Monday, August 29, 2016

C is for Cookie...

Get ready because today is another mission in achieving adorable cuteness! This adventure is brought to you by: my sister's birthday. I have now historically made several adorable desserts for her birthday including panda cupcakes and a TARDIS cake and this time, I decided to surprise her with Cookie Monster Macarons. The reasoning for this was twofold. First, I've never made macarons so finally we have something new and exciting for me to try not to screw up and second, who doesn't love Cookie Monster? I found this idea here and the tutorial is pretty excellent and includes the world's most adorable gif of Cookie Monster macarons eating a row of cookies. So cute. Let's get started!

Aaaaaaand the recipes are in metric. Huh. Now we have a threefold challenge. Now the baker must convert metric measurements to US measurements. First step is to make the macarons starting with 100g of egg whites. A quick Google search revealed that 100g of egg whites is "around 4-5 egg whites but it shouldn't really matter to your recipe." Alarm bells everywhere! I know that macarons are difficult to make and I've discovered that baking is an exact science (who knew?) so there was no way in the world that I was going to guess on the number of egg whites going into this batter. So I ended up with another first for me: using my kitchen scale to weigh ingredients! Yes, for my wedding, I (I mean, we, but let's face it, my dear husband doesn't even know it exists) received a kitchen scale ostensibly for moments like these. So there I was, weighing egg whites. I should probably also mention that it was already pretty late at night and I had a terrible migraine so all decision-making needed to follow the path of least resistance. Turns out, 100g is five egg whites minus a little bit that I scooped out with one of the egg shells. I tossed those into the mixing bowl to come to room temperature while I dealt with the dry ingredients.

Actually, let me backtrack just a moment. Do you all know what macarons are? Basically, they're meringue-like cookie sandwiches with yummy filling in the middle. They're French and apparently really easy to screw up. People have entire classes to learn how to make just macarons. I'm trying it late at night with a migraine. Oh yeah, and I'll have the added challenge of dying them Cookie Monster blue, adding eyes, filling with ganache, and adorably placing a cookie in the mouth. Sums it up, right? Ok, moving on.

The first dry ingredient instruction was to pulse my powdered sugar in a food processor. No. Not happening. What I did do was sift the sugar through a fine sieve. I didn't bother with my actual sifter because it's a pain to clean. So there I was, scraping powdered sugar through a sieve and into a bowl that was on my scale until I got to 200g. It took a while. Then I had to do the same thing with 110 g of almond meal. It took me forever to find that stuff. It was very well hidden in the grocery store. It was a little harder to sift the almond meal but the bag said it was already superfinely sifted so after about 20g, I gave up and just poured. Way way too much effort. I tossed that into a bowl with the powdered sugar and called it a day.

Back to the egg whites! I added some salt and whipped to soft peaks and then added some sugar and mixed to stiff peaks. Easy. Now I just had to stir the meringue into the dry ingredients. It was weird because I'm used to being gentle with meringue but my recipe said that the goal was to beat the air out of the egg whites at first and there was no need to be gentle. Ok! Also, I swear, it looked like it was never going to all incorporate together. I just wasn't optimistic. But lo and behold, after a bit more stirring, it magically all incorporated. Yay!

Now to turn it blue. With my fancy food coloring kit, I had about four shades of blue to choose from and wasn't really sure how to best match Cookie Monster's fur. Eventually, I went for a deeper shade of blue than was in my tutorial since it seemed more accurate and that worked out to 40 drops of blue and 1 drop of black. In hindsight, all of these measurements are for roughly 4 cups of buttercream or icing so I probably used too much dye. In fact (and I won't leave you in suspense here), they turned people's mouths blue. Very blue. Blue that persisted for several hours. Blue teeth, blue lips, blue tongue. I'd say it was a mistake but it was really really funny. Not sure how much I actually regret it.

Back to baking. I had to remove a bit of the mixture to keep white for the eyes and then stir in the blue dye for the rest. That was easy. Then I had to pipe the mixture into 3.5 cm circles with a 1 cm piping tip. That sounds really small. I don't have a ruler. I am too tired to find a ruler. I am now just guessing. However, I know the recipe is supposed to make 20 macarons so I figure I'll pipe a size that makes sense to me and if they're not big enough, I'll go back and add more batter. Macarons are normally small but these seemed really really small. I ended up just making them a little bigger because I didn't think Cookie Monsters that small would be able to fit a cookie in their mouths. (More on that in a bit.)

