It’s been a long time since I’ve taken this blog seriously. I’ve thought about it. Intended to do it. The bakes have continued, but I just haven’t been inspired to write about them. I’m older. My daughter’s older. My husband though younger than me is older. Time keeps moving whether we like it or not. I’ve made the recent decision to quit my job – June 2nd is my last day. It just wasn’t a good fit for me. I have it two years. I’m planning to spend time with my family – especially my daughter to give her a really great summer and then I’ll reevaluate working. I’m hopeful that maybe I can do something in the baking arena. Not sure what, but it would be great to do something and work for myself. But, we do have to get through some home reno which is starting in a couple of weeks and so my baking may be spotty until then.
I’ve made the decision to be brave and continue with the next recipe in the Advanced Yeast Breads and Rolls chapter (number 8) in the CIA’s Baking and Pastry book. It’s called Wheat Dough with Poolish. “A poolish combines equal parts flour and water (by weight) with some yeast (the amount varies according to the expected length of fermentation time, using less for longer, slower fermentations). The poolish is fermented at room temperature long enough to double in volume and start to recede, or decrease, in volume. This may take anywhere from 12 to 16 hours depending on the amount of yeast…” Might as well try to finish what I started years ago, right? Why not? Stay tuned.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted. I haven’t had a ton of time to bake since getting a job in May, but I had to make the hubs a birthday cake. I’m out of practice in the decorating department, but I guarantee this chocolate peanut butter cake will satisfy. Happy Almost New Year!
I like to challenge myself when it comes to baking. Something about pulling ingredients together that on their own aren’t very tasty but when combined make something delicious. I can’t take credit for this analogy. I heard a rambling variation of it at a funeral recently and it resonated. In his example it was banana bread which is baking so yum. I wish I felt as compelled with my writing. Writing is infinitely harder for me for some reason. I have disparate thoughts that when combined are far from cohesive. Far from delicious. More like when you mistook the salt for sugar and the food becomes inedible. All right, that’s not entirely true. Let’s just say I’m struggling to put my thoughts to paper. I have all these ideas swirling in my head that I really should let out but I’m letting fear and other tasks keep me from it. Given that struggle and in the hope that I produce something written, I thought I’d blog about my recent cakesploits. (Yes, I just made up that word and I’m ok with it.)
A neighbor’s daughter was turning a year old and she showed me a smash cake design she wondered if I could do. It was a rosette cake – frosting rosettes around a small cake in variations of pink. Kind of ombré. Of course I could do it! I totally volunteered and started planning. If you aren’t in the know, a smash cake is a small cake that a child on their first birthday is meant to smash with their hands and gobble it up making a big lovely mess that is photographed and saved for prosperity. It’s totally for show and a bit excessive but completely awesome to watch if the kid actually dives in. Mine sure as hell didn’t. She was going to, had her little chubby hands reaching for the Winnie the Pooh themed cake, but the adults in the room of which there were many let out a collective “awww” and she freaked out. Started crying and refused to touch or taste the cake. Talk about a total buzz kill. For me. Poor thing seemed slightly traumatized having all those eyes on her. Anyway, I was excited to be part of this baby’s day and of course I wanted an excuse to practice this style of cake so I was in!
I had been planning for weeks and finally it was time to start. Of course when it came time to execute, all sorts of things popped up including a funeral and a covid vaccine shot. Not in that order. What went from having plenty of time became having having a lot less time. Eek. Regardless I made it work. Much like this blog post because I’m just going to wrap this up so I can post.
Lessons learned. Piping rosettes at at angle is a lot harder than it looks. Mixing frosting colors is a lot harder than it looks. I need to find my toothpicks. I’m very slow when I’m distracted by my kid, my spouse, the dog, the cat, or Facebook. I need better methods to transport baked goods.
Here’s the cake.
Ok. After some thought, I didn’t feel good about myself just abruptly finishing my post, but I had a kid patiently (read sarcasm) waiting for me to help her with her crystal forming science experiment kit she got for her birthday. Oh the pressure of a seven year old on a mission. Anyway, I’m glad I prepped in advance to make the cake. I baked the cakes and cupcakes early on and froze them until I was ready to frost. I cooled the cake layers, wrapped them separately in plastic wrap, and followed that with foil. For even added protection, I put them into a large ziplock bag. For the cupcakes, I put them in a large plastic storage container, the kind that snap closed. Into the freezer they went. Did you know that you can do that? They stay just as fresh. Some might argue they lock in moisture though I don’t think that’s scientifically accurate. Whatever the case, it works.
