Sunday, August 12, 2012

World's Worst Cookies

Well, for those of you getting frustrated with my competency in the kitchen, here's a treat for you. As an aside, is there an opposite to "ineptitude"? I'm pretty sure "eptitude" isn't a word. Just wondering if there's a positive root word for ineptitude. Ok, moving on...

So, the Cake Boss is failing me. I know it's been a while since I've baked from the Cake Boss cookbook because I got distracted by the really yummy recipes in Martha and America's Test Kitchen. So I decided that it was time to get back to this book. This is the only cookbook that I am cooking through in order so that meant that the next cookies in the book were Tarelles (i.e. vanilla cookies). Ok, vanilla cookies. Not terribly interesting but I've had good vanilla cookies before so why not? I had a slight problem with these because the recipe calls for pastry flour and I couldn't find pastry flour in any of my supermarkets. However, the recipe does say that all-purpose flour can be substituted so I didn't think too much of it.

First step was to mix together sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Easy. Made a bit of a mess with the vanilla but no big deal there. Next step was to add shortening. This was almost a big problem because I was almost 1/2 a cup short! I say almost because I finished off my container of Crisco and thought I had another but did not. Eventually I found Crisco sticks in my cabinet though. Success! By the way, I'm not a Crisco diva that I need to have the sticks but I had a coupon for them so I bought them.

Then I had to paddle in some milk until "thoroughly absorbed". I disagree with that "thoroughly absorbed" assessment. I was mixing it like crazy but it still looked like watery cottage cheese for several minutes. It wasn't very attractive. But fine, eventually, I managed to get it combined-ish. Add flour and baking powder and I'm all done with the actual combining of ingredients.

Now comes the super fun part. I had to roll out these cookies into rings. There were very specific directions about rolling half the dough into a 30 inch rope and then cutting pieces based on another measurement and then rolling those out and initially, I sort of followed that. It was pretty unnecessary though, as long as you're confident that you can form uniform-sized cookies. So the measurements weren't my problem. My problem was the dough itself. Rolling ropes of dough can be really awful if you've got a super sticky dough or a very crumbly dough (both of which I've dealt with and documented here) but this dough was neither of those things. It's hard to describe though. It didn't stick to the surface and it didn't stick to my hands. It also did not stick to itself which made forming complete rings basically impossible. The other problem is that it kept falling apart as I rolled it. I don't mean that it crumbled. I mean that, as I rolled a rope of dough, if I rolled any piece too thinly, it became two ropes. This made the concept of making a "Twisty Tarelle" completely impossible. To do that, I had to fold the dough rope in half and then roll it against the work surface so it would make a spiral. It did not. It just broke. A lot. After trying this for several minutes, I just gave up and stuck to the regular tarelles.

So eventually, I delicately rolled out two cookie trays' worth of these cookies. And realized that I had barely used half the dough. Awesome. I baked them for the appropriate amount of time and until the bottoms were slightly browned as specified. Pretty sure they were baked perfectly. I put them on the racks to cool while I rolled the rest of the cookies. No big problems there besides those already mentioned. At this point though, I had the sneaking suspicion that these cookies might be a bit bland so I decided to add some sprinkles. The picture shows some of the cookies with sprinkles so why not? I'll tell you why not. Because sprinkles don't stick to the cookies. I tried. The only way to get the sprinkles to stick was to really press them into the dough which destroyed the shape of the cookie so after attempting this with three cookies, I gave up. Here's a picture of the finished product before I give you a taste assessment though:

These cookies taste bad. I had my boyfriend taste one at the same time as me and we looked at each other and he said, "they're not bad..." which usually means they're not good. I was a half step away from spitting mine out. They are so DRY. There's no moisture to them so it's like trying to eat seven saltines or a mouthful of flour or something. I've only had this type of texture once before when I tasted a cookie and it crumbled to dust in my mouth and I almost choked on the cookie dust. At least I didn't make those cookies though. Those may be worse. These are really bad too though. I don't even know how I should have made them better.

So at this point, I'm pretty displeased with Cake Boss. His cookies are very hit or miss. I'm thinking that I'll try to make one of his pastries next to see if he's better with those. These cookies though...thumbs down. So, anyone want some terrible cookies? I have about 40 of them and nobody to eat them! Seriously, suggestions of what to do with these are welcome. I don't know if I want to subject anyone I like to them though. Sigh. What a disappointment.

Oh, and let me just put in a plug for the contest I've entered. I am competing in's 2 minute thesis contest. If I get enough votes, I will get my thesis turned into a comic which would be totally cool. Voting ends on August 20 so if you would please vote and share with your friends to extend my network of voters, that'd be terrific. Thanks in advance and I promise, if I win, there will be cookie sharing. Here's the link to vote: The title of my audio clip is "[Intentionally Left Missing]"

A Disney Moment: Hunchback of Notre Dame

There's no way to sum up this movie besides this statement: My sister and I rented this movie from the library FIVE times. That's right. For about a month and a half, we would rent Hunchback and then stare at it and not want to watch it. We really really didn't want to watch this movie. Finally, we settled down to get it over with (I think we may have rewarded ourselves with fast food first) and well, I guess I didn't hate it quite as much as I thought I would. Which isn't exactly a ringing endorsement.

