30 November 2006

Kwanzaa Celebration Cakestravaganza

A few days ago, Brianna IM'd me a link, which I unfortunately clicked.

Go ahead, click it. I dare you.

I watch the Food Network a lot. It's like my porn. Nine times out of ten, when The Boyfriend comes home later than me, I'm sitting on the couch, eating something of questionable nutritional value (hi bag of chocolate chips!), and watching FoodTV. I can watch just about anything on that channel, but should Sandra Lee's show "Semi-Homemade" come on air, I'm out. I'm all for convenience, but come on Sandra! A few weeks ago (while searching frantically for the remote control to END THE HORROR) I glimpsed her scooping out the insides of a pumpkin pie and a cheesecake, and mixing them together to make a pumpkin cheesecake filling. It was just wrong.

Now, in all my years of using the World Wide Web, I've seen some crazy shit - however, I don't think I've seen anything quite like Sandra Lee's Kwanzaa Celebration Cake. It's offensive and wrong on so many levels. For one, the recipe includes a store-bought angel food cake, corn nuts, and canned apple pie filling. Those things DO NOT GO TOGETHER. (Frankly, canned apple pie filling doesn't go with anything, although when we were grocery shopping for Project: Kwanzaa Celebration Cake, Brianna charitably suggested that a non-baker might use it to bake an apple pie. She's nicer than me.) Next, the recipe is on FoodTV.com, Now, I know Thomas Keller isn't exactly vying for a slot on the Food Network, but there are some respected, reputable chefs who contribute, and what exactly do Mario Batali and Wolfgang Puck think of the "food" that Sandra "cooks"? Thirdly, look at her, and think hard about what this woman knows about Kwanzaa.

Let's look at that cake again:


Anyway, we decided to get together and create this culinary delight. A quick stop at Key Food and $20 (we also bought ice cream) yielded the necessary ingredients. (Brianna had the more reasonable ingredients at home, like vanilla, cinnamon and cocoa. Somewhat surprisingly she also had corn nuts, which is good because we actually couldn't find those at the grocery store.)

I sliced the angel food cake in half and placed the bottom on Brianna's grandma's silver platter. (We really are just that classy.) Brianna mixed up the frosting, and despite my protests and the recipe CLEARLY stating that we should use a large bowl, she insisted upon adding the mix-ins directly to the frosting cannister, claiming, "That's how Sandra would do it." Spillage was minimal. We then frosted the cake (Sandra doesn't use a crumb coat) and got to the fun stuff: Canned apple pie filling. 21 ounces of it.

"There's no way this is all going in that hole."

"Make it fit. Come on, just jam it in there."

Hehe. That's what she said.

Next came the fun stuff: pumpkin seeds, popcorns, and corn nuts.

Why, Sandra? Why? What compelled you to put corn nuts on a cake?

Three Jim & Gingers later, we had assembled our masterpiece. Either Sandra's cake (and thus her hole, heh) was much bigger than ours, or she was daintier than her recipe called for with those toppings, because, dudes, look at this thing:

(We forgot the candles.)

We actually did taste it and then rinsed our mouths with turpentine, because turpentine was less offensive to our taste buds than store-bought vanilla frosting mixed with cinnamon and cocoa. Then we drank some more bourbon.

Photographic evidence is available on Flickr.

Brianna's recap of our cakestravaganza is on Random Access Babble.

05 November 2006

Croissants Part 2

Last night before bed I reviewed the instructions for Part 2 of Gillian's Adventures in Croissant-Making. I wanted to make sure that waking up at 5:30am would give me sufficient time for the rolling, cutting, shaping, rising, baking, and eating I'd need to do before going to watch the marathon. I confirmed that it would. I also confirmed that I am too immature to bake croissants, as the following instructions made me snicker: "Holding short side (side opposite tip) of 1 triangle in one hand, stretch dough, tugging and sliding with other hand toward tip to elongate by about 50 percent." Heh. (I read it to DLang who naturally thought I was trying to seduce him.) (Hi Mom. Sorry.)

