Monday, April 28, 2014

The One Where the Baker Finally Sets Something on Fire!

Oh dear readers, you’re in for a rare treat of baker ineptitude. I’ll cut to the chase: I finally set something on fire. But oh the tale of how I got there…

In the midst of Easter preparation madness, I was informed that I had to bring a dessert to Easter. Since my brain was mostly on a work crisis, I decided to go with something easy, tried, and true…the pecan pie. I've never actually blogged about the pecan pie but I've made it twice before with varying degrees of help. It’s a great recipe that makes a very pretty pie. So with that, we commence!

I first had to make the pie crust which is a pretty straightforward process. Except that my mom usually does that part. Mixing the ingredients was easy but then I had to cut in the butter and that was such a colossal pain in my ass. I really don’t like the sound that the metal knives made against the metal bowl that I was using. Eventually, I got there though and, after confirmation from my sister that it looked ok, I set about rolling out the dough. Well, I don’t know if I made the dough too sticky or if I’m just bad at it but when I rolled it out, I got a bunch of holes, it stuck to the countertop, and when I tried to move it, the whole thing broke into about four pieces. Too frustrated to re-roll the crust, I just smooshed it all together into the pie plate. I tried to use my fingers to make it look pretty and to make it of even thickness but honestly, I was tired and didn't care that much.

On to the filling! The filling is super simple: light corn syrup, dark corn syrup, crushed pecans, eggs, and…brown sugar. Whoops. I totally forgot to check if we had brown sugar when I assessed that we had all the ingredients. So I went digging around and eventually found a little bit of brown sugar. I needed ¾ cup and I really didn’t think there would be enough. Also, the brown sugar was hard as a rock. Not exactly the consistency you want for brown sugar. But that’s ok, I know that I can microwave brown sugar to soften it up. No big deal. As it’s microwaving, I start to try to figure out what I can substitute for the remaining brown sugar that I’ll need. Eventually I found some dark brown sugar. Perfect! Except that it’s also hard as a rock.

At this point, the light brown sugar only needed about another 30 seconds in the microwave so I figure “whatever, I’ll toss the dark brown sugar in there too to soften it up.” So I do. Approximately three seconds later, there’s a loud bang from the microwave and a tiny, tiny flame on the bag of dark brown sugar. Apparently the twist tie was still on the dark brown sugar and, being metal, it doesn't like microwaves. Now things get comical. I immediately turned off the microwave and was just standing there staring at the tiny tiny flame. Seriously, it was little match girl tiny. Almost adorable. Except that it’s a fire in the microwave. Meanwhile, my sister panics and runs to get the fire extinguisher…except she ran to the place where the fire extinguisher was before the kitchen remodel and there is a refrigerator in that spot now. Actually, the kitchen fire extinguisher isn't even in the kitchen anymore (a detail that should probably be corrected). So my sister is all “I don’t know what to do! Open the microwave and we can put water on it to put it out!” Now, what do we not do if there is a tiny microwave fire? We do NOT open the microwave, give it oxygen, and turn it into a big microwave fire. Somebody wasn't paying attention to fire safety. So picture if you will: me standing calmly in front of the microwave waiting for the flame to burn itself out and saying “oops.”, my sister pacing and freaking out, and my mom…in the other room having no idea any of this happened. Until now. Sorry Mom, I cleaned it up! Microwave’s fine!

So there you have it. I finally caused a fire. But it was tiny and controllable! Here’s the best part: turns out there was actually enough light brown sugar in the bag. I never needed to put in the dark brown sugar. Oops.

Last thing to do was to make the pie look pretty. I made some lovely pecan concentric circles. And I had juuuust enough whole pecans to finish it. My sister was in charge of preheating the oven…unbeknownst to me, she set the oven to convect bake. I don’t have a newfangled convection oven so I’m not used to it. I noticed when I put the pie in the oven though and asked my sister if she did the time adjustment on the oven. Her actual response “No, but it doesn't matter, things just go more quickly. Keep an eye on it to see when it’s done.” Dear sister, that is not how baking works. So then she says “you just take off five minutes.” Ok, easy enough. My mom checked it 15 minutes before the timer was due to go off and it was already getting pretty burn-y. Alas alack. First a fire, now a burned pie. Fortunately, my mom pulled it out so it wasn't really badly burned. (I was way too busy watching Billy Crystal’s HBO special, “700 Sundays” which was fantastic).

