Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What's buggin' you?

I was having a rough day when I got to work on Friday.  I was trying to leave it at home, but as soon as someone asked me if I was okay, I realized that maybe that was easier said than done.  I was missing my mom, a lot.  Long-time readers of my blog may recall that my mom died three years ago, in March.  While the date on the calendar has some significance, what really sticks with me is the fact that it was on Good Friday.  And of course, that date changes from year to year.  Even though I knew it was coming, it still surprised me a bit how emotional I was feeling.  (It shouldn't have, when I think about how stressful this year has been so far.)

I always think about Mom on the night before Easter as I'm filling baskets for the girls.  She was the one who taught me to count everything that I put into the baskets, down to the last jelly bean.  Why, you ask?  Because siblings are competitive, and will immediately notice any differences in who got what.  In fact, one of the first things Gillian did Sunday morning was pull everything out of her basket and count it.  I don't think she actually compared it to what Brianna had (she was just proud of her counting skills), but you can bet B would have said something if she thought G had more of anything. =)

Just in case the candy wasn't enough sugar for the day, I wanted to make something yummy for dessert on Easter.  I've been searching for a good vanilla pound cake since I got my latest batch of vanilla beans.  I've made several recipes and always end up with the same thing--cakes with good flavor but a dry mouthfeel.  To find new recipes to try, I've been using a nifty new tool that I discovered thanks to Jessica of cookbookhabit.  It's called Eat Your Books, and basically provides you with a comprehensive index for the cookbooks already on your shelves.  It doesn't give you the recipes, just helps you figure out where to look.  When I searched for "vanilla pound cake" I got 23 results from my 98 cookbooks.  A few were obviously recipes that utilize pound cake as an ingredient, and some were for other flavor variations that included vanilla in the ingredient list.  But I got about a dozen recipes for what I was really looking for, a basic vanilla pound cake.  I've already tried a few of them that weren't quite what I was after, and this time decided to check out the recipe in Joanne Chang's Flour.  

What appealed to me about this particular recipe was that it uses melted butter folded in at the end, rather than the creaming method.  I've made a similar recipe in the past, the Rum-Drenched Vanilla Cakes from  Baking From My Home to Yours.  Both recipes use the same mixing method.  First, you whip together sugar and eggs.  Even though Chang's recipe says to mix the vanilla bean seeds with the melted butter, I took a page from Dorie's book and rubbed them into the sugar before I started mixing.  Once the egg mixture is really light, you gently fold in the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt) and then fold in a mixture of melted butter and some heavy cream.  

Part of why I wanted to make a dense cake like pound cake is that I thought it would be perfect in my new pan--I found this adorable bug pan when I was at Costco on Saturday.  It only holds a total of 3 cups, so I put the rest of the batter in one of my mini (2-cup) loaf pans.  The bugs baked for 20 minutes, while the loaf took 30.  (One thing to note--all of my pans were filled a bit too much, so next time I'll probably fill the bugs a bit less & put the extra batter in a 3-cup pan.)

The verdict?  This is an excellent pound cake recipe.  The finished cakes had a nice tight crumb and a great texture--not too dry.  I'm already thinking of different ways to change up the flavor of the batter and other pans to bake it in (I have a couple of mini bundts as well as my madeleine pans--which I think would be good since the cakes had humps on the backs).  The shapes were a big hit with the girls--they had fun debating which one to eat first.  They split the butterfly and the ladybug--both shapes that were symmetrical, so that there wouldn't be fights over who got the bigger piece. =) (another thing I learned from my mom)

I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of Flour.  I've really enjoyed everything I've made from it so far.  If you want to try this particular recipe, you can find it here on Rose Levy Beranbaum's blog.  The vanilla bean variation is at the end of the recipe.  

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

If you can't stand the heat...

