Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Channeling My Inner Martha

I know, I know, I've been bad again. Baking has been happening, I swear! It's just that the blogging part hasn't been happening. Believe it or not, I've been actually doing work lately! Hang on, I'll wait for you to absorb the shock of that statement. Good now? Ok, good.

Like I said, there's been baking. In fact, there was baking during a very special visit from a friend who lives very far away. We made Martha's Ne Plus Ultra cookies. They were quite good but there isn't much to report besides me buying a $2 SlapChop at the Goodwill store to chop pecans because I don't have a food processor. And alas, I ate them all before I remembered to take a picture so you'll just have to take my word for it that they looked and tasted delicious. Oh, one note about these cookies: Martha seemed to think that the recipe made 8 cookies and I made about 30. No one wants a cookie that big.

So that's the Ne Plus Ultra cookie story (by the way, ne plus ultra just means "awesome cookie") and it wasn't very interesting so we'll move on to my attempt to make an Easter themed dessert. When considering what a good Easter dessert might be, I thought long and hard about what would capture the Easter spirit and then I just caved and Googled Easter desserts. Of course, Martha recipes came up with some of the most precious looking cakes ever. I decided to tackle one of her easier ones: Rich Chocolate Cake with Ganache Frosting and Truffle-Egg Nest. Yep. The recipe can be found here. Basically, it's just a chocolate cake with a precious shaved chocolate nest built on top with homemade truffle eggs in the center. Modification #1: I was not making truffle eggs from scratch. I just didn't have the energy or the drive to color egg-shaped truffles robin's egg blue. No freaking way. I bought some Cadbury eggs and called it a day on that one.

The next adventure, so to speak, was the search for the 7 inch cake pans. To give you some context, a standard round cake pan is 9 inches. We had one 8 inch pan (and several 9 inches) but no 7 inch. Oh, and a 6 inch is about the size of the top tier of a wedding cake. So off I went to hunt for the elusive 7 inch cake pan. I asked a neighbor to start with but alas, no 7 incher. I went to Bed, Bath, and Beyond, Kohl's, AC Moore (on the day before Easter, mind you) and nothing. So before even beginning to bake, I was already frustrated. Not cool, Martha. Not cool. I decided to pick up two 8 inch pans for my collection and resolved to watch the cakes carefully to adjust the bake time.

Here's one cool thing about this cake: it's made entirely in a pot. Seriously, all you need is a pot and a whisk. Nothing too interesting to report in the baking process except that I perhaps should have whisked more vigorously in the last step to fluff the batter up more. Anywho, baked up the cakes and left them to cool for a while. Now, here comes another point of confusion: the recipe called for both a whipped ganache frosting and then another ganache topping but I did not realize that upon my first reading. Or second. Or third. By the time I did figure it out, I realized that I didn't have enough chocolate or heavy cream for the second ganache. Maybe I'm just stressed out but this was an extremely frustrating discovery. Eventually I got over it and iced the cake with the whipped ganache frosting and covered it with the thinner ganache. The cake itself came out looking quite professionally done, if I do say so myself (and I do.) I was initially saddened by what seemed like a waste of perfectly good ganache (I pretty much had to pour ganache over the whole cake and let the excess run into the bottom of a pan) but then my mom saved the day by scraping the ganache into a container for later use in strawberry-dipping.

Now, all of this is well and good from a baking standpoint. But now we get to the Martha-ness of the recipe. Anyone can make a simple chocolate cake. It takes a real pro to make a bird's nest out of chocolate. Here are the directions: "using a chef's knife, scrape milk chocolate bar at 90 degree angle, forming enough curls and shards to measure 1 1/2 cups." Sounds simple, right? Wrong. It took three masterminds to figure out that scraping down the chocolate only created tiny chocolate confetti. Eventually (and I do mean to imply that this took some time and some staring at a chocolate bar and some experimentation with potato peelers on chocolate), I discovered that instead of scraping, I could just chop thin slices of chocolate which yielded much better results. Then the last step was to build the nest. I was bad at this. My "nest" didn't look at all like a nest. My sister had to fix it for me. But whatever, I'm not the artistic one of the family. It came out pretty precious looking in the end. Here's a picture for your judgement:

As for the taste, it went over very well with my family on Easter. I thought it was a bit denser than it should have been but maybe that's just a personal preference. I bet having a 7 inch pan would have made it better. Stupid 7 inch pan.

A Disney Moment: Oliver and Company
I love Oliver and Company. I think it's adorable. And anyone who disagrees is wrong. Again, we see my affinity for cartoon cats and dogs coming out but I think it's a pretty well structured film. I like the pacing. I like the referrals to Oliver Twist. It's certainly not an original story but it's fun nonetheless. Certain moments really stuck with me. Small things like how Dodger struts every time he walks. And to me, a four-legged strut is a bit of an accomplishment. "Why Should I Worry?" is a really fun scene with a truly terrific song. The other musical high for me was "You and Me Together" which is just one of the sweetest things in the world. I may be biased because the girl is named Jenny but I just find that whole song endearing.

Let's see, what else? Oh, I was a bit surprised to discover that I didn't mind having the characters voiced by famous people. Bette Midler voicing the overdramatic show dog was especially perfect to me. Overall, I was just left with a happy feeling when the movie ended. I also really enjoyed the opening and closing landscapes of NYC. That all said, I'm still only giving this movie a 3/5. Why, you ask? Well, because, my friends, we are on the cusp of the Disney Renaissance! Great things to come. But Oliver and Company is still ranking a lot higher than the likes of Fox and the Hound, for example, despite its low group rating.