Piping was mostly uneventful and then I had to leave the macarons to dry for half an hour. I was warned not to rush this step because if I did, I would end up with soppy, fried-egg looking macarons and I definitely did not want that. One small problem though was that the next step after drying was to add blue sprinkles for texture. But they didn't really stick! I think I should've added the sprinkles a bit earlier. Some stuck but I definitely wasted a lot of blue sprinkles. Next I had to pipe on the white eyes with my remaining batter. I got a very small piping tip for the precision work this was going to require. And it went fine! No fried eggs! The only issue I had was that I should have flattened the circles with my finger so they didn't have spikey points but I was so tired by this point and they still had to dry for another hour and then bake. Originally I was planning on completing the macarons that night (filling and assembling) but I was burned out and decided to finish baking the shells and then do the rest in the next day.

After the macarons dried, I was directed to preheat my oven to "130-150 degrees C (265-300 degrees F)" and I was so tired that I definitely thought I was supposed to bake them at 130 degrees F. Caught it at the last minute. But what the heck? Who gives a range of temperatures for your oven? If I had been very diligent, I would have cross-checked this with my America's Test Kitchen book. I know they have a recipe for macarons and I'm sure they have all sorts of troubleshooting tips but I cannot even express to you how tired I was. So, I ended up picking 275 degrees and just went with it. Well thought out macarons will apparently be for another day.

Bake. Remove from oven. Let cool. Toss in tupperware. Nite nite.

In the morning, I took a good look at my shells and they looked pretty good. They successfully grew "feet" (the sort of ridging on the sides) and they looked fine. Then I saw that I had accidentally cracked one/decided to eat one and it was pretty hollow inside. Sad. Some research after the fact suggests either underbaking or too low an oven temperature or perhaps not sifting well enough (probably that one) may have caused this but I was assured that macarons don't need to be perfect as long as they taste good. And they did taste good so that works for me!

Now I had to fill them with ganache and decorate. I started to really deviate at this point because I literally just eyeballed my ganache. I threw some semisweet and some bittersweet chocolate chips into a bowl, boiled what looked like enough heavy cream, and threw them all together. I was just hoping it would be enough ganache but I didn't want to follow a recipe and have a ton left over like the royal icing fiasco of a few weeks ago. While the ganache was cooling, I added Cookie Monster eyeballs to the eyes using an edible ink pen. I've had trouble with this pen when using it on chocolate before but it worked so perfectly on the macarons. Yay!

I also had one more problem to work out (yes, I know this is a long one but there were a lot of steps!) and that was the size of the cookie. I was too lazy to bake cookies for this purpose and I don't even know what bake times you'd use for super tiny cookies so I just bought Chips Ahoy mini cookies and Entenmann's soft cookies. I love the Entenmann's and was hoping they would be small enough but in a head to head comparison with the size of the macaron, I saw they were too large. And then when I tried the Chips Ahoy minis, even those were too large! This was not working out. Time to get creative...

I started looking around my kitchen for a mini round cookie cutter. This lasted about five minutes before I realized it was a ridiculous notion to think I would have one. So then I grabbed one of the pastry bag couplers to cut out a smaller Entenmann's cookie. Still too big. Eventually, I landed on using one of the piping tips, upside down, and then poking the cookie out of the tip with a metal skewer. To give you a sense of the scale, I could cut three mini cookies out of one Entenmann's cookie. Super. Tiny. Cookies.

But one more problem! The cookies were still too thick! I ended up creating a process where I would cut three mini cookies, squish them down gently with my fingers (thank goodness for soft baked cookies), hope they didn't crack into a million crumbs, bring the three cookies ACROSS MY KITCHEN, pipe the ganache onto the bottom macaron, gently place the cookie hanging over the edge, pipe more ganache on top of the cookie as "glue", and then finally put the top macaron with the Cookie Monster eyes on top. Whew. Now, if I were an intelligent person, I would have cut out all of the cookies at once instead of three at a time or maybe moved the macarons closer to the cookies I was cutting. But I'm apparently not. I repeated this process for all 20 macarons and my hands were a crumby, greasy mess. I really could have used some extra hands for this one. But at the end of the day, I achieved success and my Cookie Monster macarons were adorable little monsters:

Yummy and adorable success! Plus hilariously blue mouths! Happy birthday, sister and I can't wait to see what I dream up for next year!

