Baking Project

Aug 092016

Brazilian Cheese Bread
Yeah, I know it is August. Technically, I made these in August, too, but it is summer and I only turn the oven on at night when I can survive the heat in the kitchen, so I am glad I made anything at all for the month. These are rolls of Brazilian Cheese Bread. They look excellent!

Brazilian Cheese Bread
But the taste? Yuck. The main ingredient is tapioca flour (instead of the more common (in America) wheat flour) and I didn’t care for the end result. The taste, the texture, the viscosity – I was not pleased with anything except the appearance of these roll-biscuit-bread things. Now I know. Really, if I hadn’t sprinkled cheese on top of them before baking, they probably wouldn’t look that good either.

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Jul 062016

These are chestnut cookies with fig jam filling and almond cookies with lingon berry filling, all with a glaze to up the sweetness and looks.

What inspired me to make such odd combinations? Well, a couple months ago I signed up for a “Try the World” subscription. They send monthly a box of curated, gourmet foodstuffs collected from a country. So far we’ve had Thailand, Sweden, and France; this month will be Brazil. In each box they have a variety of stuff, but hit each category of eating, so you get a drink and snack (like coffee and cookies, tea and biscuits and jam) and stuff that will go into main and side dish (like curry paste and soup kit, or steak sauce and potato spices). Then there is also snack stuff like chips, crisps, candies, etc. Somehow, we always ended up with the jams leftover. This left me with a tube of chestnut paste, and a jam jar each of fig, and lingon berry. My brain came up with thumbprint cookies. Usually those are a firm cookie with a dollop of jam nestled in the middle, looking like a tiny, delicious, stained-glass treat. Mine were going to be more a combination of nut butter cookie and jam center.

The recipe was completely fabricated as I went. There is only one egg and a bare smidge of baking soda in the entire double batch of cookies, to help it keep form more like a shortbread. However, I then circumvented that caution by only letting the dough set for about seven minutes before tossing it in the oven. Dumb. Those cookies spread out a lot. The second batch, which had the more reasonable wait time of 30 minutes, held their shape better.

[rant on]
No matter how well I plan things out, it does no good if I don’t follow my own damn plan! I keep doing this to myself. These cookies, the birthday bags, the quilt, the carving order, the first darted skirt I ever made. One day I will learn to listen to me!
[rant off]

The flatter ones had crispy edges, which I don’t like, but they all turned out tasty and a little unusual. Slick is happy, my coworkers are happy (despite some diet-ruining complaints) and best of all, I am happy that they turned out well AND that I used up those stray items.

Jun 092016

For May’s Baking Project, I wanted something with a high success rate. That meant cupcakes for me. Cakes and cookies are the easiest things usually. They needed a little bit of special, so I made them dark chocolate cake with a sweet cream cheese filling, a bittersweet icing and sprinkles.
Filled cupcakes
Total success.

Filled cupcakes
I was able to pawn most of them off on coworkers, thankfully. I did warn most folks that they were filled – just to reduce the possibility of a surprise before the coffee has kicked in.

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May 172016

I haven’t posted my recent Baking Project results because they have been failures, by my standards. Not that I want to hide my failures and only show the pretty successes, not at all. We should share our failures with even more detail than the successes, I think. But, their failure status didn’t excite me to get the post up.
Here it finally is.
Cherry and cream galette.
This was March’s baking project, a cherry and cream cheese galette. It was decent, edible, but not special. Most of it ended up in the trash because I couldn’t eat it all. I threw it together with a hope and a wish because March was running out and I hadn’t sorted the Glyph cookie project supplies yet.

Shape failure cookies.
These were an attempt to make Glyph cookies. I had elaborate plans for making my own cookie cutter and stamp, but while I was on Shapeways, I found a design for one and ordered it. It was not good. You can’t really tell in the picture, but many internal spikes are missing so I had to turn the cutter a number of times to get all the markings in each cookie. Tedious. The outer cutting edge is too close to the outer marking spikes, too. The spikes are too narrow. The sugar cookie dough was purchased and was too fluffy.

Salvaging the failed cookies.
They are still sugar cookies, so I threw some frosting on them and Slick was happy, at least.The yellow sprinkles are to represent the golden sparkles when drawing Glyphs. They will look good when I get everything else right.