..you definitely don't want to come to Texas in April.  Two days running now, we've had highs in the mid-90s.  Blech.  It's way too early for this.  I know that everything is air-conditioned here, but to be honest, I still don't want to bake when it's 91ยบ at 7pm.  Especially after having to spend time outside watering the yard.  Have I mentioned that I hate anything to do with yard work?  I also hate getting letters from the home owners' association because the lawn is brown.  Do they know that we're in a drought?  Do they know that we should be under watering restrictions, assuming we aren't already & I just haven't heard about it?  Grrr.

Okay, rant off.  You can't tell it's sore subject, can you? =)  So on to a much more pleasant topic, this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe.  Jeanette of The Whimsical Cupcake picked A Tourtely Apple Tart for us to make this week.  As you've probably noticed, I didn't exactly make a tart.  I meant to make this recipe over the weekend with Nancy and Tracey, but ran out of time and energy.  By the time Monday night rolled around, so had the aforementioned 90-degree temperatures, and there was no way I was going to have my oven on for a couple hours.  So, much as I like Dorie's tart crust, the tart part went out the window.  

But by this morning, I did have the time and energy to at least tackle the filling.  It's a lot like making applesauce.  Chunks of apple, some brown sugar, a bit of nutmeg, and a couple tablespoons of liquid get cooked together until the apples are almost soft enough to break down when pressed with a spoon.  For my liquid, I got to use something from my most recent King Arthur order, Boiled Cider.  I also added a big pinch of salt.  I admit, I took my apples almost to the point of applesauce, and mashed them up some.   After the apples are cooked (and the liquid is allowed to reduce), you mix in some browned butter and vanilla, and some raisins (and nuts, if you're into that, which I'm not).  Yes, my kitchen smelled amazing this morning.  

The verdict?  Well, I love the filling, so now I really need to make the whole tart. =)  I'll probably do it this fall, if not before, when I can try it with some of my favorite apples (not that I dislike the Macs I used today).  It took me a few minutes to realize that what the filling reminds me of is baked apples, the way we made them when I was a kid.  After coring the apples, we'd fill them with a mixture of raisins, brown sugar and a bit of cinnamon, held together with some butter.  This filling tastes kind of like that, though better because of the browned butter.  Mmm.  I'll probably make just the filling again soon, and pair it with some ice cream as my friend Kayte suggested.  

If you'd like to try the tart for yourself, you can find the recipe on Jeanette's blog.  And to see what everyone else thought of this recipe, check out this week's Links.  

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Any parent can tell you that there are all sort of milestones that you look forward to with your children.  As babies, you are excited about them learning to crawl and walk and talk and--very important, this one--sleep through the night.  As they get older, you mark different occasions, such as the first day of school and the first loose tooth.  As the mom of an 8-year-old and a 4-year-old, I've been through all of those.  But then last week, I got to make note of a new milestone that I wasn't expecting.  I don't think they have a spot in the keepsake book for your child's first x-ray. =) 

Yes, thanks to my younger daughter Gillian, I've now had the exciting experience of taking my child to the urgent care facility to have her foot x-rayed.  Thank goodness it turned out to be just a bad sprain, no broken bones.  I just really hope that this isn't going to be a trend with her.  I didn't have my first sprain until I was in college, and was even older when I got my first stitches.  Honestly, though, that's pretty surprising, since I've always been quite a klutz.  I've mostly just had lots of scrapes and bruises that I can't remember acquiring. =)  I have to say, it worries me that Gillian is starting all this at 4.  *sigh*

I did have some other, more enjoyable, new experiences over the weekend, thanks to this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe.  Sarah of teapots and cake stands picked Strawberry Rhubarb Double Crisp for us to make this week.  I was happy because this gave me a chance to use my new baking pan that I got recently from King Arthur.  Phyl got one recently and recommended it, and I really like the pretty green color.  Even better, it was on sale!  (and might still be)  

Another new thing with this crisp was the idea of using part of the crumb mixture to make a bottom crust, then using the rest for the top.  I've done that for bar cookies, but not for crisp.  I also like the new idea of adding crystallized ginger to the crumb mixture.  One last new thing--I don't think I've ever used strawberries in crisp, since they can get watery when cooked.  Cooking and thickening the strawberry part ahead of time took care of that problem.  I did make one change to the recipe.  I'm not a big fan of rhubarb, so I didn't use it.  I thought about using cranberries to get some tartness (a good idea from Kayte), but then Nancy suggested using apples to get the same sort of bulk as the rhubarb.  I used some fairly tart Macintosh apples, which worked nicely.  (Oops, just realized that I made one other change--I left out the nuts so my girls would eat it.)  (Okay, last one--I also reduced the sugar to 3/4 cup since I thought it might be too sweet without the rhubarb.)

