrack just a moment. Do you all know what macarons are? Basically, they're meringue-like cookie sandwiches with yummy filling in the middle. They're French and apparently really easy to screw up. People have entire classes to learn how to make just macarons. I'm trying it late at night with a migraine. Oh yeah, and I'll have the added challenge of dying them Cookie Monster blue, adding eyes, filling with ganache, and adorably placing a cookie in the mouth. Sums it up, right? Ok, moving on.

The first dry ingredient instruction was to pulse my powdered sugar in a food processor. No. Not happening. What I did do was sift the sugar through a fine sieve. I didn't bother with my actual sifter because it's a pain to clean. So there I was, scraping powdered sugar through a sieve and into a bowl that was on my scale until I got to 200g. It took a while. Then I had to do the same thing with 110 g of almond meal. It took me forever to find that stuff. It was very well hidden in the grocery store. It was a little harder to sift the almond meal but the bag said it was already superfinely sifted so after about 20g, I gave up and just poured. Way way too much effort. I tossed that into a bowl with the powdered sugar and called it a day.

Back to the egg whites! I added some salt and whipped to soft peaks and then added some sugar and mixed to stiff peaks. Easy. Now I just had to stir the meringue into the dry ingredients. It was weird because I'm used to being gentle with meringue but my recipe said that the goal was to beat the air out of the egg whites at first and there was no need to be gentle. Ok! Also, I swear, it looked like it was never going to all incorporate together. I just wasn't optimistic. But lo and behold, after a bit more stirring, it magically all incorporated. Yay!

Now to turn it blue. With my fancy food coloring kit, I had about four shades of blue to choose from and wasn't really sure how to best match Cookie Monster's fur. Eventually, I went for a deeper shade of blue than was in my tutorial since it seemed more accurate and that worked out to 40 drops of blue and 1 drop of black. In hindsight, all of these measurements are for roughly 4 cups of buttercream or icing so I probably used too much dye. In fact (and I won't leave you in suspense here), they turned people's mouths blue. Very blue. Blue that persisted for several hours. Blue teeth, blue lips, blue tongue. I'd say it was a mistake but it was really really funny. Not sure how much I actually regret it.

Back to baking. I had to remove a bit of the mixture to keep white for the eyes and then stir in the blue dye for the rest. That was easy. Then I had to pipe the mixture into 3.5 cm circles with a 1 cm piping tip. That sounds really small. I don't have a ruler. I am too tired to find a ruler. I am now just guessing. However, I know the recipe is supposed to make 20 macarons so I figure I'll pipe a size that makes sense to me and if they're not big enough, I'll go back and add more batter. Macarons are normally small but these seemed really really small. I ended up just making them a little bigger because I didn't think Cookie Monsters that small would be able to fit a cookie in their mouths. (More on that in a bit.)

Piping was mostly uneventful and then I had to leave the macarons to dry for half an hour. I was warned not to rush this step because if I did, I would end up with soppy, fried-egg looking macarons and I definitely did not want that. One small problem though was that the next step after drying was to add blue sprinkles for texture. But they didn't really stick! I think I should've added the sprinkles a bit earlier. Some stuck but I definitely wasted a lot of blue sprinkles. Next I had to pipe on the white eyes with my remaining batter. I got a very small piping tip for the precision work this was going to require. And it went fine! No fried eggs! The only issue I had was that I should have flattened the circles with my finger so they didn't have spikey points but I was so tired by this point and they still had to dry for another hour and then bake. Originally I was planning on completing the macarons that night (filling and assembling) but I was burned out and decided to finish baking the shells and then do the rest in the next day.

After the macarons dried, I was directed to preheat my oven to "130-150 degrees C (265-300 degrees F)" and I was so tired that I definitely thought I was supposed to bake them at 130 degrees F. Caught it at the last minute. But what the heck? Who gives a range of temperatures for your oven? If I had been very diligent, I would have cross-checked this with my America's Test Kitchen book. I know they have a recipe for macarons and I'm sure they have all sorts of troubleshooting tips but I cannot even express to you how tired I was. So, I ended up picking 275 degrees and just went with it. Well thought out macarons will apparently be for another day.

Bake. Remove from oven. Let cool. Toss in tupperware. Nite nite.

