Sunday, July 1, 2018

Nailed It and Failed It

Just a short little post because I think it will amuse some folks. Incessant binging of "Nailed It!" on Netflix leads to some really excellent life decisions like making pancake art. Originally, I was thinking that I would go completely crazy and fill squeeze bottles with colored pancake mix to make pancake eggs and bacon and then I realized I was way too hungry for that and I hate flat pancakes. Flat pancakes are the worst. So instead, I decided to use the cookie cutter approach for fun shaped pancakes. I had a Mickey Mouse cookie cutter and an adorable rubber ducky cookie cutter. What could go wrong???

I don't need to describe making pancake batter because I could make that in my sleep. I started out with the Mickey Mouse pancake and filled the cookie cutter with minimal issue. I did start getting worried about how thick the pancake was but whatever, I'm sure it will be fine. I also filled up the rubber ducky cookie cutter in the same pan. As I was waiting for the bubbles to form I noticed that the rubber ducky cookie cutter was designed for kids' hands. So it had a wide plastic rim on the top for small hands to grab. Which meant that there was no way at all I'd be able to flip this without melting the plastic. While I was considering this issue, it was time to flip Mickey. I actually managed to flip him with minimal effort and he was looking pretty good. Then I went to pick up the duck pancake and realized that in fact, the ENTIRE cookie cutter was plastic and the duck had melted onto my pan. Duck pancake and duck cookie cutter went directly to the garbage. Sad.

Then the Mickey pancake was ready and while it looked excellent, it may or may not have been completely stuck to the cookie cutter. I guess I should've greased the cookie cutter. But hey, at least it didn't melt, am I right?!? ::High Fives!:: I used a small knife to loosen the pancake (which was a very difficult task considering the round shape and the fact that the metal cookie cutter was hot as hell) and eventually, Mickey was freed! So adorable!

Pretty perfectly cooked and so so tasty. It was a fun little start to my day. Meanwhile, that duck did succeed in creating the world's most adorably ruined pan:

Stay tuned for an exciting tale of cake building coming soon!

Friday, June 15, 2018

Easy as Rollin' Off a Log

Hello loyal readers! It's been a while. And by a while, I mean since Christmas. And by since Christmas, I mean I HAVEN'T BAKED SINCE CHRISTMAS!!! Isn't that horrible? I was so busy with so many other things that I just haven't had the time and I was starting to forget where my mixer even was!

But here I am today, enjoying my summer hours at work by waiting at home for the refrigerator repairman. Larry said he'd be here at 1:00. It is currently 4:30. Larry is still not here. I already planted a bunch of flowers and watched a bunch of Gilmore Girls and I am BORED. And what else is there to do when you're bored except bake? So I went foraging in my pantry to see what I have ingredient-wise and ended up having just enough pecans to make Martha Stewart's Pecan Logs. I've never had a pecan log but I figure it has pecans so it must not be bad. Plus Martha's recipes are usually safe and easy to not screw up.

So I started out by putting a bunch of pecans on a pan to toast them in the oven. Mmmmmm pecans. Then I successfully softened my butter and added my confectioner's sugar (no regular sugar in this one) and turned on my mixer. And the bowl promptly jumped off the counter and fell to the floor. Yup, definitely forgot to lock in the bowl. Rookie mistake. That's as bad as forgetting to put the top on a blender. I was very embarrassed by my mistake but fortunately, I was the only one who saw it so nobody has to know about it. Shhhhh....

Amazingly, none of the ingredients fell on the floor (even though the bowl did) and I could get back to work. Very simple recipe: butter, powdered sugar, an egg, flour, salt, baking powder, pecans and OH, LARRY IS FINALLY HERE!

Ok, now he's under my fridge so I can resume. Like I said, simple recipe overall. Although I did notice that there was proportionally an awful lot of salt. One and a half teaspoons to be precise. That's not necessarily a lot but it seems like it when there's only two and a half cups of flour in the dough. We shall see. I lazily eyeballed the "half the pecans" direction because half the pecans go in the dough and half are used for rolling the pecan logs in. I tossed the dough in the fridge to set and immediately compromised with myself by saying "well, it's supposed to chill for 30 minutes but how about I let it chill for as long as it takes my oven to preheat?" Because I'm bored.