A [Last] Disney Moment: The Top Five Six

With our mission of watching every single animated Disney film completed, we had only one thing left to do: pick the best one. We had previously agreed to pick our top five and rewatch them in a two day period so they'd all be fresh in our minds. We couldn't actually agree on only five so landed on a total of six to rewatch: Lady and the Tramp, Dumbo, Princess and the Frog, Little Mermaid, Lion King, and Robin Hood. Just barely missing the cut were Beauty and the Beast (but we couldn't justify it because Little Mermaid had beaten it in the group rankings) and Frozen (because at the time it was at the peak of its popularity and was being called the best film of all time or something).

By the way, there was no scientific system for these choices. Nor is there any real system for which one wins. It's simply whichever one we liked the best. So we hunkered down for two days and blew through these. We laughed, we cried. And we picked a winner. Stacked in order of our final rankings you'll find our results:

The winner: DUMBO! Followed closely by a two-way tie for second place between The Little Mermaid and Lion King. Fourth place: Lady and the Tramp. Fifth place: Princess and the Frog. Sixth place (and really probably shouldn't have been included but I love it so why not): Robin Hood.

We literally spent days debating the nuances of Little Mermaid vs. Lion King and just couldn't decide. But we love Dumbo and it soundly emerged the victor.

And that's it! We had highs, we had very low lows (I'm lookin' at you Saludos Amigos...), and overall we had fun sister bonding time. Now it's time to tackle the Pixar films!

Friday, August 19, 2016

What a Smart Cookie!

Get ready to be killed by cuteness, dear readers. Because today I tell you about my adventure making Nerdy Nummies Smart Cookies. They're cookies...but with glasses so you know they must be smart! Side note: I always wanted glasses growing up so people would think I was smart. And before all you people with glasses tell me what a pain they are, let me just say that I know and I wanted them anyway. Moving on...

This journey begins with your friendly neighborhood baker wandering into a Barnes and Noble in search of a book. As soon as I walked in, BAM! Staring me in the face on the new books display was the Nerdy Nummies Cookbook. I picked it up immediately and, with no hesitation at all, purchased it. Inside, it is filled with some awesome baking projects with nerdy aspects ranging from fandoms to science to technology to things that are just downright adorable. For example: I never knew that I needed to make geode cupcakes until I read this book. But now I NEED to make geode cupcakes. Geode cupcakes aside, there was one recipe that I couldn't stop thinking about and have been aching to bake ever since I bought the book. That's where the Smart Cookies come in.

The problem is that these cookies are at least a two day process. You need one day to make the glasses for the cookies and then the second day to actually make and decorate the cookies. I thought about it for ages. I printed the glasses template (more on that in a bit). I made sure I had all the ingredients at the ready. But I kept putting it off and putting it off. I'm not sure what it was about this week but maybe it's because I was feeling fidgety after watching almost two straight weeks of Olympics or maybe the 1-2-3 USA sweep of the 100m hurdles inspired me but this was the week that I was tackling these cookies.

Let the games begin! (Get it??? Because the Olympic games are on right now...)

Here I run into my first issue with the Nerdy Nummies cookbook. There's no guidance on how many cookies the recipe makes. So, did I need to make 10 pairs of glasses? 20? 100? I have no idea. I decided to gauge it based on how much icing I had and how bored and/or frustrated I got with my terrible piping. But first I had to make my royal icing. Royal icing is just egg white, vanilla, and powdered sugar. Sounds easy, right? Don't you know by now that when it sounds easy, it's not? First I had to separate five eggs to get the whites. But I had the rather unique problem this time of the eggs cracking vertically. This happened for three out of the five eggs and I have no idea why. It is awfully hard to use my normal egg separation method when the eggs are cracking on the wrong axis. Basically I ended up with both my hands covered in egg and needing to fish an egg yolk out of my bowl of egg whites at least once.

Once that harrowing experience was over, I mixed the egg whites and vanilla and was instructed to add 4 cups of powdered sugar "a few tablespoons at a time." Ha. You must be kidding. That would take forever. I added the sugar 1/2 cup at a time but there was no way I was going to stand there for an hour making icing. Then I had to color it black. I had my handy dandy new food dye with its full coloring guide so I dropped in a few drops of black and, hey, why is it a blueish purple color? Hmm. Added a bit more black dye and now it's a grayish color. Hmm. At this point, I went to my coloring guide and apparently to achieve a deep black, I needed to add SEVENTY drops of black food coloring! I did not quite expect that. At this point, I was just indiscriminately squirting food dye into the icing. Eventually, the icing turned black. (By the way, I wish I had taken a video of my first mixing of the dye because it was so cool watching the white icing streak with black and then get fully incorporated. Next time, I promise I'll take a video because it is hypnotizing.)

