Friday, October 4, 2013

It's the Final Countdown!

I’m moving! I’m in shock and can’t believe that in a couple days, my house will no longer be mine. I've been feeling extremely nostalgic, particularly regarding my kitchen because that’s where I started this whole journey! Remember back when I was just a poor grad student with one baking pan and a couple of bowls? I've come such a long way since then. But never fear! I can’t live without my baking supplies so they’re coming with me to my temporary apartment! So you may look forward to future adventures in a kitchen that will be very new to me. I really hope it has an oven with correct cooking temperatures. Now to business: I had to bake one last time before moving. Obviously my last baking experience was great because I was making truffles with my friend but that doesn't have quite the solitary and fumbling tone that mark many of my baking experiences in this particular kitchen. So grab a cup of tea while I tell you about my experience with Martha Stewart’s Earl Grey Tea cookies.

I’ve actually been wanting to make these since before I was a tea addict. Back in the day, I went to London and Ireland to visit friends who were studying abroad. While I was there, my friends served me tea and tea biscuits/cookies. I don’t really remember because it was a while ago but I was really struck by how yummy the cookies were with tea. So, what could be better than Earl Grey Tea cookies? Gotta love my rationale for how I pick what to bake. Plus there was a picture.  Martha Stewart Cookies book is the best.

I’ve been putting off this recipe for a while. One reason was because I didn’t want to buy Earl Grey tea for the recipe and I was formerly a much bigger fan of English Breakfast. I have since seen the light. The second reason was because the recipe calls for orange zest and I never have oranges in my house and rarely think to buy them for a recipe. Yes, I know, I’m weird, I don’t eat oranges. The third reason for postponing the recipe was that I need to grind up the tea leaves very finely with a food processor or a mortar and pestle. I have neither of those things. I kept waiting, thinking that I might spring for a tiny food processor but I haven’t so you get another lovely instance of the baker trying to make do and be creative! Which, I’m sure, is why anyone is reading this

Anyway, this is a fairly simple recipe but is filled with all of the quirks that makes Martha, well, Martha. Step 1: combine flour, salt, and ground up tea in a bowl. Yeah, I never do that combining dry ingredients beforehand part. That just dirties another bowl and I have no time for that. However, I did have to crush the tea leaves somehow. First I should mention that I didn’t use pure Earl Grey tea. I only have really nice Earl Grey and if you thought I was using that for cookies, you were sorely mistaken. Instead, I used one of the teas from my tea blending phase that I believe I mentioned on this blog before. I decided to go with the Statler and Waldorf blend because that’s the most Earl Grey-like (and is quite delicious). It’s a blend of mostly Earl Grey spice and a bit of Earl Grey vanilla. So already I’m tweaking Martha’s recipe. Oh well. Next, I mentioned my lack of any grinding device. I decided to try to make a makeshift mortar and pestle with a bowl and a spoon. This actually worked a little but the tea kept jumping out of the bowl when I crushed it and when a piece hit me in the eye, I decided that we were done with that particular approach. Then I went and got clever though. I put the tea leaves in a plastic bag and just crushed them by rolling the back of a spoon over them through the bag. It worked so well! The tea leaves would make a crunchy noise until they were very finely ground so I had a built-in indication of when I was done crushing! I still can’t believe this worked. You really don’t understand how excited I am.

Step 2 was to cream butter, confectioner’s sugar, and orange zest. Ugh, zesting. I don’t enjoy zesting. It’s not fun. I actually do have a small zester (I have no idea if that’s what it’s called) but my hands are a bit too small to hold an orange securely and I felt like it was so much effort for so little yield. I needed a full tablespoon of zest so once I got annoyed enough, I asked my fiancĂ© to do it. He did a fine job and then I cut up the orange for him to eat. At this point, I was getting a bit flustered by the overwhelming smell of orange in my kitchen. Did I mention I really hate oranges? I mean, I really hate all citrus but orange is the worst. So I creamed the ingredients and started thinking that I probably wouldn’t like these cookies because, even with only a tablespoon of zest, the dough smelled awfully orange-y.

Next was to chuck in the dry ingredients. Now, I was being a bit of a lazy baker. I know baking is an exact science and all that but I was eyeballing the measurements a little bit. For instance, I wasn’t really sweeping the top of the cups of flour with a knife. I absolutely eyeballed how much two tablespoons of tea would be. And I may have just poured in some salt without measuring at all. Now I know what you’re going to say: bad idea. But I only needed half a teaspoon and I’m pretty sure I erred on the side of under-salting so I think I should be safe!

After that (and between scenes in Grey’s Anatomy), I had to divide the dough in half, put on parchment paper and roll into logs that were 1.25 inches in diameter. That’s small, right? Like, really tiny cookies? I didn’t measure so whatever. Martha also advised using a ruler to smooth out the edge as I rolled and to force out all of the air. Perfectionist. I did not do that. Then the dough had to freeze for an hour. Martha recommended putting the dough logs inside paper towel tubes. Do people save those? Should I have had those lying around for just this occasion? Seriously? I just chucked them in the freezer wrapped in the parchment paper.

