Monday, December 15, 2008

Other stuff I've cooked or baked, of late

1. Dad's birthday cake, or maybe the "Oh My God Cake": This was the All-in-One Holiday Bundt Cake from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: My Home to Yours. A version of the recipe, with some slightly goofy adjustments (almond meal? 5-spice powder? Greek yogurt instead of canned pumpkin?), was recently featured in Bon Appetit. Pop's birthday falls close enough to Turkey Day that we generally do both at once. His specs were simple: something "in a Bundt pan, maybe with pumpkin?" Things learned:
  • Sometimes doing the whole Food Netnerdy, mise-en-place thing--that is, actually measuring everything out in advance, or at least pairing the right measuring spoon with the right ingredient--will totally save your ass. I realized, at 10:15 p.m. Thanksgiving eve, that I had NO CAN OPENER*, and therefore wouldn't be able to get to the crucial pumpkin puree. This would have been a complete crisis if I had already started throwing the batter together, but I hadn't. Keep in mind that I NEVER do the organized, professional, French-chef thing. But something in the back of my head told me to, I guess because it was a new recipe with lots of steps. (*This is our THIRD can opener, by the way, and I finally splurged and got the OXO one. Despite this, I was still unable to get to the damn pumpkin, and so mangled the can that by the time I asked Spouse to step in, he got some IN HIS HAIR and had to take a shower. Oh my GOD.)

  • While chopping fresh cranberries (as they BOUNCED all over the kitchen), I made the mistake of tasting one, and was so profoundly disturbed by the horrid taste and big honking seeds that I decided to use Craisins instead. (See, something had TOLD me to get extra Craisins! I stood in the aisle for MINUTES fretting about buying them and they saved my bacon!) More on fresh crans some other time.

  • I did not stick the landing; a teeny bit of cake stayed behind in the pan, which I had carefully buttered. Mom says Crisco works best.

  • I "finished" the cake with a dusting of powdered sugar. If you are holding the cake that is so dusted, when the birthday celebrant blows out his candles, powdered sugar will dramatically burst all over your shirt and spectacles. The comic effect will be enhanced if you happen to be wearing a black long-sleeved top with tastefully glittery reindeer on it, and it will completely make Thanksgiving. Oh my GOD.

  • The verdict: Dad reported the cake was "exactly what he'd had in mind." Kid: Teared up and got him seconds.

2. Candied orange slices, which are made by bringing a syrupy mess to a boil on your stove and then waiting for hours and hours. Do NOT start something like this at something like midnight before Thanksgiving; I don't care how much you think people will be impressed. Thing learned:

  • Candied orange PEEL might actually be possible, but by the time the peel is actually candied (soft and sort of translucent), the actual fruit part of the slice will become fibrous and grody. I cut the peel from a few of the slices and and it did taste surprisingly like candy "fruit slices." So much so, in fact, that I will probably just buy those instead.

3. Dorie Greenspan's World Peace Cookies; recipe and review available here, from Smitten Kitchen. These are a chocolate-chocolate-chip slice-and-bake, and they are salty, and the salt is supposed to send the chocolate into the stratosphere. I don't know if I buy that, but they are damn good, OCD-inducing cookies. That is: If you have the cookies, all you can think about is eating the cookies; if you have the dough in the fridge, all you can think about is baking some more, or maybe just eating a slice right off the log (and there's no eggs, so why not?). In the Thanksgiving craziness, I wanted to make something I knew for sure I'd like, and we got up early enough that morning that I had time to make the dough, chill it, and bake a few specimens. I could tell from the recipe that Spouse would find them "too chocolate-y," and too chocolate-y for him is right about where I like it. I am probably going to call these PMS Cookies, or Gateway Drug Cookies, or something else clever if I come up with anything. Things learned:

  • I learned the hard way that if I put plastic measuring cups in the dishwasher, one of them will fall out of the rack, hit the element, start to melt, and set off the smoke alarm. I also learned the hard way that both my 1/3 cups fell victim to this phenomenon. The first time I made the dough, I just guesstimated using percentages and our other cups. The second time through, I converted everything exactly with teaspoons and tablespoons. I think guesstimation is fine, but see below.
  • The directions are kind of weird. You are supposed to mix as little as possible once the dry ingredients are added--the directions call for five one-second pulses, followed by a 30-second mix. This made me wonder why I should dirty up the stand mixer. So, if you're following along, Batch 1 was guesstimated and done in the KitchenAid; Batch 2 was exactly measured and done using a hand mixer. Result: Go ahead and dirty up the stand mixer! It is probably possible to properly "beat butter until creamy" and incorporate the sugars with the hand mixer, but I don't think I have the patience. The first batch came out MUCH better than the second one.
  • The first time, I used roughly 1/4 teaspoon (guesstimating again--all I had was a 1/2 tsp.) of supermarket coarse sea salt that I tried to crush in a mortar and pestle. I wasn't getting the salty effect, so I sprinkled a little salt on each cookie slice before baking, which looked really nice and tasted awesome. The second time I used 1/2 tsp. of kosher salt, and this was a little much. You are supposed to use either 1/4 tsp. "fine sea salt," or 1/2 tsp. fleur de sel, which I have yet to invest in. I just read in entirely another cookbook that if you need to substitute regular ol' salt for fine sea salt, you can do so in equal measure.
  • I got to pick out gorgeous, stainless steel, throw-in-the-dishwasher sets of measuring cups and spoons for Christmas, thank gosh, because all this mathy crap is for some other baker. Unfortunately, I won't receive them until, y'know, Christmas, so if I want to give away any of these, or to get my fix anytime soon, I will have at least one more round of guesstimating.
  • If you use chopped-up bar chocolate instead of chips, don't go too crazy with the chopping. You want some chunkitude. Go too small, as I did with Batch 2, and the chocolate will just disappear into the cookies.
More to come!

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