Note for civilians: If you don’t play Ingress, my talk about Glyphs is meaningless. Just trust that it is a game thing I’m working on.

Baking Projects thrown together at the last minute are not the thing to do. I must take time and follow my plans for best results. I will make my own cookie cutter/stamp for the Glyphs. I will make my own dough without leavening agents to account for the high altitude. This project will happen, dammit. One day.

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Feb 252016

A galette is something like a free form crusty dish. It can be filled with whatever you like; meats, veg, cheese for savory, or fruits, creams, nuts for sweet – or any combination. Of all the recipes or references I’ve found for it, the middle ground is that you make a basic crust, as if for a pie, then roll it mostly flat, dump some stuff in the middle, then sorta fold the edges up around your filling.

Sounds easy enough.
For the crust, I used (approximately):
1.5 C flour
1.3 stick cold butter (11 TB)
tsp salt
TB sugar (since this was to be a sweet dish)
.5 C iced water
Put the first four together using a pastry blender until the butter is bits, then add water and use hands to finish. No serious kneaded required, maybe once or twice to get it together well. Plastic wrap the mostly flat disk – after having your helpful spouse come into the kitchen and lay out a piece of plastic so you don’t have to try to get the dough off your fingers to reach it. Stick it in the fridge for about half an hour or so while you play with cats, then prepare the filling.

I chose a date and honey combination. It also contains a lot of spices, some cream, egg, sugar, and a sprinkling of graham flour in the center bottom in case it wanted to get soggy, which it didn’t.
Date & Honey Galette
A top view of the finished galette on the cooling rack. I left the bottom of the crust fairly thick, somewhere between a quarter and a three-eighths of an inch, so it cuts and handles like a sturdier version of pie. The taste and density were good, especially for something thrown together on the whims of my pantry.

I’ll definitely make a galette again. I like the ease of it. A simple crust with some stuff in it. The variations could be vast, depending on your tastes.

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Feb 172016

In the spring of 2014, I decided to start a monthly baking project. It was a loose project framework, merely to get me into the kitchen for recipes I might not ever make in my daily life. I ended up posting about eight projects that year, and I was pleased with the idea and decided to do it again this year.
To start off for January, I made an orange rum cake. I was already planning to make the rum cake (one of Slick’s favorites) but then he mentioned he had about a dozen clementines he wasn’t going to be able to finish, so I altered my plan to include these. He juiced them for me (because he is sweet) and most of it went into the finishing glaze, about two tablespoons (30ml) went into the batter. It turned out splendidly. I had enough to make three small rum cakes, which is okay only because they have a longer life than a typical cake. It was easy to keep one at home, share the other two at workplaces. Normally we can’t make it through even half a cake before it is dried up and dead. This way was better.
Orange rum cake, soaking.
It looks boring compared to its taste.

If you want to make your own rum cake, there are numerous recipes all over the internet, but you don’t even need them. Simply make a light cake somewhere between sponge and pound (box mix is fine!) and add the soaking glaze after you pull it out of the oven. The glaze is butter (I brown mine), sugar, water, then after the boiling, lots of rum and some vanilla extract. If you have the option, which I didn’t for this run, it is much easier to take the cake out of the pan, pour the glaze into the pan, put the cake back in, then put more glaze on the exposed bottom of the cake and let soak. When you’re all soaked up, put the cake on a plate (or whatever) and use the bit of glaze leftover on the now exposed top to give a pretty gleam. Many rum cakes have rum soaked fruit (plums, raisins, etc) and walnuts to garnish – but neither of us like stuff in our cakes, so mine are fairly plain.

This was the project for January, but I am still playing a little project catch-up on the blog here. If you have a Baking Project suggestion that might be impressive – let me know. I haven’t filled the slots for every single month yet. Besides, I am a project idea hoarder. My project list grows faster than I can complete projects.

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Nov 272014

Tiramisu cake.
My November baking project was this tiramisu cake to accompany our traditional Thanksgiving lasagna. Finally, I got to have my less-sweet dessert. Yea!

I hope everyone has a nice day, even if it is only a day off work, or a quiet day at work.