When all is said and done, the pie still looked and tasted terrific. So it was a baking win, ineptitude and all!

A Disney Moment:…nope, we still have one more movie to watch in the next group of five. We’re so close but we just can’t make ourselves watch Home on the Range! 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

I'm Jonesin' for Some Sconesin'

Welcome back! I'm just going to jump right in today. I'm suddenly obsessed with scones. I just want scones all the time. I'm currently sad because I have eaten all of my scones. I think this stems from the fact that my sister bought a Groupon for a high tea in a neighboring town and we had really high hopes for it and it ended up being just awful. We were there for two hours and could have consumed all we were given within 30 minutes (except for the cucumber and BUTTER sandwiches). Very poor service. So afterwards, I wanted scones and clotted cream that were actually good. Conveniently enough, I have a specialty shop near my house called UK Gourmet which is...exactly what it sounds like. It's a tiny, tiny store that is filled with magical things that I want to eat. On this particular visit though, I bought some scone mix and some clotted cream.

I won't actually talk about the scone mix (though it was pretty decent) except to say that the only reason I bought it was because my oven could only bake at 350 or 400 at the time. Now I have a fancy new oven that can bake at all the temperatures! And I still had a lot of clotted cream left so...more scones! This time I decided to bake them from scratch so I went to my handy dandy America's Test Kitchen Baking cookbook.

Since America's Test Kitchen is awesome, they test all the best ways to bake things so I trust them when they say that I should make the scones entirely in a food processor. And I even have one of those now! Yay! First step was to pulse together the dry ingredients a couple of times in the food processor. Flour explosion! I swear, I checked every connection and even had my sister confirm that yes, everything was locked but after every pulse, flour went flying out the sides. For some reason (I suspect that reason being that it was flour), I couldn't stop it from exploding. Oh well. I had to keep pulsing the dry ingredients with the butter too. In the future, I would just cut in the butter like a normal person instead of dirtying a whole food processor (and my counter). Then I had to move the dough to a bowl and mix in the heavy cream and currants. That actually went smoothly. This is actually a fairly easy recipe.

Now Test Kitchen gets a little weird here. They instructed me to press the dough into an 8 inch cake pan. Odd. But I obey! After pressing it into the cake pan, I had to flip it out of the pan and onto a cutting board. At this point, I was thinking that it would be difficult and sticky and pointless to use the pan but you know what? They were right. I ended up with a beautiful circle of dough of even thickness. Only thing left to do was to cut it into eighths and bake! About 15 minutes later, I was presented with some beautiful scones with which I could enjoy my clotted cream (and some tea, of course). I was warned by the cookbook to resist the urge to eat them immediately out of the oven but to let them cool completely so the texture would be right. Again, I obey and am rewarded. They were delicious. Just the right texture. Just the right sweetness. And so easy. All I've wanted to do since making these has been to make more of these. But then I'd just be eating scones for every meal and I suppose that would be unwise.

So, this wasn't exactly the baking challenge that I swore I'd be doing from now on but everyone needed to know about how yummy these scones are! Challenges on the horizon!

A Disney Moment: The Emperor's New Groove
Full disclosure: I've always liked this movie. Something about the way it breaks the 4th wall all the time and has a certain sarcastic sensibility has always appealed to me. The narration is very self-reflective while still being humorous. Some of the jokes are overly corny and immature but they work on the brutish sidekick. Our evil villain is visually disturbing (a fact that the movie acknowledges and makes fun of) and somehow that kind of works. I enjoy it a lot so as we round out this group of five with a ranking of 2/5, I ask you…why do we even HAVE that lever? Squeak squeakum squeak squeak.