So now I have black icing but it is way too thin. It would definitely run right out of the piping bag. So began the process of adding more sugar and then adding more food dye to keep the same color. This went on for about 20 minutes and another 1-2 cups of powdered sugar. Oh, and did I mention that it's already about 10 pm at this point? Finally, I had usable icing. I put it in a pastry bag fitted with a #2 tip as directed...just kidding, you know there's no way I actually have a #2 tip. I'm pretty sure I've run into this problem in the past but haven't rectified it yet. The smallest tip I have is a #6. That may make the piping a bit interesting.

I had previously printed the template from the reference materials for the cookbook but for some reason, the glasses in the template looked way smaller than they should be. I compared them to the templates at the back of the book and, sure enough, they were different sizes! Now why would they do that? Is it that difficult to have consistency of size when we're talking about a pdf or a jpeg? So weird. I decided to do some smaller ones and some larger ones so that I had flexibility depending on how big my cookies turned out. I put a piece of wax paper over the template, secured it with the super scientific method of plopping a handy box of benadryl on the corner (because it was there for some reason) and got to piping. And believe it or not, it was super easy! The icing was completely cooperative and I would've liked the finesse of a smaller piping tip but they came out really well! Things got a bit tricky once I started making the bigger template because I had to balance the wax paper on the book and slide it around to pipe more than one but it was still reasonable enough. Eventually I just started doing them freehand because the shapes were so easy. See for yourself:

Not too shabby! Remember how I said that I was going to gauge how many glasses to make based on my amount of icing? Yeah, after piping all of these, I had enough icing left to fill a 4 cup Pyrex container. Apparently it'll stay for a week in the fridge so I will take any and all suggestions for what I should do with that icing in the next week! (No, I'm really serious, I have no idea what to do with it and I don't want it to go to waste!)

Anywho, I let these dry overnight and the next day, after an energetic Zumba class, I could bake and assemble. I was even joined by my Christmas baking partner-in-crime for some extra fun! The cookies themselves are just Nestle Toll House but without the chocolate chips so I made those without incident. We took a wild guess on how big the cookies should be and made perfect little (ok, big) circles with the cookie scoop. The cookbook suggested 7 minutes for the cooktime but there was no way that was correct. We added another two minutes and voila! Beautiful cookies. Now the tricky part. After letting them cool on the pan for exactly one minute (yes, we set the timer), we had to remove the cookies to a wire rack and place six chocolate chips on the cookies in specific places to leave enough room for the glasses. With two of us, we managed to get this done but we really had to work fast so I'm glad I had help.

While the cookies were baking though, I had to make some pink royal icing. I wasn't about to make the same mistake as the previous day though and make enough to ice an entire cake with though. So I took just one egg white, a splash of vanilla, and enough powdered sugar to get it to the right consistency. To get a pale pink color, I was supposed to add one drop of pink food dye. The problem was, that one drop is meant to color about four cups of icing and I was working with less than one cup of icing. So it came out a bit more hot pink but whatever, it was still cute. Also, since my mixer was filled with cookie dough, I was doing this by hand. It was frustrating and took way more powdered sugar than I would have expected. By the end, it was still a little thin but we only needed it to pipe rosy cheeks on our smart cookies so we just went with it.

As a side note: can anyone explain the science of royal icing to me? Why does it harden over time? It's not like you're heating it or cooling it or doing anything to it so why does it change? Is it magic? I truly don't know.

Hang in there, we're at the last step! We just have to put it all together! For this purpose, I actually went out and bought #1 and #2 piping tips because this was going to be delicate work. We had to attach the glasses with a dot of black royal icing in the center of the back of the glasses first. This didn't work and we had to put dots on the corners instead to make them stick. From the second we attached the first pair of glasses, we spontaneously "Awwwww!"-ed with how cute they were. After attaching all of the glasses, we just had to pipe on eyes, a smile, and pink rosy cheeks. I kid you not, we could not stop audibly squealing at how adorable and perfectly these were turning out. We're talking sneezing panda AWWWWWWs. SO. CUTE. And they looked exactly like the picture!

Ok, maybe they're not all perfect but they're so cute! I should also point out, these cookies are large enough that the whole batch of dough only made 20 cookies. So, I have a lot of extra glasses. Any ideas on what I can do with those glasses? Seriously, I'll take any ideas...

Next time: a truly spectacular birthday dessert for my sister!

A Disney Moment: Zootopia

OMG, I'm finally done! This is the last Disney movie!!! I don't even want to remind you how long ago this project was started. But here we are at long last with Zootopia which I guess ranks a 2/5 in this group because that's what's left but this whole ranking system is shot to hell at this point. That said, I really did enjoy it.