On another day I mixed up the frosting and stored for later. I had done a test run of frosting days before with some leftover frosting I had and I thought I had figured out the colors, but when I actually came to frost the cakes I realized that my lightest pink was more off white than pink. Rats. Oh well. It was crunch time and I didn’t have time to mess with the frosting. The cupcakes were easy. Frosting the cake took a few tries (aka a few scrape offs and start overs) and a change in piping tips to achieve the look. Was it perfect? No. Was it still pretty and look pretty darn good? Absolutely. I was worried the mom wouldn’t be thrilled because I didn’t match the inspiration piece colors and my flowers overlapped a bit, but she loved it as is. I was relieved. It was a smash! (Groan. Pun.)
I received a fancy bundt cake pan for Christmas. Have you ever just wondered what the heck a “bundt” is? Whenever I hear the word bundt I’m reminded of the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding. There’s a scene where the anglo American parents come to meet the Greek girl’s parents PLUS her huge extended family which they weren’t expecting to meet for dinner. The non-Greek mom brought a bundt cake for dinner. The Greek mom is staring at it like “What the heck is this?” and she eventually asks what it is. The other mom says “It’s a bundt.” Confusion, jumbled pronunciations (“boont?”), and eventually a gracious thanks is extended. As the Greek mom turns to bring the cake to the house, she says to her sister “there’s a hole in this cake.” So funny. I love that movie. I should watch it later.
But yeah, a bundt cake is essentially a cake with a hole in the center. It’s a variation of a flute plan. The word bundt is of German origin. I found a few definition variations. One says that it’s from the word bund which means turban. I guess you could say that is referencing the shape of the cake. Another site says it’s short for the German word Bundkuchen (Bund for “tied together” and Kuchen for “cake.” Whatever the case, they are usually delicious cakes and I wanted to bake one especially since I got the fancy pan and hadn’t used it yet. And, since I was going to visit the very people who gave me the pan, I thought it fitting that they be the recipient of the first cake I baked in it. It’s a really pretty pan. The design is named “blossom.”
I wanted to try a red velvet cake so I found a recipe online that looked decent enough and also didn’t require any sour cream because I didn’t have any. I did have cream cheese so I also looked for a recipe with a cream cheese center. I made the batter and almost added more eggs than it required simply because I lost track of what I was doing. I even had everything “mise en place” but I still managed to use eggs from the carton rather than from where I had previously placed them. Baking is not for the forgetful I will tell you that. I saw my two eggs sitting there and panicked that I didn’t add the eggs. I cracked one open and put it in my stirred batter only to then notice the two empty egg shells sitting by the mixer. Argh! I immediately scooped out the egg yolk and then poured the egg white off the batter. Whew. Close one. (In retrospect, one additional egg might have helped with moisture because the finished cake had dry edges. Maybe next time.) When I added the red dye, I snapped this picture. Doesn’t it look like blood?
I slathered shortening inside the bundt cake pan and prayed the cake would release. I should have floured it, too. Oh well. Most of it came out. I baked it a little too long because the middle didn’t seem quite finished, but in doing so dried out the sides. Thankfully most of the cake released and the small bit that was stuck came out in one chunk. I just pushed it back onto the cake like it were a puzzle piece fitting into its place. You can see in this image where I did that. It didn’t look bad overall though so that was a relief.
While the cake was cooling, I made a glaze with faux white chocolate (candy melt). It looked so pretty after I poured that onto the cake.
Now that I’ve had time to think about this cake, I don’t know that I would make the same recipe. It was good just not great and I think that’s because a red velvet cake really needs more than oil to make it moist. It needs yogurt or sour cream to really add that extra oomph. The cheesecake type center though was really yummy and I think I would add that again the next time I make a red velvet.
My brother wants me to make a chocolate macaroon bundt cake. We used to have those as kids. There was an actual box mix my mom would use and this is what my brother remembers fondly. I should make him one from scratch and ship him the fancy cake with a hole in it. Opa!
They call it the Polar Vortex. Basically, the North Pole and the South Pole are duking it out and the North Pole is winning by sending bitter arctic air over the region. We’re talking frigidly cold here in Northeast Ohio. Brutal. We haven’t seen temps over 25 in days. As I type this, it is 19 degrees with a “feels like” 10. According to my weather app, we may get to 30 degrees on February 20th. It’s only the 8th. When you add in the pandemic and lack of opportunity most days to pretty much go anywhere or do anything outside of our house or neighborhood bubble, you have some seriously stir crazy people in my house. While I am super grateful my family and I are warm and fed and relatively healthy, I just miss the old days when we could go visit people regularly, dine out, have normal date nights, or even just take the kid to the freakin’ McDonalds playland to burn some energy. I cook. And clean. And wash dishes. And repeat the cycle multiple times a day. I wash so many dishes my hands are numb and cracked and it seems like my dishwasher always needs emptying. I know others have it worse and I’m not trying to compare or say somehow that my life is so challenging. I know it’s not, but is it ok to admit I’m just plain burned out?