Oct 282014

Last month when I finished assembling the rainbow layer cake, I had a lot of leftovers from trimming the layers down to level. Ever frugal, I put them, along with a bit of leftover icing, in the freezer. A few weeks later in October, we were scheduled to have a social event, so I pulled out the cake scraps for reuse. After thawing, I mashed up the cake and icing with a fork and added in some flavoring. I rolled the mush into balls and put them in the freezer again. Shortly after that, our social event was cancelled, but I went ahead anyway since I’d started the thawing process and with the flavor syrups, they’d never freeze solid. I used my chocolate melting pot again, this time with half dark Ghirardelli and half regular-level chocolate and dipped the not-frozen rounds in. I spaced them out on wax paper and put them in the fridge to firm up.

Since we had nowhere to take the treats and they were way too much dessert for the two of us to eat, I took them in to work where they were a huge hit! The first box vanished immediately with requests for more. The next day, I brought in the second box, which was also the box of seconds – all the lumpy, misshapen and imperfect truffles. It didn’t matter, they were gone just as fast. Right before the last one went, I realized I had no photos and snapped this shot with my cell.

Cake Truffles, the single photographed subject.

You don’t have to keep them refrigerated, but I did because the chocolate coating was tender and melted quickly in the hand. I thought the soft, squishy inside tasted better cool or cold, too. They were perfect to throw in with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I didn’t succeed in making something less sweet – these were even sweeter than the cake last month. I don’t have high hopes for next month either, as I recently saw a photo of a sweet treat I want to try out. Oh wait, I just thought of a way to make it savory. We’ll see.

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Sep 222014

This weekend was the cats’ designated birthday. While Oz was likely a month or so later/younger than the four siblings, we simplify and roll them all together. For the cats, we had extra playtime, lots of catnip and love fits, as well as a roll of toilet paper soaked in catnip tea. A couple of the siblings like to shred toilet paper and paper towels, which is why you won’t find exposed paper products in our house normally. So, they had a good time, but for us humans, I made cake.
Rainbow Layer Cake - September Baking Project
Since there are only two of us, I didn’t want a huge cake. I used six, six inch diameter pans, so this was a smaller stack. I seem to only have six inch cake boards, so this is cake right to the edge of the board.

Rainbow Layer Cake - September Baking Project
The first slice. Pretty! I made the yellow and orange layers thicker since they were going to be squished at the bottom. That worked pretty well.

Rainbow Layer Cake - September Baking Project
I used dark chocolate icing between the layers and milk chocolate on the outside. With these busy colors, I had to put up a light piece of paper background to keep it simple. The coffee grinder and blender would have detracted, I think.

Rainbow Layer Cake - September Baking Project
That was bright and fun, but very sweet. Next month maybe I’ll aim for something less sweet or even savory.

Sep 102014

By special request (from Slick), my August baking project was for square sugar cookies covered in chocolate. I wanted a chance to use my chocolate melting pot and this was it!

Bare cookies, ready for chocolate.
You can imagine that square sugar cookies were pretty easy to make. Roll the dough out, use a ruler to get your squares, then I simply used the ruler as my cutter, too. Sure, they weren’t perfect squares after baking, but they’re still squarish. On the right you can see the chocolate is melted and ready. I used Ghirardelli dark again – it is delicious.

Chocolate covered cookies
I had enough chocolate to do two thick layers on each cookie. Since Slick likes chocolate things cold, these went straight into the refrigerator for him.

Chocolate covered cookies
They stacked up nicely. It wasn’t a wild or exciting baking project, but it was pleasing to do some custom baking for My Love.
Now to consider the September baking project. I’m thinking cake.

Jul 072014

Over the weekend, AmyKatt and Warhorse hosted a small game day featuring Ticket to Ride. I brought some thematic dessert.
Train car cakes.
Thank you NordicWare, for your specialty pans. I was able to make train car cakes! Ticket to Ride involves building railroad lines to win the game, so this was appropriate.

Train car cakes.

I tried to use the same colors that are used in the game, but the game uses all the colors, so the cakes ended up rainbow-like.

Train car cakes.
Some of the cars were shaped like carriers, so I filled those cake-cars with chocolate candy rocks or sprinkles.

I used a pudding cake combination with colored buttercream and chocolate frosting. Entirely tasty and once again I had a reason to break out the fancy baking and decorating tools I so seldom use. I reorganized them while I was at it, so I should be able to find things like icing tip couplers in less time and fuss in the future.