I loved the world-building aspect that has been so consistent in this grouping of movies. As scenes were flashing by, I just kept wishing I could slow it down so I could see all the details of what were happening in the background. I would've liked even just a bit more time to soak it all in. The story was fun, the protagonists were fun, the sloth stuff was solidly funny (even though I had seen it in the previews). I appreciated the fact that the movie surprised me a bit. I thought the middle bit where they catch the bad guy and they have the triumphant press conference was going to be the end of it and then it took a turn for the heavy-handed anti-racism, anti-xenophobia, whatever messaging it went for. I criticize it for its heavy-handedness a bit but overall the story really worked for me.

I find it quite serendipitous that I'd be writing about Zootopia where calling the protagonist "cute"is an insult and I think I've used the word "cute" about 18 times to describe these cookies in this blog post alone.

Next time: a final recap of the journey and the selection of the best Disney film of all time!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Jen and the Amazing Technicolor Meringue

How shocked are you that I'm already back? You weren't expecting that one, were you? Well, fear not because there are several baking projects coming your way! Tonight, my husband is at a baseball game and I am bored. (And before you ask, yes, I was invited but no, I wasn't terribly interested in going.) Not that I ever need an excuse to bake but my programming team at work has been kicking ass this past week above and beyond my expectations so I thought I'd bring in some yummy cookies to brighten their day and thank them for all of their efforts!

I wanted to do something slightly challenging and interesting and I didn't want to have to go to the supermarket for ingredients. After a bit of back and forth over what to make, I finally landed on a recipe that my sister had sent me ages ago in one of those insane Facebook "watch something cook/bake at high speed for about 30 seconds" videos. So ya know, I'm sure it will be a flawless set of directions. Here I go, taking a recipe from a YouTube video (I am literally shuddering at the thought) to make Hydrangea Meringue cookies for Mother's Day. I'm a little late on the whole Mother's Day thing, apparently. Credit to Haniela's for the recipe and video.

The basic idea is to make meringue cookies but to split the batter? dough? meringue? into three different colors and pipe them all at the same time to get a festive swirl of color. I'm not describing it well. You could just go watch the video to see what I mean. Or you could read on because the process will make it abundantly clear. I hope.

First step, make the meringue. Since meringue is only three ingredients, it's pretty straightforward. Start with room temperature egg whites. No way am I waiting for those things to come to room temperature. If memory serves me correctly, we want the egg whites to be room temperature so that it's easier to form the stiff peaks when it's whipped. But that doesn't really make sense with these directions. Because I was supposed to whisk the egg whites and the sugar and then put the bowl over a pot of boiling water and whisk until the sugar dissolved. Soooooo...wouldn't that just warm up the egg whites anyway? Am I missing some high tech baking physics? I truly have no idea. Whatever, I whisked the egg whites and sugar until it pretty much looked like the sugar had dissolved. It was really hard to tell. But I've made meringues before and I don't recall ever doing this step. I'm thinking it'll be fine.

Next, add the vanilla extract and whip until stiff peaks are formed. In my world, that means turn on the mixer and walk away. I decided to use the time to cut my parchment paper and set up my piping bags. I needed one large and three small piping bags and fortunately for me and my hatred of cleaning up, I have disposable piping bags right now. Yay! Simplicity! I also pulled out my handy dandy new food dye kit. It has eight colors and an entire color chart saying how many drops of each color to get certain other colors. There are at least 50 colors in this chart! Devotees will recall that I have trouble mixing colors to make anything that makes sense. So I saw this kit while I was at Michael's picking up something else and decided it was worth the expense. A whole ten dollars (with my 40% off coupon) is well-worth making something actually look appetizing.

Ultimately, I decided to go with the combination of Mother's Day colors that were in the video because they're so pretty together. A pastel pink, purple, and blue. I divided my meringue into three separate bowls, thanked my lucky stars that I bought that three-pack of spatulas, and set about dying my meringues. (Meringue? Meringues? I'm not so sure about that one.) My first attempt was the purple. Two drops pink and one drop blue. Here we go! I tried to very gently fold -

Hang on, we interrupt this blog post because I just pulled dried meringue out of my hair. How did that even happen? Weird.

