Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Foiled Again!

Why would I make a simple Christmas dessert? Moreover, why would I make two simple Christmas desserts? Simple is way overrated. What better way to celebrate the holidays than with Christmas Tree Brownies and a festively decorated cheesecake? Now I know that Christmas was almost a month ago but since my Christmas tree and decorations are still up, this post totally qualifies as being part of the Christmas season. Onward!

My first mission: Christmas tree brownies for Christmas eve. I was a bit short of time so I decided to go with a boxed brownie mix. Because ya know, that's easy. WRONG. This little box of Duncan Hines almost defeated me. First, I opted for fudgy brownies instead of cakey brownies so that they'd be easier to cut. Then I had to add the egg, water, and vegetable oil. Three ingredients. Just three. How hard is that? As I was stirring my mixture, it seemed really thin and grainy. As if there were way too little to fit in my pan. My solution was to whisk harder to try to make it less grainy. I even triple-checked the box to make sure I had gotten all of the quantities correct. But I had so I said to myself "well, I don't make boxed brownies very often. Maybe the fudgy kind is just really thin?"

So I went about preparing my pan. In my narcissistic re-read of my own past blog posts, I remembered the tin foil sling trick for brownies. This is the trick where you place tin foil one direction across the pan and place another sheet the other direction so that when the baking is done you can just lift the brownies out of the pan and slice them without a mess. This has worked well in the past and seemed critical for cutting Christmas tree-shaped brownies. I made the sling and I Pam-ed the pan and poured my brownie mix into the pan. It barely reached the edges of the pan. I was starting to get a little distressed. I thought for sure these brownies would burn to a crisp! There just wasn't enough batter! I quadruple-checked the pan size at this point (just to be extra sure) and lo and behold, that was correct too! What was going on???

Finally, I threw up my hands, said "if they burn, they burn", and went about cleaning the bowl while the oven preheated. As I was filling the bowl with water, I looked on the counter and sitting there MOCKING me was the measuring cup filled with the vegetable oil. That's right, I measured the vegetable oil but did not add it. Idiot. Now I have a wet bowl, a measuring cup of oil, and a tin-foil sling-ed pan filled with incomplete brownie batter. [Damn, I'm very annoyed because I had written the ENTIRE blog post but for some bizarre reason, it only saved to this point! Let's see how fast I can rewrite it!] Hokay. So. Picture (if you dare) the comical image of the baker picking up the foil sling and ever so slowly letting the batter run from the foil back to the bowl. And then trying to scrape the remaining batter off the foil with a spatula without ripping it because I am just way too lazy to redo the foil slinging process that takes approximately three seconds. Blasphemy! On the bright side, the batter looked much more like brownie batter after I added the oil.

Into the oven, demon brownies.

I'm always amazed at how well the foil sling works. After the brownies cooled, I flipped the whole thing onto a cutting board with no issues at all. It was magical. Then it was time for the cutting and decorating. For those of you who don't know, a Christmas tree brownie consists of a triangle-shaped brownie with a broken candy cane stem, green icing piped in squiggles, sugar ball ornaments, and a sugar star. Did I mention they're small? So this was the sort of tedium that calls for reinforcements. At this point, I had my sister breaking off the curved parts of the mini candy canes, my mom piping the green icing (after I tried and failed to figure out how to work the bizarre piping tip), and me leading the charge of applying the tiny ornaments and stars. Tedious but adorable! Look how cute they are!

They tasted pretty good too, once I scraped all of the decorations off. I can't help it! I'm a brownie purist! Anyway, these were super easy to make if you're not an idiot, and were very festive and beloved by all.

So that took care of Christmas eve dessert. Now to prepare Christmas day dessert! This was my typical exercise in declining expectations. I started out planning to make a peppermint chocolate cheesecake. Then my mom said she didn't want peppermint. Ooooook, I'll downgrade to a regular cheesecake with a chocolate ganache, festively decorated. Oh wait, my mom doesn't want chocolate ganache either. FINE. How about a chocolate graham cracker crust on a standard cheesecake? Nope. Apparently we're on a chocolate hiatus. So we landed on a regular good ol' fashioned cheesecake decorated with mini candy canes (because I already had them) and peppermint bark (as an homage to my original plan).

There's nothing too interesting about making a cheesecake at this point. The only interesting thing was that I was a little bit lazy and procrastinate-y so I was frantically trying to finish baking said cheesecake while also preparing to go to Christmas eve dinner. I kinda forgot how long cheesecakes take to cook. There was also a bit of an incident where the oven decided to say it was preheating and was stuck on a low heat for an abnormally long time. I had to reset the oven halfway through baking. Also, the last step of the recipe involved letting the cake cool in the oven with the door open for 30 minutes before removing. By the time I reached that step, it was time to leave. So I just left the cake in the oven with the door open and called it a day until we got back home. There's a chance it was overbaked. It was a bit denser than usual so who knows?

On to decorating! I planned to press the mini candy canes around the edge of the cheesecake but they would. not. stick. And I didn't feel like destroying my cheesecake. So I just poked them in the top in a circle. And then the middle had very artistically broken pieces of extra artistic peppermint bark. It should be in MOMA. Or maybe you could just judge for yourself:

Oh, and in case anyone was wondering: if you intend to decorate your cheesecake with mini candy canes and then you plan to refrigerate it for several hours before serving, you just might end up with the candy canes bleeding red and white whatever candy canes are made of all over the cake and turning into a sticky mess. Not like I'd know about that or anything. Anyway, Merry (belated) Christmas (but it's still January so close enough!) So ends another holiday baking adventure.

A Disney Moment: The Princess and the Frog

Oh thank goodness for good movies! It's like coming up for air! I saw this movie in theaters when it came out (as an adult with my friend who is also an adult) and I unashamedly cried in the theater. For those of you who don't know, this was the first movie in a looooooong time to bring back the hand drawn animation. And I love it.

And then there's the music which is so fun. And the villain song which is creepy but fun but also smart (something that's been lacking for a while). And the horrifying death of a main character. And a princess that has a can-do spirit! And and and...well, I gush. To me, it's just really beautiful. If I have to go ahead and pick a favorite part though, I've gotta go with the relationship between Tiana and her friend (forgetting the name at the moment). There's something that feels so beautiful about it in the way that it transcends race and class at rare moments. Idealistic, maybe but lovely nonetheless. And did I mention the music? I thought the score was just so original. Especially Almost There.

Gonna stop gushing now and just say that it's 1/5 in this group. And up near the top of our list.