K is back at school – thank God – so at least I have some breathing room to do things for myself like write this blog post. I’m also trying to get into the practice of writing more frequently because honestly, you can’t be a writer if you never sit down and actually write. I have had a goal of writing a book for some time, but never really could get it together to do the work. For me, I have so many ideas but no discipline so this has been good for me. Additionally, I have given myself permission to write freely about whatever I want. Right now, it’s not important if I don’t have a specific book or idea in mind. It’s ok to explore all of those ideas. I believe at some point something will start to evolve and I’ll have an AHA! moment and something organically will start to evolve. Or I’ll just end up with a bunch of “rando shit”, but what else am I doing?
Oh wait – I’m painting. And staining. And I have all these home projects to work on. And CLEANING. And then there’s baking. And keto. Did I mention I was trying to eat more keto style/low carb for health and weight loss? That has put a damper on my cookies and cakes and bread making. I’m still getting it it here and there. So much to do, how could I possibly be bored or complaining about going stir crazy? What can I say — I’m a first-world, whiny human being.
But now back to baking since this blog is supposed to be about that. I have done some baking since Halloween – cookies, a pie, a cake – and this week I have challenged myself to working on Sonic the Hedgehog sugar cookies for a very special little boy’s upcoming 5th birthday. That is proving to be involved, but I love it and so far things are working as planned. Let me just go through each project.
Thanksgiving. I made a pumpkin pie. My daughter professed to loving pumpkin pie but apparently she only loves pumpkin pie if it’s the frozen variety that you put in the oven and voila – done. She did not love mine. Oh well. It was your standard Libby variety from the back of the can. I did make the crust and took some extra time cutting out leaves for decoration. Oh, and I made some rolls, too.
Ah Christmas. Last year, pre-Rona, I hosted a cookie making party at our new house and the ladies in my family came over to make several varieties of cookies. It was really fun and I was looking forward to hosting the second annual cookie making party but nooooooo, the damn Rona had to ruin that. I still wanted to make cookies so I decided to make them for family and neighbors. Who doesn’t love cookies? I challenged myself to make snowflake sugar cookies with a specific pattern and then duplicate the design on each subsequent cookie. I really loved how they came out.
A gingerbread house was definitely on the agenda. My daughter drew a picture and we tried to make it happen. To me it looks more Southwestern than castle, but we had a good time decorating. My husband wanted to participate, but I was a bit too type A for him. I had an idea in mind and I didn’t need help executing. Except I really did. I must play better next year so we are all involved and it becomes an annual family event.
My husband also had a birthday at the end of December so I tried my hand at an anti-gravity cake. This is a type of cake where it looks like part of it is defying gravity. I went with the M&Ms flowing out of a bag concept. That was totally fun although way too much sugar. I mean candy on top of cake is just delicious but so over the top sweet. Still looked super cool. The trick is a straw/dowel inserted into the cake and covered in frosting. I loved the Kit Kat border. And for extra fun I colored the icing on the inside to match the colors of the M&Ms. The cake was a total hit!
Oh yeah, and those Sonic cookies. A neighbor’s son is turning 5 in a week or so and the birthday theme is Sonic the Hedgehog. She priced custom cookies and the cost was a bit on the high side. She jokingly asked if I thought we could pull it off and I said ummmm, not sure, maybe…totally! Ok, I wasn’t sure if I could do it, but I remember reading about a reverse transfer method on a baking site and then I realized I could probably modify the process to make the cookies she wanted. I am halfway there. The cookie dough is chilling out in the fridge and tomorrow I will execute. I can update this post then with my final “Nailed It” cookies, but in the meantime I’d like to share my process on a high level. First, I took a screenshot of the Sonic cookie I was trying to copy. I copied that image several more times and put four images into an application (Picstitch) so I could have four images on a page. I then took that image into my word processing app and duplicated it so there were eight images on a page. That was my template. I put parchment paper over the template page and taped it down on my counter. Using edible markers, I traced over the image until I had the number I needed. I then mixed up the royal icing, colored it, and left it overnight to develop. If you did not know, the color takes a while to reach optimal color or darken in intensity, especially deep colors like royal blue or black. These colors are tricky to get right as they often look lighter than the desired effect. The next day, I added a little more gel color to the icing because the blue and black were looking more regular blue and gray. I then piped the outlines of each image and later filled them in. This is where I left it. I think they look pretty good and while there’s still some work to do, it should come all together. It may not be perfectly “nailed it”, but it will do nicely. And also I’d like to point out if you haven’t figured it out yet that this has been quite a labor-intensive project. No wonder cookie bakers charge so much. My husband told me they do make machines that you can buy (cost a pretty penny) where you enter the design you want and then it prints out edible images which you then simply put on the cookies or it stamps them – I can’t remember right this second. This would be different from simply an edible printer. He thinks I should get one. I think not. I like doing things by hand. I am not sure I want to get into the cookie business anyway – there is so much competition in this area. Anyhoo, check out these pictures of my process thus far. I’m pretty happy with things so far.