The verdict?  Yum!  This crisp was really delicious.  The combination of strawberries and apples was very good, and I love the chewy bits of crystallized ginger in the crust/crumbs.  Ginger and strawberries is a great flavor combination that I'm going to have to remember.  Both girls liked it, as did Jamie (though he couldn't quite place the ginger flavor at first).  I ate mine without ice cream, both for dessert and breakfast the next day.  I enjoyed the texture of the bottom crust, and will have to try the same technique with other fruits.  

If you'd like to try this recipe for yourself, head on over to Sarah's blog.  And to see what everyone else thought of this week's selection, check out the Links.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

I scream

I mentioned in my last post that although I'm feeling overwhelmed and stressed out, I'm still baking.  What's really suffered from all the craziness of late is my blog.  I've been making stuff.  I've even taken pictures of a lot of it.  But I've been having trouble writing--I just don't know where to start.  I don't want to just put down a quick review of a recipe (though the occasional one-sentence post can be nice), so I haven't been writing anything at all.  One thing that's really taken a hit is my Tuesdays with Dorie participation.  Okay, I haven't really been keeping up with any of my baking groups, but TWD is the one I really feel bad about.  So I'm trying to get back on track this month, actually writing some blog posts about the stuff I've made.

This week's recipe is Coffee Ice Cream Tart, chosen by Jessica of Domestic Deep Thought.  Ice cream tart sounded yummy, but I had some problems.  Number one, I don't like coffee ice cream.  But Dorie gives options for other flavors, so that was okay.  I recently made a batch of Vanilla Bourbon ice cream to test out my new Madagascar vanilla beans that I got from Beanilla.  (I purchased them myself due to positive reviews from others; I have no connection to them.)  The original recipe is for Double-Vanilla Bourbon ice cream, but I left out the vanilla extract so that the flavor of the vanilla bean would come through more.  Next time I'll try with both bean and extract.  I only used 2 tablespoons of bourbon, and was happy with that--I enjoyed the flavor, but it wasn't overpowering.  

Issue number two, I wasn't excited about the crust.  I don't like almonds all that much.  I also heard from a number of people that they weren't that happy with the crust--that they found it hard to cut when frozen.  So I decided to improvise.  I only wanted a mini tart, and I had just enough dough left over from last week's cookies to make a 4 1/2" mini tart.  Tia of Buttercream Barbie picked the Pecan Powder Puffs for last week.  I made some of the cookies but didn't get a chance to post them, and I only baked one sheet, so I had leftover dough.  I pressed the dough into my mini tart pan, and followed the recipe instructions for baking the tart shell.

Once the tart shell was cooled, I filled it with some of my vanilla ice cream.  I covered the tart with plastic wrap, and stuck in in the freezer overnight.  The next day, I mixed up a little ganache with some chocolate and cream, and drizzled it on top.  I stuck the tart back in the freezer long enough to let the topping firm up.  I tried to unmold the tart before cutting it, but couldn't get the tart ring to release.  Once I cut a small piece, though, it came out with no problem.

The verdict?  I'm happy with the tart, but it really isn't the tart in the recipe. =)   I realized as I was looking back over the recipe that I was supposed to have a layer of chocolate under the ice cream.  Oops. I'm actually not sorry that I skipped it, since I'm happy with the flavors of my tart.  The bourbon and vanilla were good with the pecans and hint of cinnamon in the crust.  The chocolate on top was far enough from the bit of cinnamon in the crust that it didn't bother me.  (I'm not a fan of the chocolate/cinnamon combo.)  I liked the texture of the crust--it held together in the pan, but wasn't too hard to cut with a fork.  