Once the dough was semi-chilled (sorry, Martha, I know you're right but I don't care today), I was instructed to roll tablespoons of dough into 2 inch logs. We should all know by now how good I am with measurements. If you don't know, the answer is: bad. Once again, I eyeballed it. The first few looked gigantic so I started rolling them smaller. I was supposed to get 4 dozen pecan logs. I got 2.5 dozen. Pretty close! I also had to roll these logs into the chopped pecans. This was not a terrible task but I felt like the pecans were falling off a bit. I wanted to press them into the dough but then I lost the shape of the log. Although, I'm not super sure why they need to be log-shaped anyway. Why couldn't they just be cookie shaped? I'm overthinking this but I'm managing my anxiety about Larry asking how old my fridge is.

Anyway, into the oven they go for 14-15 minutes (oddly specific, Martha) and I wait. And made myself a cup of tea. Finally they were done and I pulled them out and they looked perfect. Lightly browned and slightly cracked. They didn't grow at all, as I suspected they wouldn't, so with the exception of the couple of giant ones, most of the pecan logs are delightful two bite pieces. When they finally cooled, I prepared myself for a lovely little Friday afternoon treat:

Ok, so maybe it doesn't necessarily look appetizing but oh man, are these ever delicious! Crumbly, but not too crumbly. Sweet, but not too sweet. Oddly enough, I think the huge amount of salt really help the flavor although next time, I might use juuuuuust a bit less. You can definitely taste the salt. But it does help balance out the overwhelming pecan flavor.

Overall, not my favorite Martha pecan recipe (that honor still goes to the Pecan Tassies!) but delicious nonetheless! So, now I've satisfied my boredom and have two dozen pecan logs. Anybody want to come over for a cookie?

Say a prayer for the outcome of Larry's investigation...

Friday, January 12, 2018

Super Simple Apple Pie

This blog post is brought to you by: seeing one of those stupid accelerated cooking videos on Facebook. My husband showed me a video of an apple pie that had a cinnamon bun crust and a cinnamon bun top and instead of the normal person's reaction of "oh, isn't that amusing", my reaction was "I NEED TO MAKE THAT NOWWWWW." So I did.

Well, sort of. The first thing to do was look for an actual legitimate recipe. And I couldn't find a single one that had cinnamon buns as both the top layer and the bottom layer. I suppose I could have combined two recipes but that inherently felt like a phenomenally bad idea. So I opted to go with the Pillsbury Cinnamon Roll Dutch Apple Pie which has a cinnamon roll crust and involves peeling no apples.

This is seriously one of the easiest desserts ever. To make the crust, you press one cinnamon roll into the middle of your pie plate and then surround it with the other seven cinnamon rolls. Press them together until you seal all the gaps. Bam. Bake crust.

While it was baking, I made the crumble which goes on top. It consisted of brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, and flour. My only problem here is that it suggested combining with a fork. I wasn't getting quite the crumbly quality I was looking for so I switched to my pastry blender. That helped a bit but it wasn't entirely there and then I remembered that the best way to make crumble is with my hands. Two seconds later, perfect crumb for the top of the pie. Then I stirred in some pecans because who doesn't love pecans?

At this point, the crust was done baking and was cooling off a little bit. I opened up the can of apple pie filling with no regrets because I hate peeling apples and I have had no success with apple pie yet. Then I was an idiot and went to move the crust to a more open counter space, completely forgetting that it had just been in the oven. Six of my fingers were not pleased. Fortunately, my instinctual reaction to being burned is to throw down the thing that is burning me and not grab on tighter. Also fortunately, I didn't drop the pie plate onto the ground. It was pretty harrowing.

After running my fingers under cool water, I put the apple filling into the pie, topped with the crumb, covered the edges with tin foil and then stuck it in the oven for 30 minutes. Beautiful. The grand finale was microwaving the cinnamon bun icing and topping the pie with decorative drizzles. Voila!