Ok, back to folding in the colors. I tried to be really really gentle so that I wouldn't destroy the meringue but I also had to mix it enough that there weren't streaks of blue and white and pink. And believe it or worked! It worked just fine! The blue and the pink went equally perfectly until I ended up with three bowls of meringue that looked like this:

Isn't that just gorgeous? I'm so proud! If I had these colors, my cupcakes would've looked SO much better! Now for the tricky part: actually piping these suckers. I filled the three little piping bags with each color separately, cut off the ends, and then basically shoved the three bags together into the large bag fitted with a large star tip. The idea here is that all three colors come out at the same time. Makes sense in principle. However, the first three cookies were entirely blue. Eh, whatever, I have three blue cookies. No big deal. I was also supposed to prepare a template to pipe perfectly even circular cookies but it was really easy to make them all the same size. Plus preparing a template takes time and effort. All I had to do was pipe once in the center and then five or six pipes around that to end up with these cute spikey rainbow-colored cookies.

One problem: the recipe is supposed to make 12 cookies. There was no way I was making giant cookies. In and of itself, this isn't a problem because I'll get twice the cookies that are half the size. The only problem is that I only prepared one pan. So I had to start to work fast because it was starting to feel like the meringue was getting too warm and losing its shape. Cut the parchment paper, piped the cookies on, and then with the tiny bit of meringue I had left, I added another layer around the blue cookies so that they'd be less boring.

Whew! That was some quick piping! Now into the oven for the next two hours. And then to cool in the oven overnight. Hmm. I'm thinking that I'll have to wake up early to pack these super fast before I can take them to work. Whoops. So here I sit, waiting for my cookies to bake. Maybe I'll go rewatch Big Hero 6 so it's fresh in my mind to review. But here's some pictures of the pre-baked cookies for you to see how nicely they're turning out.

[Next day]

Oh hey, they look like meringue cookies! There was really no need to take more pictures because meringues don't do anything in the oven in terms of changing shape and color. I woke up in the morning, pulled the pans out of the (cold) oven, and they were super easy to pick up off the parchment paper, which was a good indication that they cooked correctly. I packed them up in a tupperware, threw the pretty cookie bags into my bag, and headed to work bright and early. I had a momentary panic when I realized that nobody actually comes into the office on Fridays so no one will receive them until Monday but a quick Google search indicated that they should keep just fine. Of course, in my hurry this morning, I forgot to grab one to taste! They look pretty good though so I think they will taste just fine. Maybe I'll update you in my next post to tell you if they're good or not.

Quick side note: last night I felt just like the mom in a Christmas Story yelling at her husband "don't you dare touch that oven!" As soon as the timer went off, my husband said, "Cool, can I have a cookie now?" Let's just say he was not pleased to learn that they had to cool in the oven overnight. Patience is a virtue.

A Disney Moment: Big Hero 6

So I know I said that I was going to rewatch before reviewing but well...I didn't. Got distracted by Olympics stuff instead. But one thing that I do find telling is that I had to go back to my posts to see which rankings I hadn't assigned yet. That's how close I find all of the movies in this group (excluding Winnie the Pooh). So for this movie, I think I'm landing on a 4/5 but a 4/5 in this group is really more like a 1/5 in the dark times Disney groupings. Although, I guess anything is a 1/5 compared to the dark times Disney films...

My favorite part of Big Hero 6 was the very creative world that was built. There was just something so cool about San Fransokyo to me. I loved looking at the background and seeing the blending of San Francisco and Tokyo architecture. Maybe that's because I'm a nerd. I also loved seeing the intellect being something that's valued in this fictional future world. So it's a super hero movie but the only super thing is the technology that is being used (Iron Man-style). Makes sense that I'd like this approach more because the only super hero movies I can tolerate are the ones that have Iron Man.

In other news, how adorable is Baymax? I just loved him and his whole character. The "drunk" scene was especially hilarious in an "I can't believe Disney is doing this" sort of way. Somewhat dumb of me because they did do a drunk baby elephant in Dumbo so I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. This movie made me laugh, this movie made me cry, this movie made me think but it's still only a 4/5. Why is that...?

I guess it's because it's not a musical and I tend to be a bit biased against non-musical Disney films. I also found that I just don't remember large sections of the movie. A rewatch probably would've made me rank this higher but I think that the fact that it didn't stick in my mind much says something. Oh whatever, Disney films are awesome. Nuff said.

Only one more movie to go! And then you get to (finally, after 5 whole years of waiting) find out what got ranked as the best Disney film of all time!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Time to Travel in Time (with a TARDIS!)

Welcome, welcome, welcome! I'm trying to get back in the habit of blogging more consistently but alas, I haven't baked anything new yet so I'm going to go way back in time to blog about a project that I can't believe I didn't cover in the first place. The year: 2014. The event: My sister's birthday. The challenge: A TARDIS cake. Let's get all timey-wimey and wibbly-wobbly and let's go!