After freezing the dough, I had to slice the cookies up and throw them on the pans. Martha specified a quarter of an inch thick. That’s a really really tiny cookie! But, I followed her directions. After all, I was supposed to get about 8 dozen out of the recipe. I got maybe 7-7.5 dozen so that’s close enough for me. I was a bit worried about the cooking time and I was right to be because they started to burn a little bit in the first batch. However, I just whipped them out of the oven real quick and they were all salvageable. Look at the tiny delicate cookies!

Now let’s assess what exactly these are. Remember how orange-y the dough smelled? The first thing I noticed once they were baking was that the orange smell had really mellowed quite a bit. They smelled quite tasty. As for the taste, they’re…complex is the only word I can think of. They’re a bit like shortbread cookies so they’re kinda crumbly. But not so crumbly that they fall apart in your hand. But the flavors actually unfold in an interesting way. First you’re hit with the dryness of the cookie. Then you get that hint of orange coming in. Then it actually finishes with a salty kick. Note: I don’t think this is because I put in too much salt! The flavors really just present themselves one at a time. That’s pretty damn complex for a recipe with six ingredients. So I think next time, I’ll make these with just a bit less salt but otherwise they’re a pretty perfect cookie. Martha, you’re a genius. Oh! I almost forgot! I had two of these with a cup of Earl Grey tea this morning and they were a perfect match.

So that’s it for the baking in this particular kitchen! It’s been fantastic and I am going to seriously miss this kitchen, even with its lack of counter space. Thanks to all of those who came to visit to bake with me in the black hole of that part of Connecticut. Onwards and upwards to the next stage of the baking adventure!

A Disney Moment: Tarzan

My sister is afraid of Tarzan. She is super terrified by the jungle cat thing at the beginning. She thinks it is more sinister than Scar or Sher Khan and is afraid of it eating her. This will never cease to amuse me. I saw Tarzan when it came out ages ago. I remember watching Disney Channel and previews on Disney VHS for Tarzan about how they used COMPUTERS! and how they went to skate parks to watch dudes on skateboards and rollerblades doing tricks and stuff so they could simulate how Tarzan surfs on the branches. This is my memory of Tarzan. Other than that, (being somewhat unfamiliar with Tarzan lore) I knew it was about a jungle man and there’s a girl named Jane and she and a dude with a gun try to edumacate and civilize him. I watched this movie several months ago and that’s still all I remember.

Ok, not entirely. But pretty close. So the movie starts out and I’m all like “Dude, there’s a shipwreck?” Meanwhile, my sister is legitimately cowering under a blanket. I have no idea what she’s afraid of. Then there’s craziness like a big jungle cat and parents getting pretty violently murdered and fire and it’s just insane. Just another example of Disney tugging on our heartstrings by shamelessly murdering parents.

I remember things like trashing the camp and the neurotic elephant and the really obnoxious Rosie O’Donnell monkey but other than that, ugh. Something about the movie just doesn’t work for me. It’s sort of a movie where things are happening but it doesn’t feel like anything happens. I do like the song “You’ll Be in My Heart” quite a bit but the things I enjoy about the movie end there. Oh, I also respected the pretty graphic hanging of the villain. This is a super violent movie. I really dislike the angular animation style, particularly on Tarzan. I know it’s supposed to be all revolutionary but his feet are totally deformed! I mean, seriously. I can’t get behind this movie. I know some people think it’s one of the most beautiful movies but it’s just not my style. I prefer the good ol’ hand drawn stuff. All that and it is not even the worst of the batch! So it ranks a 4/5 and sinks happily back into obscurity in my memory. Tarzan lovers: bring it on, I can take it. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Team Truffle

Welcome back friends! I was a little slow on this blog post since I’ve already started my brand new, shiny, awesome job that currently comes with a 1.5 hour commute each way. In case you were wondering, that commute makes you very tired when you get home and you just don’t want to blog. But here I am because this was a super fun one. Before my grand departure from UConn, I decided that I wanted to make a treat to give my advisor. So, I decided that truffles would be perfect (mostly because I’ve been wanting to make truffles again) and I invited my friend over to help me with the truffles. Because it’s fun. Now, I could have just made one type of truffle and called it a day. But that’s not fun, nor is it insane. Instead we decided to make four types of truffles: Ebony and Ivory (which you may recall from the last time I made them), Oreo, Caramel, and Cookie Dough (which was my very first baking adventure that I blogged about!). Two repeats, two newbies, and a whole lot of chocolate! 

We started bright and early and spent a fair amount of time trying to decide on a good strategy. Then we gave up and just dove right in. Now it’s been a while so I may get the timeline wrong but I’ll give it a shot. I believe we started with the cookie dough ones so we could eat some cookie dough. Always a good plan. Plus they had to refrigerate for a while before being dipped in chocolate. I love how easy those cookie dough ones are. The only downside, of course, being the process of can opening. The recipe calls for condensed milk and I always forget how thick that is and try to use the poke-a-hole type of can opener instead of a legit one because I’m lazy. So yeah, it made a bit of a mess. But otherwise, it was super duper easy. We got our hands nice and dirty rolling them into balls but it was delicious so who cares? We threw them in the fridge and were amazed that with two people, the process only took about half an hour.