In the morning, I took a good look at my shells and they looked pretty good. They successfully grew "feet" (the sort of ridging on the sides) and they looked fine. Then I saw that I had accidentally cracked one/decided to eat one and it was pretty hollow inside. Sad. Some research after the fact suggests either underbaking or too low an oven temperature or perhaps not sifting well enough (probably that one) may have caused this but I was assured that macarons don't need to be perfect as long as they taste good. And they did taste good so that works for me!

Now I had to fill them with ganache and decorate. I started to really deviate at this point because I literally just eyeballed my ganache. I threw some semisweet and some bittersweet chocolate chips into a bowl, boiled what looked like enough heavy cream, and threw them all together. I was just hoping it would be enough ganache but I didn't want to follow a recipe and have a ton left over like the royal icing fiasco of a few weeks ago. While the ganache was cooling, I added Cookie Monster eyeballs to the eyes using an edible ink pen. I've had trouble with this pen when using it on chocolate before but it worked so perfectly on the macarons. Yay!

I also had one more problem to work out (yes, I know this is a long one but there were a lot of steps!) and that was the size of the cookie. I was too lazy to bake cookies for this purpose and I don't even know what bake times you'd use for super tiny cookies so I just bought Chips Ahoy mini cookies and Entenmann's soft cookies. I love the Entenmann's and was hoping they would be small enough but in a head to head comparison with the size of the macaron, I saw they were too large. And then when I tried the Chips Ahoy minis, even those were too large! This was not working out. Time to get creative...

I started looking around my kitchen for a mini round cookie cutter. This lasted about five minutes before I realized it was a ridiculous notion to think I would have one. So then I grabbed one of the pastry bag couplers to cut out a smaller Entenmann's cookie. Still too big. Eventually, I landed on using one of the piping tips, upside down, and then poking the cookie out of the tip with a metal skewer. To give you a sense of the scale, I could cut three mini cookies out of one Entenmann's cookie. Super. Tiny. Cookies.

But one more problem! The cookies were still too thick! I ended up creating a process where I would cut three mini cookies, squish them down gently with my fingers (thank goodness for soft baked cookies), hope they didn't crack into a million crumbs, bring the three cookies ACROSS MY KITCHEN, pipe the ganache onto the bottom macaron, gently place the cookie hanging over the edge, pipe more ganache on top of the cookie as "glue", and then finally put the top macaron with the Cookie Monster eyes on top. Whew. Now, if I were an intelligent person, I would have cut out all of the cookies at once instead of three at a time or maybe moved the macarons closer to the cookies I was cutting. But I'm apparently not. I repeated this process for all 20 macarons and my hands were a crumby, greasy mess. I really could have used some extra hands for this one. But at the end of the day, I achieved success and my Cookie Monster macarons were adorable little monsters:

Yummy and adorable success! Plus hilariously blue mouths! Happy birthday, sister and I can't wait to see what I dream up for next year!

A [Last] Disney Moment: The Top Five Six

With our mission of watching every single animated Disney film completed, we had only one thing left to do: pick the best one. We had previously agreed to pick our top five and rewatch them in a two day period so they'd all be fresh in our minds. We couldn't actually agree on only five so landed on a total of six to rewatch: Lady and the Tramp, Dumbo, Princess and the Frog, Little Mermaid, Lion King, and Robin Hood. Just barely missing the cut were Beauty and the Beast (but we couldn't justify it because Little Mermaid had beaten it in the group rankings) and Frozen (because at the time it was at the peak of its popularity and was being called the best film of all time or something).

By the way, there was no scientific system for these choices. Nor is there any real system for which one wins. It's simply whichever one we liked the best. So we hunkered down for two days and blew through these. We laughed, we cried. And we picked a winner. Stacked in order of our final rankings you'll find our results:

The winner: DUMBO! Followed closely by a two-way tie for second place between The Little Mermaid and Lion King. Fourth place: Lady and the Tramp. Fifth place: Princess and the Frog. Sixth place (and really probably shouldn't have been included but I love it so why not): Robin Hood.

We literally spent days debating the nuances of Little Mermaid vs. Lion King and just couldn't decide. But we love Dumbo and it soundly emerged the victor.

And that's it! We had highs, we had very low lows (I'm lookin' at you Saludos Amigos...), and overall we had fun sister bonding time. Now it's time to tackle the Pixar films!