I hauled myself out of bed at 5:50 to begin the festivities. First, I cut the dough in half and put half back in the fridge to make the princess ring. Next, I rolled the dough into a 12"x16" rectangle, and cut that in half. I cut each half into thirds, and then cut the thirds diagonally to make triangles.

After elongating (hee hee) the triangles, I rolled them up just like Pillsbury Crescent Rolls (and hoped fervently that they'd taste better than their tubed cousins). After tucking the baking sheets into a couple of garbage bags to allow the croissants to rise, I tucked myself back into bed for a couple more hours of sleep.

Around 8:45, I woke up again to bake the croissants. The recipe called for them to bake at 400°F for 10 minutes, then at 375°F for another 10 minutes. They looked pretty done after the first 10 minutes, so I cut the second baking time short by about 5 minutes.

I am honestly amazed at the results. They turned out perfectly! They are buttery and flakey and delicious, and DLang and I both ate 2 right out of the oven. (I had another one this afternoon, following DLang's reasoning that since it was the first time I made croissants and it worked, I could eat as many as I wanted.)

Every time I attempt something like this and it works, I'm just a little bit surprised, even though I've done things like successfully bake a wedding cake for 200 people.

A brief photo history of Gillian's Adventures in Croissants can be found on Flickr.

Note: Since I'm definitely a baker in one of my alternate lives, this weekend's entries are in keeping with the month's theme!

04 November 2006

Croissants Part 1

Recently, I decided it is one of my goals to make croissants from scratch. A few months ago I found a recipe, which calls for another recipe - both of which looked to be long and tedious and require a not-insignificant time commitment.

Training for the marathon precluded any such commitments, so I postponed the endeavour - until now.

Earlier this week, I stocked up on the ingredients, including a pound of European butter.

This afternoon before I started, I geeked out and created a spreadsheet that shows each step in making the dough and its duration, so that I'd be able to very efficiently calculate when the dough would be finished. The dough needs to rest for at least 8 but no more than 18 hours before baking, which would be a manageable window if I didn't have plans to cheer myself hoarse at the marathon for most of tomorrow morning.

I started with warm milk and brown sugar in the bowl of my stand mixer (which, to this day, best $250 I've spent in the kitchen!). I mixed in the yeast and 5 minutes later, voilĂ , it was foamy. (Seriously, no matter how many times I bake with yeast, the foaminess/rising properties never cease to amaze me.)

Hooray! Next step: Adding the flour and salt. Then the dough hook made dough. (The mixer kind of amazes me, too - like with buttercream, the mixer just magically makes everything look exactly how the recipe has described. Usually, anyway.)

Next, I kneaded the dough for a couple of minutes. (Aside: I *love* kneading dough.) After the all-too-short dough-kneading, I shaped the dough into a rectangle, wrapped it in Saran wrap, and put it in the fridge.

Next: "Pound butter with a rolling pin." Awesome. DLang was napping on the couch, so I leaned over gently and said, "Oh, hey. The next part is going to be a little noisy. Sorry about that." Heh.

The flattened butter went in the fridge for some chillin' and the dough came out for some rollin'. I was quite delighted to see that it had risen slightly (science schmience, rising dough is definitely magic). Rolling croissant dough is more fun than for other things because it involves rolling to a very specific size (16"x10"). I then laid the rectangular butter in the center of the rectangular dough and folded each end of dough over. (The instructions in the recipe for this part are very good, so I won't rewrite them here.) I didn't take any pictures at this point because yellow on beige doesn't photograph very well.

At 7pm I finished the last of 4 folds for the dough. Elapsed time: 5 hours.

The dough is now refrigerating until tomorrow morning, when I'll get up at some ungodly hour to roll and cut the dough, which then has to rise for another 2 hours before the croissants can be baked. Since the recipe makes 24 croissants and can't be halved, I'm going to make a dozen croissants and a princess ring (mostly because it's called a "princess ring" and that just seems too precious not to make).