There you have some of what I have been doing baking wise. I would say I’m still not ready to make this a side hustle, but I probably should really consider it even with all the competition around. We could use some extra dough (get it?) now that we are only a single income family. That’s it for now. Toodles.
UPDATE – Final cookie pics as promised. Not as neat as I’d like and I see all the flaws, but I still am super jazzed with how they came out.
It’s been a while since my last post. I was tempted to ditch this blog entirely, but now I find myself wanting to write again and what better reason to start writing than to bake a lot of things and discuss all the things about baking that I love. I don’t know that I’ll ever make money at this either, but it’s not about the money. And I can say that now because I have an awesome spouse to support me while I figure myself out. And, I have a little time on my hands when I’m not cleaning, cooking, or trying to keep my six-year-old kindergartener out of trouble while pushing her to learn to read and write during this pandemic.
Let me back up. It’s been a crazy time in my life. My mother died unexpectedly at the end of September. I knew her health was poor, but I didn’t realize she was that close. One little infection + major dehydration = septic shock and multi-organ failure. It sucked. I’m still dealing with those strong emotions but they’re less intense as time goes by. I’ll have these moments where I’m doing great but then something will trigger a memory or something awesome (or not so awesome) will happen and I’ll want to share it with her only to remember she’s not around any more and it sends me into that deep pit of despair. It’s a dark place that I scramble to escape from because it’s messy and I hate it. It is what it is.
And if life wasn’t crazy enough, my husband and I decided it was time to leave the Colorado we loved but didn’t like any more and head to Ohio. His father and family live in Ohio and we thought it was time to make the move. I mean, the man is almost 87 and our child’s only biological grandparent left. We still have her step grandma (my step mom) thankfully, but Frank won’t be around forever. Or maybe he will. He’s stubborn and crazy and some of the things he says…
So, I quit my job of 13 years, we packed up our house, sold it to the first people who looked at it on the first day it went on the market (I’m talking only one showing which was totally crazy!) and left. The day we had to be out was the WORST day of my marriage, but we’ve both chosen to let that one go. It was so hard. If you can afford it, don’t move on your own. Don’t just hire movers and get your own rental trucks. Hire a company that can accurately estimate how much room you’ll need for all of your shit and then cart it there for you. We left so much behind. Sigh. Special shout out to our awesome neighbors who jumped in to help when it was clear we weren’t gonna make it.
Speaking of leaving, we left town on a snowy day at the end of November. We were a caravan of two – my husband driving a large rental truck with a ramp towing my car and me in the hubs pickup truck pulling a small rental trailer. I had the dog and the fish. That was not totally fun but not not fun either. (Double negative. Tsk tsk.) We sent the kiddo with her auntie on an airplane ahead of us. The thought of driving three days with a small child? No thanks. We made it in three days just in time to sign the papers on our new house. Exciting times. We had Thanksgiving at my sister-in-law’s home and we hosted Christmas brunch at our house. I even had a Christmas cookie making party with all of the girls in my family. It was great and I hope the start to an annual tradition.
Just as we started getting settled and into a rhythm with our daughter’s school routine, my husbands work from home schedule, seeing family, trying to make friends, and dealing with the unusually mild winter as it was readying for spring, Covid 19 came on in and put us all on lockdown. We had our daughter’s family birthday party at our house on March 8th, her birthday at school on 3/10 (my birthday too as a matter of fact) and by the next afternoon they’d closed down the schools in anticipation of the stay at home order. Craziness. I did make a Frozen 2 cake for her birthday to make this baking related.