Not the best picture in the world but it sure was tasty! I was expecting it to be way too sweet but somehow it wasn't. Very nicely balanced. It's my new favorite super low effort pie. Easy for beginner bakers if you're interested in giving it a try!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Back to Basics Christmas

Happy New Year everyone! I just discovered that I am 23 posts away from 100 blog posts. So now I'm pretty dedicated to making it there. Now that I'm happily in my new home, I have yet another new kitchen to get used to baking in. And what better way to kick off baking in a new kitchen than with the annual Christmas baking insanity with my dear friend? Devotees will recall that last year ended in disaster and tears and sad cookies and truffles. This year, we decided it was time to go back to basics to get our Christmas baking mojo back. We decided to go with a plan of all things we had made before with only one new cookie and NO TRUFFLES. It was hard dropping the truffles but after last year, we really needed the break.

So here's the plan:
1) Palmiers
2) Walnut balls (the CORRECT recipe this time!)
3) M&M cookies
4) Cookie press cookies (i.e. Christmas trees)
5) Double chocolate cookies
6) White chocolate ginger cookies (our new addition)

Seems like a fair plan, right? Even more relaxing, we had a slumber party planned so we could do the baking over two days! Well, you know what they say about plans...

For reference, I had only moved into my house two weeks prior, on the day before Thanksgiving. So to say I was a bit frazzled and knew where nothing was is an understatement. The result of this was basically me looking in my cabinet, saying "I've got the walnuts and the M&Ms and surely I have everything else I'll need", and then actually having none of what I needed. We went to bake the first batch of cookies only to discover that I had no puff pastry for the palmiers and only one stick of unsalted butter. Who runs out of butter??? This girl.

I enlisted my dear husband to run to the supermarket for us. Because we didn't feel like going outside. Really and truly, that was the reasoning. Since I had my husband going to the store anyway, I decided to also add things that probably needed replacing in my cabinet. Baking powder from 2012 is probably no longer super effective. His list consisted of baking powder, baking soda, puff pastry, some spices for the ginger cookies, and five pounds of butter. "Five pounds?!?" he says. "Of course, five pounds!" we says. So off he goes. While he's there, our evening looks like this:

Not pictured: Home Alone on the TV. Priorities. Finally, my dear husband arrived (about the same time as our whole cheese pizza just for me us) with this:

We. Could. Not. Stop. Laughing.

Technically, I suppose he correctly bought five pounds of butter. But it's whipped butter! Which I have never bought in my entire life and has never been in our fridge in our entire relationship! I attempted to research if we could even use whipped butter and the resounding answer from the internet was "nope." Also not pictured: the world's largest box of baking soda and the TWO cans of baking powder (which, in fairness, a nice lady at the supermarket suggested he buy after hearing we make several hundred cookies). Remember, we were only getting these ingredients because I hadn't used up the stuff I bought FIVE YEARS AGO. [I love you, husband! Thanks for trying!]

So where does this leave us? Eating pizza, drinking wine, and watching Home Alone while my dear husband goes back to Shop Rite at 11 pm to return the offensive butter and no baking at all on Day 1. I guess we were no worse off than any other year though.

We woke up in the morning to nice normal sticks of butter in the fridge with a pound left out on the counter to soften overnight (nice idea, but the first thing we did was take out the other four pounds. We blew through that first pound in about 2 minutes.) So we could get right to baking! We started off with the cookie press cookies. We didn't do any planning for a numerical goal or for how many batches we wanted for each so I think we tripled the batch for the cookie press so we could do four shapes and colors. This logic made sense early in the morning. In reality, we made two types in two colors. But that was fine, easy to accomplish and brought our cookie count to a quick 150 or so.

I think next we made the ginger cookies. Those were the new ones and required several steps so I think we decided to get them out of the way early. The dough was pretty easy to put together except for one thing: when I was making my list of spices, I didn't actually check the recipe and was just going from memory. So instead of getting nutmeg, I told my dear husband to get allspice. Whoops. I didn't have any nutmeg. But instead of fretting, we just used the allspice and hoped it would taste good. [It did.] The first batch of cookies was a little bit underbaked and the cookies were a little too big so after that we made them a bit smaller and cooked them a bit longer. Then they were perfect circles of gingery excellence. We put them aside for later because the next step was dipping them in chocolate and piping adorable holly berries on them. No potential for failure there whatsoever.