Oh! Now I remember how this actually went down! Ok, you see how I painted this lovely picture of us doing one thing at a time? That’s TOTALLY not how that happened. Before we started anything, we attacked the caramels. We had to unwrap about 26 of them and caramels (in case you didn’t already know) are kinda sticky. So that took a while. But the reason we did this first was because for the caramel truffles, we had to melt the caramels together with the chocolate, pour into a pan, refrigerate, then slice and roll into balls, and refrigerate again. Once all those suckers were unwrapped, I got to melting them on the stove while my friend started the cookie dough truffles. It sort of feels like we were both doing everything though because she needed help finding things in my kitchen (which is not organized logically at all) and I needed help with things like noticing that the caramels were practically boiling. Whoops. I get easily distracted. So the cookie dough and caramel ones wrapped at almost the same time. I have to compliment the author of the caramel recipe for the cool trick of lining a pan with plastic wrap, pouring the caramel mixture in and then just flipping them out after they cool for cutting and rolling. It was actually easy. Oh, I should mention that this recipe comes from my very first baking book, the Taste of Home Best Recipes 2010 cookbook. I missed using that book. It’s got such cute ideas.

For round two, we decided to divide and conquer. My friend was in charge of the Oreo truffles so I can’t really comment on those besides saying that they’re super delicious. I was in charge of the Ebony and Ivory truffles from the Death By Chocolate cookbook. If you recall, the last time I tried that one, my kitchen ended up covered in chocolate, I used the wrong chocolate, and I broke a whisk. I was endeavoring to avoid that this time. I was moderately successful. The first thing was that I actually used the correct type of chocolate. Then I did the whole boiling cream and using it to melt chocolate thing. This time I actually had metal bowls and didn’t have to use Pyrex bowls (which kinda don’t conduct heat). The cream melted the chocolate much better than last time but still needed a little help so I just put the bowls on top of the still-hot burners. I have an electric stove so the residual heat was just enough to finish the melting. I won’t get into the details of the timing of stirring, sitting, refrigerating, and all that because I already discussed that last time but suffice it to say that I set timers and was very careful to not screw it up. It went much better than last time but there was still the issue that on the last stir, the ebony part of the chocolate truffle got pretty hard and tried to break my whisk. I think the timing is just slightly off and maybe the last refrigeration period should be eliminated.
Anyway, at this point, my friend was done with her Oreo things for a bit so she helped me with rolling the truffles. Alas, same problem as last time. The white chocolate is still super oily and sticky and it made our hands a mess and made slightly deformed truffles. But we got it done pretty quickly and once they were rolled, we chucked them in cocoa so that hid the ugliness. Voila! Complete.

After this, there was more chocolate melting but it was all a bit of a blur. I was in charge of cutting the caramel truffles and rolling them into balls. However, I noticed that if I was moving too slowly, the balls started to flatten out. So I rushed through rolling them and tossed them in the fridge thinking that the coldness would slow the process. A few minutes later, I checked on them and they were all pretty flattened. My friend and I tried to reroll and fix them but we were just not quite fast enough and they ended up as disc-like truffles. Bad physics. Very bad physics.

The final step was dipping the cookie dough balls in chocolate. I was tired of melting chocolate so I pulled some ultimate ganache out of the freezer and melted that and dipped the cookie dough balls in that. And by “I”, I totally mean my friend who got really good at using spoons to dip the balls so that they looked neat and tidy and didn’t make a big mess.

So there we were, looking at four pans of truffles. They looked depressingly ugly to be honest. But we were proud that we made four types of truffles within about 3 hours.  The truffles still had some more refrigerating to go and my friend had to leave so I was in charge of packing them up and delivering the next day.

 Never underestimate the power of a good candy tin.

As ugly as these looked on the pans, they looked downright professional once they were put into candy tins in an assorted fashion. We could probably sell these for at least ten bucks a tin. So I put together a bunch of tins of truffles and they look lovely:

As far as the taste, shame on the baker because I still haven’t tried them all. I ate several of the Oreo ones (which are fantastic) and a few of the cookie dough ones (which are also pretty darn good but too sweet to eat more than one at a time). I just tonight tried one of the Ebony and Ivory ones. They're super delicious on the inside but I think that the cocoa on the outside is just a little bit too bitter. It'd be better with a thin milk chocolate coating I think. The inside is just top notch though. I haven’t touched the caramel ones. They’re still in my fridge. My fiancĂ© tried them and informed me that the caramel ones are good but very hard because, duh, caramel. Shrug. I just haven’t been craving chocolate lately. I’ve been pawning them off to anyone I can think of including my chiropractor and friends that invited us over to dinner. Oh well. The moral of the story is this: Baking with friends is much easier and much more fun and you don’t have to be a professional to make some pretty professional-looking treats.

No Disney Moment this week. My sister and I are still trying to summon the will to watch Brother Bear. Once we do, I’ll have enough material for rankings I think. By the way, be on the lookout for another post really soon. It’ll be my last time baking in my kitchen before I move! Madness!