I’ve baked all sorts of things. Cakes. Cookies. Bread. A nut roll. Not all of it has been great. Most things turned out. Still trying to figure out what I’m doing with my baking though quite honestly it’s just fun and takes my mind off of being stuck at home. Things work out as they should, I guess, as I’m here for my daughter who is not getting the kindergarten she deserves, but we’re doing the best we can. I know we have it good compared to others, but I still miss the way things were when I used to feel relatively safe leaving the house to buy groceries or browse the aisles at Home Goods or the local thrift store. Also I had goals that I sort of put on hold, such as writing. This blog helps with that. I just need to do it. Stop making excuses.
I decided to bake today. Peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. Those turned out great. The macarons? Not so much. Once I’m over my feelers being hurt at how crappy they came out (third time not a charm), I’ll try again. And hopefully I’ll keep writing. I do have to make a cake this week for my father in law’s birthday. That should be fun.
I made this cake for a friend’s birthday. I decided to challenge myself and man, did this cake fit the bill. I’ll post more about the process later. In the meantime, here’s the cake. Was it perfect looking? Nope. Did it taste good? Yep. Chocolate with Swiss meringue buttercream and marshmallow fondant.
It’s work keeping a starter alive. I just kept forgetting to feed it. I let it go for a couple of weeks and it has this funky liquid on top. They call that “hootch.” Yep. Alcohol. I poured it off, added more flour and water, and transferred to a clean container. A couple of weeks later (yesterday) and it was time to bake. Here’s the result.
Probably the prettiest bread I’ve made this far using the cast iron Dutch oven method. Do you like the lighting? It was 6:45 in the morning and I was feeling artistic – as much as one can upon waking without any coffee yet. Happy Sunday.
7/1: I’ve been in a baking funk. The word “Funk” comes to mind as I sit here in this gymnastics studio waiting for my kid to finish her class. As in funky feet. I digress. Maybe it’s been because I just have too many things going on and I prefer having uninterrupted baking time which is super challenging with a kid (or spouse) around. Anyhoo…
A couple of weeks back I decided to challenge myself. It would definitely not be a bread bake. I wanted something different but challenging. I settled on making a tall cake. I figured since I still wanted to keep the spirit of my blog intact – the spirit of learning new things, that I would pick a random recipe from The Book. I chose pastry cream. Seemed like a good challenge plus it would go great in between cake layers.
7/14: Finally circling back to this draft and determined to finish it. So yeah, I made a huge cake. I settled on 6-inch vanilla cake layers and filled each layer with the pastry cream and fresh blueberries. Pastry cream was not terribly difficult but it’s one of those things that can go wrong at any minute. Egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch go with hot milk and vanilla but you have to time it right and keep it moving or you’ll have a mess on your hands. You have to get the milk and vanilla nice and hot, remove from the stove, and then temper with the egg mixture. All this means is you have to slowly add the hot milk to the egg mixture while constantly whisking until blended. Add the milk too fast and the eggs will scramble and no one wants that. Then you put everything back on the stove and boil the mixture, whisking constantly. Fail to whisk enough can cause the mixture to curdle and you’ll get lumps. (Hand raised that this happened to me.) Fail to boil long enough and you’ll get runny cream. I ended up putting my batch through a strainer at the end and it helped a little. The end result was still pretty delicious.
Finished pastry cream
Assembly was a challenge. I made four 6-inch rounds and once cooled, evened each round out and then cut in half. I did a so-so job as some of my layers were uneven. I did an extra step of making simple syrup and sprinkling each cut layer with the syrup to ensure moistness. I think I lost a layer due to excess moisture because it crumbled in my hands when I went to assemble.
So, I had the cake layers, filling, and blueberries and it was time to assemble. I have seen enough cake videos to know that I needed some sort of support system but I did not have dowels. I fashioned some out of very thick straws I had – cut them to size. I put them into the fourth layer but in retrospect it didn’t work because the straws weren’t sturdy enough. Hence the Leaning tower of Pisa inference.
Here are some pictures of the assembly process.
Now to the decorating. I had this idea to do an ombré style cake in shades of aqua/teal blue. That also didn’t quite work as expected so I just improvised. it ended up all looking the same but it wasn’t awful. I didn’t make enough frosting was the lesson there.
And finally, I practiced my piping. Because I hadn’t made enough frosting, I had to thaw some frozen frosting I had from a previous bake. Worked out great. My piping could still use some work. Practice makes perfect.
Here’s the final view plus a bonus cut out view. The cake was delicious. Was it perfect? No. Was it awesome anyway? Totally. Did I break out of my baking funk? Yes! It was fun and I can’t wait to try again.