First let's get some administrative things out of the way. For those of you who are unfamiliar, a TARDIS is a spaceship that looks like a police box that travels through time and space and is from the classic British TV show, Doctor Who. Next, my sister doesn't really like cake but does like rice krispie treats so this "cake" isn't actually a cake. But for the purpose of this blog, I will be referring to it as a cake because "rice krispie treat masterpiece" is way too much to type. Finally, credit must go to this TARDIS cake tutorial because I followed well, some aspects of this tutorial. Some may be generous though. I ignored A LOT of this tutorial because it has insane things like adding a working light to the top of the cake. I was obviously not going to do that. Similarly, I was not going to make a space-themed circular board to put the cake on. A plate will do just fine, thank you very much.

[insert Doctor Who theme here]

So here's the general plan. I found many tutorials online for how to make an excellent TARDIS cake. Almost all of them had cake as a base. As I've already mentioned, I'm not doing that and am making a rice krispie cake instead. So the general structure is for me to make a rice krispie "cake" as a base, cover it in blue modeling chocolate (more on that in a bit), and add the appropriate decorations to make it look like a TARDIS. Simple, right? Agreed.

Fortunately for me, the TARDIS is a rectangle. This made the rice krispie treat part of the project quite easy. All I had to do was make rice krispie treats and then pour the mixture into a very heavily and carefully greased loaf pan. If I recall correctly, I was even clever enough to use a wax paper sling inside the pan so that I could easily lift the rice krispie treat out of the pan. This. Worked. Flawlessly. I cannot emphasize that enough. It was so easy to do and it came out as a very perfect rectangle. I didn't even have to cut the edges or anything. I've never been so proud of making a block of rice krispies.

But as we all know, that wasn't the hard part. The next challenge was making modeling chocolate. I opted to go with modeling chocolate instead of fondant (like I said, I did a lot of research) because I hear it's much easier to work with and it tastes better. I've never worked with fondant so I don't know conclusively but the modeling chocolate was also surprisingly easy. The tutorial linked me to an instructional video on how to make modeling chocolate. I even prepped by watching the video of how many ways modeling chocolate can go wrong! Given my track record with chocolate, I was taking no chances. So ok, melt chocolate (I used white Wilton candy melts), warm up some corn syrup (with the correct combination of food coloring to get TARDIS blue), and fold in with a spatula. This was some workout! I kept a vigilant eye out for white streaks in the chocolate which would mean that I hadn't properly mixed the corn syrup and the chocolate. This was easier than in the video demo because my corn syrup was blue. At the end of the day, it seemed pretty well-mixed to me but wasn't quite perfect. Then I had to let it set overnight. Boo. It really slowed my progress. But I did also use the time to make a much smaller batch of black modeling chocolate. This was not in the tutorial but since I wasn't really following the directions, I was going to need it for some decorations later.

If you think that I finished out my evening by watching an episode of Doctor Who, you'd be...wrong. I went to bed instead.

Next morning! Time to put my decoration and assembly skills to the test!

My handy dandy tutorial wanted me to ice the cake with buttercream before sticking the chocolate on but since I wasn't using real cake, I skipped this step entirely with the logic of "surely chocolate will just stick to rice krispie treats!" And dear readers, I was right! I rolled out my modeling chocolate to exactly 1/8 inch (Just kidding, I have no idea how thick it was but it looked pretty thin to me) and cut it with a big ol' knife and then stuck the pieces onto the four sides and top of my rectangle. I struggled a little bit with the corners and with smoothing it out but modeling chocolate is pretty forgiving and I developed a nice little technique of basically just smoothing it out with my fingers and it didn't look half bad. I'd venture to say it even looked half good!

Now things got really creative because I rolled out a second layer of the chocolate to put exactly on top of the first. Why would I do this? Well, because I'm about to use an x-acto knife to cut out designs. The tutorial wanted me to use a ruler (HAHAHA) and cut out the windows and the panels of the police box. It was actually really simple because once I cut in, it was very easy to peel away just the top blue layer to get a nice 3-D effect. Yes, I'm surprised too. Next, I had to cut thin strips to put on the corners to give it even more dimensions. These got a bit frustrating because I had a tendency of accidentally squishing them out of their long, rectangular shapes. They unfortunately ended up a bit rounded. Plus, I was starting to get a little bit OCD about making things look extremely smooth.