On to the next critically important step: walnut balls! We were so heartbroken last year that we needed to take extra care this year. We checked, double-checked, and triple-checked the recipe. We carefully measured everything. We remembered to sift the powdered sugar. Aaaaaaaaaaand...they're perfect! Little nutty balls of heaven. Note for next year though: sifting the powdered sugar does nothing. We won't waste our time next year.

With those out of the way, we turned our attention to our next potential problem. Namely, we started to get afraid of running out of flour and, you guessed it, butter! Around this point, we were also talking about taking a coffee and breakfast break. As we were discussing our urgent need for coffee, an angelic voice from upstairs yelled "give me a few minutes and I'll get you coffee!" Husband to the rescue! The kicker was when he was taking our coffee order and I threw in the "hey, while you're out, could you pick up some more butter?" and his jaw almost hit the floor. His immediate reaction seemed to be "no, you have more than enough butter" but then he was very sweet and got us flour and butter. Which we didn't end up needing. Whoops.

About this point, we started to divide and conquer. I took out the puff pastry to thaw for the palmiers and started collecting the various chocolate needed for the double chocolate cookies while my friend worked on making the base for the M&M cookies. I melted A LOT of chocolate. I don't even want to tell you how much. But those cookies are a tried and true favorite even if they aren't very Christmas-y. On the other hand, one of our goals was to make a pretty tin of cookies with lots of colors and designs so it helped fill out the tins in that way. One of our other goals was to make the M&M cookies smaller this year, which we accomplished, but it was much harder to get the M&Ms into the cookies fast enough. We also baked up the chocolate cookies which take forever to bake so we finally got a little break. I also ran out of cocoa. Tired yet?!?

Speaking of chocolate, we still have to dip those ginger cookies! At this point, we had completely run out of space in the kitchen and on my dining room table so that means dipping the cookies in chocolate and then laying them on wax paper on the floor. SorryNotSorry. We started the chocolate melting adventure by choosing bad vessels for dipping and realizing that we each needed our own bowls of melted chocolate if we were ever going to finish. We used white Wilton candy melts and apparently the thing that makes chocolate smooth for dipping is adding shortening and NOT increasing the microwaving time. Thanks, Google! It actually worked perfectly except that I ran out of white chocolate candy melts and white chocolate and my giving a crap level was quite low at this point. So even though we were only dipping half of each cookie, we somehow managed to use a technique where we only covered the top of half the cookies. Basically, from the top, the cookies look perfect but from the bottom, they look like a disaster mess. But we managed to eek out enough chocolate to dip all but three cookies so mission: accomplished.

We're in the home stretch! And starving because we've only eaten a bagel all day. We once again called upon our fetching hero to fetch us some lunch/dinner at the grilled cheese restaurant. And we got going on the palmiers. Which we never should leave to last because they take FOREVER. Fortunately, I have a ton of baking pans so we could cut almost all the cookies and place them on pans to be ready to bake. At this point, there was pan overflow into my living room. Things are a bit of a blur here because I think we were also piping the ginger cookies at the same time. My friend was piping the red berries and I was piping the holly leaves. On the floor. We quickly discovered a need for pillows under our knees but it was rather uncomfortable regardless. Naturally, I didn't have piping bags large enough for all of the chocolate I needed so once the bags got refilled, our hands were covered in red and green chocolate. It took forever. My hands cramped. But I do have to say, the effort was worth it because these cookies were adorable and delicious.

Note the trays of uncooked palmiers in the foreground. Palmiers continued their endless baking while we cleaned up the kitchen and packed up the cookies. Here's a photo of the stuffed dining room table with tasty cookies:

Ok, really that's about 2/3 of the cookies because you may recall, they just didn't all fit. And our final cookie tally this year was a whopping 667. Not our record but not half bad either for one day of baking. Here's our very scientific tracking system:

Whew! All the cookies came out great and we definitely have our confidence back! Guess we'll have to do something crazy for next year, right?

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!