If you'd like to try the real recipe for yourself, head over to Jessica's blog.  And to see how everyone else interpreted this week's recipe, check out the Links.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


I was chatting online with a friend a week or two ago and she started out asking how everything was going--she commented that I'd been sounding kind of "flat" lately.  I hadn't thought about it in quite that way, but she's right.  I do feel flat, the kind of flat you get when you have way too many things weighing on you.  Most of it stems from work, which has been very stressful for most of this year so far.  I've been working way more hours than I usually do, which is really starting to wear me out.  

I've hit a point where I just feel overwhelmed most of the time.  There's so much to do, I don't even know where to start.  And everyone wants a piece of me.  I'm tired of being the one responsible for everything, to the point where I don't want to be a part of anything.  My friend said it sounded like I was in an "oxygen mask" situation--you know, like on an airplane, when they tell you that you need to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.  You're not going to be any help to anyone if you don't take care of yourself first.  Problem is, I'm bad at doing that.  I'm bad at admitting that I need help, and bad at asking for it.  But I'm at the point where all the stress is affecting me physically, and I'm forced to admit that I can't do everything myself.  

So what do you do to deal with stress?  How do you keep from getting totally overwhelmed?  How do you convince yourself to put yourself first once in a while?  

Many people might think that I'm crazy to still be baking when I'm complaining that I'm stressed and don't have enough time for everything.  But while it does take time, it's actually one of the things that helps.  I like the process, and having something concrete to show for it at the end of the day.  One thing I did recently was finally spend the King Arthur gift card that my sister Kate sent me for my birthday.  One of the things I've been wanting to get is some of their Baker's Cinnamon Filling mix.  I've had my eye on a couple of scone recipes that use it, and today I was finally able to make the Cinnamon Schmear Scones.  

Making these scones isn't that different from other recipes I've made.  To start, you prepare the cinnamon filling by adding water to the dry mix.  After setting that aside, you mix up the rest of the dry ingredients--flour, sugar, salt and baking powder.  Butter is cut into the dry ingredients (I rubbed it in with my fingers).  Then the wet ingredients are added.  The recipe calls for egg, vanilla and half & half.  To cut back on the fat a bit, I used part half & half and part whole milk.  Once the dough is combined, it's turned out onto a floured surface and patted into a square, and the cinnamon filling is spread on top.  To incorporate the filling, I did a couple of letter folds, then patted the dough back out into a big square.  I cut 18 scones by cutting 9 squares, then cutting them in half to make smaller triangles.

I skipped the sugar topping since I was planning to add a glaze instead.  I baked the scones for 16 minutes.  Once the scones were done, I let them rest on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes, then transferred them to a cooling rack.  To make clean-up easier, I put the parchment that the scones were baked on under the rack to catch drips.  I made a glaze from some powdered sugar, a big dash of cinnamon, a bit of vanilla and some milk.  I drizzled the glaze over the warm scones and waited a few minutes for it to set.

The verdict?  Oh, these will definitely be making many more appearances around here!  I can see myself keeping the cinnamon filling mix on hand just for these.  Though I have to admit, I'm tempted to see what kind of substitute I can come up with if I run out.  I think I'll also experiment with some whole wheat flour next time, too.  The girls & Jamie were all quite happy with the scones, and the recipe makes plenty, so I can take some to work tomorrow.  

If you'd like to try the recipe for yourself, you can find it here on the King Arthur website.  A lot of the King Arthur recipes have weights available in addition to the volume measurements, but this one doesn't.  So here's what I used:

Cinnamon Schmear Scones
(adapted from King Arthur Flour)

30 grams water

380 grams all-purpose flour
70 grams granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
115 grams (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
115 grams whole milk
110 grams half & half

You can find the recipe instructions here