Desperation + Inspiration

F@&% it. I’ll just make brownies.

It was getting late in the evening, the night before I’d committed to “bake something” (well, yeah…) for a little brunch with friends the next day. I can’t well recall what had kept me busy all day, but it was something, legitimate, that sapped my energy and left me reaching for an easy fallback after tucking the little ones into bed.

Once committed, I found myself starting to rise to the occasion when I made the pivotal realization that, just because I’d chosen brownies, that didn’t mean I was locked into the traditional, plain rectangle. Soon after that came the admission that brownies seem dressier with frosting, but that I would, personally, have a lot more fun whipping up an Italian meringue than making a buttercream.

A solid plan started to take shape.

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CBP_pansSome guesswork landed me the three, graduated pans that seemed to best fit the (luckily forgiving) recipe.

I wanted to capture a toasted coconut marshmallow flavor and texture, so I popped each layer for few minutes under the broiler as I assembled it – though I  goofed by not accounting well enough for the ever increasing height. (A torch got me back on track.)

CBP_ingredients

 

A bit of a sugar bomb, but at least a pretty one…

CBP

 

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Nerf Cake

I got to have some fun making a cake themed around a Nerf birthday party.

I struggled on a creative direction, but decided to go more traditional.

NerfCake.png

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Mouna

MounaTopIn my renewed adventures with yeast, I got to try out something that’s been intriguing me from a cook book I’ve had for a few years.

Mouna

It was described as an Algerian bread for Shabbat, though some quick, additional web searching indicated it’s often an Easter bread as well. If you’re looking for something just a little different from the norm for either occasion (though still eggy and sweet like the old stand-bys) this might just be the thing for you.

Since it has a bit of orange zest in it, it reminded me of a light panettone. The recipe indicates filling it with jam is “optional”… Snerf.

MounaOpen

While the shape isn’t terribly difficult to make (a flattened orb, where kitchen shears make quick work of the cuts around the perimeter), it manages to really stand out on the buffet.

Without realizing it then, it was the first time in recent memory that I’d made a bread by hand from the beginning (without any early assistance from my bread machine, or even a mixer) and it still came out great.

The hole I’d created when I added the jam opened back up during baking (I swear it was totally closed when I put it in), but even like that it managed to look pretty nifty.

MounaSide

 

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The Crown Cream Puffs

Chickens1I love making cream puffs – they seem to have a great balance between the rich, custardy filling and the choux casing. Also, I believe I have an edge in the game: since I keep chickens, I tend to have extremely fresh, yummy eggs to use in this recipe where both components rely so heavily on that ingredient.

My message today, though, is that you don’t have to stick to just the normal, round choux bun.

With the Jewish holiday of Purim* coming, I chose to pipe my choux buns into the shape of crowns for an evening at our synagogue.  It took one or two passes to settle on the right piping approach.

I first thought I would just make little spikes arrayed like a crown (with the star tip), but it wasn’t working for me, so settled on a pretty reliable way the make a horizontal stroke and then essentially go back over that with a “U” shape to create the two side points and then loop back to the middle to create the center point of the crown. Ergonomically, it also wound up being easy to get into the rhythm and crank them out.

Whatever your reason, feel free to have fun with your choux!

ChouxCrown

 

*Philosophically, since the Purim story highlights a frightened Queen Esther hiding her Jewish identity, profiteroles are kind of a perfect dessert – who would guess, upon first looking at them, that these little bready-buns hold such wondrous, velvety pastry cream inside?
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Improvised Blackboard

I love it when different things I like come together in new and useful ways. I’m always on the lookout for better ways to capture to-do’s and design ideas so I noticed my gleaming, black appliances and something else I’ve been enjoying over the few years.

DryEraseI first discovered dry-erase, washable crayons for my kiddo, but quickly realized there were lots of other uses, though these in particular are best on dark surfaces.

When we started outfitting the kitchen at the new place, I got my first ever double wall oven (and have come to agree with my auntie before me who says it’s possibly the best kitchen design decision she’s ever made).

Since we chose the black finish, the other thing I’ve realized this gives me is a lot of blank space at eye/chest level that’s optimum for capturing notes. With the dry-erase crayons, clean-up and edits are super easy.

Blackboard.png

When the friend for whom I was designing this pie would visit, I simply hung a dish towel from the oven handle.

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Heart-ier Palmiers

HeartPalmiers1I wanted a pretty and snackable pastry that could show a little love for my guys. With only minor tweaking, the classic palmier, or elephant ear, can be coaxed into a heart shape and livened-up with raspberry jam.

(Too much raspberry jam, here, made my baking sheet look like a bit of a crime scene.)

In this case, I made my own puff pastry from scratch (not to show off*) because I wanted to practice the skill. However, if you bought ready-made puff pastry this can be one of those rare things that’s easy, awesome-looking and super tasty.

A Triple Threat

HeartPalmiers2

The heart shape became much more rounded in the bake, but still fetching

 

 

*Totally showing off
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Viking Pie/Cake

vikingtest2

On the occasion of a dear friend’s birthday, I got to have a lot of fun making something less traditional. She’s a huge scholar of Viking culture and a culinary anthropologist. One of her very favorite desserts is lemon meringue pie, so I wanted to make it a little more complex and do something clever with the style.

I went with a sablé crust for the hull, sail and shields.

To make things only slightly more complex, the bottom layer is an Italian ricotta pie with the lemon curd and meringue on top of that.

The ricotta pie was a serendipitous choice. Because it takes a bit longer than a lemon tart to bake, I was able to bake it up to the point where it was set, and then layer on the lemon curd and continue baking until both were done. The made construction much more seamless (literally, really).

Using the super stiff Italian meringue (which I’ve really come to love) I was able to pipe it so that it looked like a little army was riding in the ship, with their spikey, little helmets.

Sablé details like the figurehead, shields and mast/sail were attached with royal icing, which blended well with the meringue to look pretty visually consistent.

Since meringue is to be toasted, and since it was a Viking ship, the obvious choice was to flambé it. Why blow out candles when you can blow out your cake?

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