Now to think about the July Baking Project …

And thank you to AmyKatt for sharing your special edition of the game!

Jul 042014

Catchy name, completely silly; it works.
Independence day decorate sugar cookies.
Cream cheese icing, red and blue sugar, with edible silver stars. Delicious.
Hope everyone has a good holiday and take extra care of your pets. Animals generally don’t care for our traditional fireworks and screaming.

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May 142014

A week and a half ago, I made another Monthly Baking Project – Death by Chocolate Bunnies! It was a friend’s birthday and she said she liked chocolate, so I went for chocolate. I had a pack of chocolate mousse Peep bunnies (yes, they come in flavors, too!) and wanted to give them a fitting project. Birthday gal’s love of dark, white, then milk chocolate helped me figure out the rest. I had this coffin pan I hadn’t used and the Peeps would fit into the coffin cavities perfectly. I made my dark chocolate brownies (but I caked them up a bit so they’d come out of the pan) as coffins. White and milk chocolate ganache became the coffin silk lining. The Peeps got dressed up in dark chocolate suits. Half of them got bloody fangs and laid in coffins with dirt from their homeland (aka cookie crumbs) and the other half got bite marks on their necks and laid into white silk coffins.

Death by chocolate bunnies!
I think they turned out pretty cute. So much chocolate though! I had a bit of decorating chocolate left over so I drizzled some of the coffins as well. Out of the two brownie batches, I made one extra-dark, but I didn’t end up making them visibly different. So, some people got unsweet chocolate overdose and some got sweet chocolate overdose. Surprise!

Death by chocolate bunnies!
Vampire Bunny. Love those fangs. The cookie crumbs gave a nice texture with the ganache, or so I heard.

Death by chocolate bunnies!
Victim Bunny. Poor, wee bunny. But, he does look dapper in his bowtie and pocket square. Maybe he won’t rise as undead. I’m sure he was delicious.

That was fun. And that should do it for the Peeps projects this year. Next frivolous baking project coming up in June!

Apr 162014

Remember when I said I was thinking about starting a monthly baking project? Well, I’m giving it a shot.
Here is the first official project, in April.

Since Easter is this month, the stores are full of sugary treats. Peeps are one thing I cannot resist buying when I see them. I don’t like eating them, they are far too sweet to ingest, but I am inspired by those cute shapes and colors! Last year, I made Dr. Who Peeps which were precious, but I’ve done it, so this year had to be different. I achieved different!

Since Peeps are marshmallows under all that colorful sugar, I decided to make S’mores Peeps(=Smeeps). My problem was graham crackers. The rectangle shapes from the store completely hide the cute bunny peeps and defeat my idea. So, I found a recipe for graham crackers off the internet and made my own, using a Peep bunny shaped cookie cutter to cut my crackers out. The dough was a moderate undertaking for me, in my small kitchen, but I got it done with success. Those are tasty crackers! After that, the rest was easy. A bottom bunny graham cracker, a layer of dark chocolate and smush a Peep bunny into it before it sets (to fix it in place) and allow them to cool. Then, another drizzling of dark chocolate over the Peep bunny and place the top bunny graham cracker on before it sets and allow to cool again.

Smeeps, my April baking project.
Thus, Smeeps! That one on the right got a bit burnt – I rolled those too thin.

Smeeps, my April baking project.
When it is time to eat, put the Smeep in the microwave for 10-20 seconds and watch the fun. On the one I ate, the head swelled up enormously, but the bubble butt and ears stayed normal. I then went into a state of sugar-shutdown and had to sit on the couch and hold my head for a while. If you eat these, be ready for the sweet overdose, or maybe split one among multiple people.

Smeeps, my April baking project.
What happens at 30 seconds in my microwave. The marshmallow swelling broke the bunny graham cracker before the chocolate released its hold.

Smeeps, my April baking project.
I used Ghirardelli dipping, dark chocolate for the first time and it was Very Melty! There was no suitable in-between stage I could find, the chocolate was either solid chips or pure liquid, hence the drippy strips all over. I do not think this detracts from the fun deliciousness of the treat, but you might stick with a melting chocolate you are comfortable with if you make them and want a neater appearance.

Smeeps, my April baking project.
Since I wanted to give away most of these, I wrapped them up in neat little bags as single or double servings for easy transport to our workplaces.