I don't really know what bothers me about this film. The villain isn't exactly scary. That's not to say that he isn't evil. He's probably the most evil Disney villain what with all the fire and brimstone and wanting to burn gypsies. But unless you're an adult and thinking "he's one amoral SOB" then he doesn't particularly inspire fear. I will always argue that Ursula is a better villain than Frollo is.

I think the movie tries to cram too many plot lines in and I don't really care for the other male protagonist (you know, the one that isn't Quasimodo that I can't remember the name of). The music is ok and the animation is fine but it just never grabbed me. Also, the gargoyles. Are they just Quasimodo's subconscious speaking or are they really alive? This bugged me. I don't mind if we have talking statues but the ambiguity of it made me uneasy. So, in this grouping, it's a 5/5. But at least we're done with it and the librarians can stop thinking that we're unhealthily obsessed with Hunchback.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Wedding Cookies

Hello everyone! Welcome to A Statistician Bakes: Wedding Edition. I was recently a bridesmaid in my very good friend, Laura,'s wedding. To help contribute to the big day, I decided to make some cookies. Because that's what I do. And because we had to be at the venue from 9 am till the ceremony at 4 pm and I figured we'd get hungry. I really wanted to make Mexican Wedding Cookies because, well, that's the cliche thing to do. Then I looked at the recipe and realized there was powdered sugar on them and that seemed like a phenomenally bad idea considering that our dresses were black. So my criteria for these cookies had to be: yummy and no-mess. I landed on the ever-classic Snickerdoodle (Martha's recipe, of course) and Buttery Pecan Rounds. I said no to chocolate because who wants chocolate in their teeth during a wedding and I said no to anything heavy because that would really impede the getting drunk process required for any good wedding.

I won't talk to you about the Snickerdoodles because I've made them so many times before so I'll talk about the Buttery Pecan Rounds. They're super easy. No really, like, 4 ingredients easy. Ok, so it's not 4 ingredients, it's 6 but still, that's pretty easy. May I interrupt for a moment to lament the fact that I haven't baked in my own kitchen for about a month now? I love my mom's kitchen but I think my Connecticut kitchen is crying out in neglect. Makes me sad.

Ok, sidebar over. There's honestly nothing worth talking about with these cookies though. Combine salt and brown sugar. Mix in egg yolk. Add flour and salt. Mix in chopped pecans. That's it. I was supposed to add half pecans for decoration on top but I wasn't feeling that so I skipped it. So...that's basically it for these cookies. These cookies were in the light and delicate section of Martha's book because I figured that'd be good. Oh! I also went to the trouble to buy cardstock to separate my new very large cookie tin. Ok, so maybe it's not a cookie tin and is actually one of those big containers that hold three types of popcorn but it serves its purpose! Here's a picture of the finished product:

As far as the taste, the Snickerdoodles were great as always. The pecan cookies were good but a little too bland for me. If I make these again, I think I'll add a bit more sugar or maybe some vanilla. They were very light and delicate though. Oh, and to round out this entry, congratulations Laura and Pat! Here's a picture of me with the bride (who also happens to be my friend for the past 20 years...which makes me feel old...)

A Disney Moment: Pocahontas

Oh, this movie. I liked it as a kid. I belted out "Colors of the Wind" with the rest of the world. But when I rewatched it...well, let's just say it was an experience. Let me set the stage: my sister and I were all geared up to watch and my mom would occasionally flit in and out to see if the movie was over yet. Apparently she REALLY dislikes Pocahontas. Which I guess is understandable if you have two daughters who watched it obsessively in their youth and sang along (badly) to all of the songs.

First of all, I don't like the character animation in this one. I'm sure this is a controversial point of view. But in my household, this was a rage-inducing experience. "Her ass is HUGE!" and "Why does she have gigantic calves one second and then by the next scene they're gone???" are just a couple of the issues we have with Pocahontas. My personal issue is her hair. It defies all laws of physics. And you know what? If the wind keeps pushing strands of her hair the same direction, eventually she won't have any hair left on one side of her head. It's illogical.

Ok, that aside, the rest isn't too bad. I have mixed feelings about Grandmother Willow. I truly appreciate the background animation which is beautiful. I can't understand how Pocahontas magically understands English all of a sudden. And don't give me that "listen with your heart" stuff because that's crazy. Honestly, I buy characters talking to animals more than I buy a suddenly bilingual protagonist.

Also, my mom had a couple gems to add when watching this movie. Including, "you know why Grandmother Willow's bark medicine works so well? It's aspirin!" I should point out that my mom is a chemist. And my favorite: "She is picking up a baby bear cub! The mother would have mauled her by now! This is just teaching children to pick up bear cubs! Why is Pocahontas stupid enough to pick up a bear cub?" This went on and on during the rest of "Colors of the Wind" and was completely hilarious.

I know there's a lot of Pocahontas love out there but I just didn't feel it. It wasn't a great masterpiece. It was ok. It was a 4/5 in this grouping. I will be bracing myself in preparation for all the people who are about to tell me I'm wrong.