Wednesday, September 5, 2012

This One Knocked the Stuffing Out of Me...

Welcome back! Stupid productivity getting in the way of blogging. The semester is back in full swing which means that I'm back teaching and doing research and studying for my general exam (October 3!) and trying to find time to do a billion things. So I figured I'd jump start my productivity with catching up on my blogging. I guess I'll start with the adventure that was trying to bake two things at once. Commence chaos!

Oh wait, before I start: apparently the tarelles weren't bad. In fact, people thought they were really good. Maybe my taste buds were scrambled that day or maybe I just don't like them but in any case, I am officially removing the assessment that they are the world's worst cookie. My apologies to the Cake Boss. Except not really because as one of the projects I was making on this occasion, I made his Eclairs. Sort of.

Let me explain. I planned to make eclairs. I figured that it was time to get away from the cookie recipes in the Cake Boss book before completely writing off the cookbook. So the next section is pastries. And the first recipe for pastries is eclairs. Step 1: make the pastry shells. Ok, cool. That was pretty easy. Mix up the dough and put it in a piping bag and pipe out eclair shapes. Easy. I'm getting to be pretty good at piping now. I baked them up and they puffed nicely. Success! Well, short lived success. It was at this point that I noticed that the pastry cream has to be refrigerated overnight. Oops. However, the shells can be frozen and defrosted for use whenever. Awesome! Problem solved. Oh, I should also mention that the way to test if these were done was if they come off the pan easily when picked up with a thumb and index finger. Super scientific. May have ended up with some very hot fingers.

It was about this point that I got a text from a friend informing me that she finally got a job. Yay for jobs! And how should one celebrate a new job? With stuffed cupcakes, of course! So while the pastry shells were baking, I perused my cookbooks for a recipe for stuffed cupcakes. I didn't have one. But hey, I bake a lot. I have the knowledge and the power to mix and match recipes! So I decided to use the dark chocolate cupcakes that I've made previously from America's Test Kitchen and stuff and frost them with cream cheese frosting. Did I mention that I was baking all this late at night with the added pressure that I was going to be headed home to Jersey the next day? No? Well, I was. I may have been a little crazy.

So, the most logical course of action to me was to whip up the cream cheese frosting in Connecticut and bring it to New Jersey where I would bake and stuff the cupcakes. Completely logical, right? Sure. I whipped up the cream cheese frosting quickly enough (though it was actually a huge pain because I kept having to wash all of my materials) and stuck it in the fridge. Oh yeah, and I was simultaneously cooking dinner. Is the imagery of my kitchen mess clear enough for you by now? Yes? Good.

Ok, so where am I? Dinner's done, frosting's done, pastry shells done. Last thing tonight is the pastry cream! Did you know that custard is hard to make? I didn't. If I had, I wouldn't have tried to do this late at night after having baked for hours already. So, for those of you who don't know, custard is a tricky thing. Also, choosing what size pots and bowls to use is a tricky thing. And when I say tricky, I mean "I'm bad at it." I started with my egg yolks, flour, and sugar in a small bowl. Bad idea. I could see immediately that that would be a problem. So I moved everything to the medium bowl. I had to whisk those ingredients together until "they lighten in color." The ingredients didn't seem to combine well. I kinda had lumpy crumbly egg yolk messes. But I figured it would all even out when I combined it with the milk. (It didn't.)

This is where things get dangerous with custard. You have to be extremely careful to not cook the eggs with the hot milk. To avoid that, you first temper your mixture with one cup of the hot milk and then add the whole mixture to the pot with the milk. It was at this point that I realized that I really could've used a bigger pot. It was also when I realized that the medium bowl wasn't going to be big enough and the big bowl was dirty. Ahhh! Plus at this point, you have to very carefully blend with a hand mixer while moving the pot on and off the heat so that the mixture boils but doesn't cook the yolks. So much multitasking! With one hand, I was mixing and with the other hand I was washing a bowl and at some point I had to add the butter as my "thickening agent" and it was a mess. I was supposed to end up with a mixture that was very thick but was instead pretty thin. Also, the bottom of my mixture totally just cooked. Like, egg yolk omelet on the bottom of the pan. But whatever, I'll just take the non-cooked part and use that and I'll just have a bit less than I wanted, right? Sigh. I think you can all see where this is going.

So, I covered my thin mixture and put it in the fridge overnight hoping that it would thicken up overnight. Apparently that's not how custards work. The next morning I got all excited to fill my eclairs. I sliced my pastry shells and I went to fill my pastry bag with the filling. Not happening. It was a thin drizzle of messy. So I started Googling quick fixes for custards. There really aren't any. They all say to start over except for one which said I could fold in some whipped cream. Hmm. I don't have whipped cream but I'm sad enough about my custard right now to go buy some. So I did. Don't use this quick fix. It doesn't work. Here's a picture of my sad sad attempt to fill eclairs:

It's not attractive. But there are bright sides. The first is that the pastry shells looked good so they went right back into the freezer to be used another day. The second is that the custard actually tasted pretty good so barring my inability to make custard, this recipe probably would've turned out well. So the pastry shells are awaiting a second attempt at custard which will happen sometime in the future when I am not in a delicate mental state.

So with this failure hanging over me, I headed home to make the cupcakes. Baking cupcakes is easy. I had no problem here. Stuffing cupcakes is a different story. I found one thing online that recommended just putting your filling in a pastry bag with a long tip, jabbing it into the cupcake and squeezing. Theoretically, the cupcakes will puff up with the filling and it will be wonderful. There was even a video demonstrating this phenomenon! All that happened for me was getting a very narrow tube of filling into the cupcake. No puffing up or anything. So I tried a different approach. I used a small knife to cut a cone out of the middle of the cupcake, filled the cupcake, cut off the tip of the cone, and returned the rest of the cupcake cone to its rightful place. I referred to that last step as "putting the hat back on" because I was a little slap happy at this point. In hindsight, since I was frosting these cupcakes with the same filling anyway, I really didn't have to put the hat back on. Regardless, these cupcakes were freakin' delicious. The cream cheese with the dark chocolate complemented each other perfectly and when you sliced the cupcake in half, it looked beautiful. See for yourself:

Pretty good, right? They were so yummy. So, one success and one fail and one very very tired baker.

A Disney Moment: Hercules

Ah, the final member of this group of five (finally). Hercules scores a 2/5 and let me just say that I really love it. The villain is fun and sharp. The references to Greek mythology are at times blatant but at other times subtle. I recommend suspending all your knowledge of Greek mythology before watching because otherwise, nothing will make sense and it will only make you angry. I love love love the music (with the notable exception of "Go the Distance") and the Greek chorus narrators and the sassy heroine and Danny Devito as Phil and the cameo of Scar and yay! I just really like this movie. It's quick but it doesn't feel too quick to me and the comic relief characters have pretty minimal screen time (they should have even less but I'm willing to let that go). Overall, I like it. Whew, it took a long time to finish those 5 movies.