Next we need a roof. To accomplish this, I had to make a pyramid out of the chocolate the exact size of the top of the TARDIS. However, with a rolling pin, even this was manageable! Just start from the middle of a ball of modeling chocolate and then gently going around each of the four sides, keep rolling until you get a pyramid. Cut the edges into a square and then plop it on top. Cool! This project is moving along seamlessly.

Now is the part where they want me to use a real lightbulb in a cake. I'm not that cool. I took my blue modeling chocolate and made a little shape that kind of looks like a lantern and I stuck it on top. I was also instructed to use printable TARDIS decals (not edible) for more of the decorations. I was not going to do this for two reasons: 1) I don't like putting non-edible things on a dessert and 2) that just seems like way too much work. So for the Police Box labels that go around the top, I cut out rectangles of the black modeling chocolate and put them on the top (looking good so far) and got some white writing icing to write POLICE BOX and dear God, I've run out of room. Hmm. Problem. My absolutely brilliant solution to the fact that I just couldn't write that small was to write "POLICE" on one side and then "BOX" on the next side and then repeat. Not perfect. Not an accurate representation of the TARDIS. But at least it's all edible.

Time for some finishing touches! I was supposed to paint in the top windows with black food coloring but I already had a ton of black modeling chocolate so I just pressed that into the spaces instead of painting. And then I was supposed to use white fondant to make the panels of the windows but I didn't have any of that so I just piped with the writing icing. This was...challenging. I'm not so good with piping in that small a space. So the windows ended up a little spike-y. Finally, I had to add the door handle and the police box directions and some other small touches but I just piped all of those on and voila! A TARDIS!

So have I painted a clear enough picture for you? Are you ready to see my exceptional TARDIS? Here it is for your judgement:

Is it just as perfect as I described? It's not at all crazy looking or lumpy, right? Not lopsided either, right? Oh well, to me, it was a solid first attempt at something with some very intricate decorations. I think I'm most proud of the panels in the sides. Those look cool. And it was pretty yummy too! Once we knocked it over and cut slices of rice krispy treats, it was enjoyed by all. Almost like it was bigger on the inside or something.

By the way, for comparison's sake, here's the photo from the tutorial I was following (photo credit:

Looks exactly the same, right? For those keeping track, two years ago, I made this TARDIS for my sister's birthday and last year I made the panda cupcakes...what do you think this year might bring?

A Disney Moment: Frozen

So guys, Frozen is a pretty loaded topic at this point. If you haven't heard of Frozen, you're either living under a rock or a character in Jane the Virgin. By now, you're probably sick of the pop culture saturation and if you hear "Let It Go" one more time, you might attempt to permanently deafen yourself. But let me take you back. Way back to the week the movie was released. Before it was a phenomenon. Before it was iconic (debatable). And before people got sick of it. That was my experience of Frozen. I saw it during it's opening week with my family and some friends. And I loved it.

First and foremost, the music is awesome. I honestly think "Let It Go" is the weakest song in the entire movie. I laughed really hard at "For the First Time in Forever" and "Love is an Open Door" (seriously, the line "we finish each other's" "SANDWICHES!" made my friend and I turn to each other in the theater and say "Did they just make an Arrested Development reference? Awesome!") and I cried really hard at "Do You Want To Build A Snowman?" Seriously, I can't listen to the last verse of that song. I tear up thinking about it. That whole sequence is first five minutes of Up heartbreaking. I was astounded by Kristen Bell's singing voice. All of the music just jelled for me. And in defense of "Let It Go" I just have to say...they use the word fractals, people. The lyrics are starting to treat people like adults again.

Love Olaf as comic relief. I thought he was just fantastic. And while we technically get a second sidekick, Sven (the reindeer), he doesn't talk so it's fine. But most importantly, the story of the sisters really touched me. Especially near the beginning, I could look at it and see myself with my sister. It just gave me the warm and fuzzies.

All those good things said, the movie suffers from some very real pacing issues. When I rewatched it later, the beginning is still fantastic. I think the movie works up until the point that Elsa zaps Anna in her insane ice castle (kudos to the animators because that thing is beautiful). After that, I completely lose interest. All of the resolution was fun to watch the first time when I didn't know what was going to happen but on rewatches, it doesn't really hold up. The trolls especially seem like a waste of screen time, much as I love "Fixer Upper" as a fun song.

All in all, I think I rate this one a 3/5 in the group. These movies were all really close so it's hard to gauge. But I'll still listen to the soundtrack anytime and will duet with my sister and yes, wanna build a snowman.