And now, the recipe with my notes. I almost always adjust recipes to accommodate my purposes and tastes, and for high altitude (Cheyenne sits about 6,000 ft above sea level – the air is 15% less dense here which changes baking and cooking noticeably) as well as for any ingredient substitutions due to availability. Your recipe mileage may vary. Also, I’m not bothering to credit where I find the recipes, unless I make it without significant changes. Usually I take two or three recipes and combine them into one for myself, which further muddles any origins. If you make these, please, please send me a picture! I’d love to share this monthly baking project with others – I mean, besides doling them out to coworkers.

Makes over 3 dozen bunny graham crackers or traditional-size rectangles and takes about five hours total to complete.

Ingredients for Dough:
1.5 C rounded; unbleached, high-altitude all-purpose flour
1 C rounded; graham flour (Red Mills brand at King Sooper/Kroger, or get it off Amazon)
1 C level, dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1.5 tsp baking soda
.5 tsp salt
7 TB butter, cut into .5″ cubes, chilled
.33 C honey (I use local-Cheyenne made, purchased at the Bread Basket)
3 TB heavy whipping cream
2 TB skim milk (if you have fatty milk, just use that – I had skim milk and whipping cream, so …)
2 TB vanilla bean paste (if your grocer doesn’t have it, Michael’s does)
1 TB vanilla extract
2 TB Godiva liqueur (my go-to flavor add)

Ingredients for Topping:
2 TB white sugar
1 TB cinnamon, plus sprinkles of your fav sweet spices (like garam masala, allspice, coriander – whatever your thing is)

Make Dough:
Combine the flours, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt in bowl and mix together.
Add chilled butter cubes, use pastry blender to combine to a crumbly mixture. Butter cubes should end up the size of peas or smaller.
In another bowl, mix together the honey, milk, vanilla bean paste, vanilla extract and Godiva liqueur.
Add liquids to the flour mixture and mix together. Don’t overmix, you want it barely together. It will be soft and sticky.
Lay out a large piece of plastic wrap and dust it lightly with flour combo*, then dump dough out onto it and smush it about an inch thick.
Wrap it, then chill it until firm, about two hours or so.
When the dough is cold and firm dust a flat surface and roll half the dough out, leaving the other half in the chiller.
Use flour combo to dust as necessary, this is sticky dough.
Roll to about one-eighth to one-fourth an inch thick**, cut your desired shapes.
Using a blunt toothpick or such, pierce bunnies with eyes and nose – or whatever fits your shape best.

Make Topping:
Combine last ingredients: 2 TB white sugar and1 TB cinnamon, plus sprinkles of others.
Sprinkle dough bunnies with the combined sugar spices. I ran a finger over mine to impress the topping into the dough a little.

Heat the oven to 350°F.
Stack the cut, sugared, and pierced dough bunnies on layers of parchment paper on a cookie sheet and keep them in the fridge until ready to bake. You want them to be firm, not floppy, when they go into the oven. Might take 30 minutes or so in the fridge.
Bake a test sheet with few bunnies to see how they do, and adjust your process as needed.
While the first batch bakes and cools, repeat roll, cut, pierce & sprinkle work with second half of dough, incorporating any rolling or baking tips you learned on the test sheet.
Bake sheets for 12-15 minutes, until barely starting to brown on the edges.
Remove from oven, allow to set for a minute or two, then remove from sheet to wire racks for cooling.
Once cool, they’re ready to assemble into Smeeps. They’re also damned delicious on their own, with a cup of tea or coffee, or slathered in chocolate icing for a little sugar high.

* When I need to roll stuff out, I add aside a half cup or so of flour(s) and add the complementary spices to it (in this case cinnamon and sugar) at the beginning. I don’t like the extra-flour taste you get when you have to roll out dough repeatedly and the sugar & spice additions help keep that taste at bay even with the very-last-rolled-and-rerolled-from-scraps crackers.
** Some of my one-eighth thick bunnies burned and some of my one-fourth bunnies were a bit soft. Try a few thicknesses on the test sheet to see what you like.

Next time, I should take some in-progress shots. Or maybe have Slick take in-progress shots so I don’t have to stop the baking mess and get my camera greasy.

Thoughts? Feedback is appreciated!

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