Sunday, February 15, 2009

Salvaging and Valentine's Cupcakes

So I have concluded that the divinity disaster could probably be attributed to a combination of things. The first thing is that rule number one of making divinity is to never make it on a humid day. Although I am pretty darn sure it couldn't be called a humid day I am not so sure it isn't humid in my apartment. Between all the cooking and beer making that occurs here it wouldn't surprise me to find out we generally have a relatively high humidity level. I also think I may have not achieved stiff enough peaks in my eggs. I was worried about over whipping and busting down the protein structure so may not have whipped quite as long as I should have either before OR after adding the sugar syrup. Rest assured this recipe will be tried again. I will not accept candy defeat! Anyhow, the nougat was still tasty even if it lacked the fluff so I figured out a way to salvage it. I did what any smart person would do when trying to fix a sweet-gone-wrong: I doused it in chocolate. Here is my pile of candies:

As you can see I've tried (in vain some of the times) to put fancy designs on the top. They don't exactly look professional, and there are definitely no two of the same size and shape, but they impressed my coworkers at least. I DID have a little trouble with my chocolate however. I am not awesome at tempering chocolate so throughout the "enrobing" process the amount of temper changed. Here I have an example of bad, ok, and good tempering:The chocolate at the far left has a hefty amount of "blooming" caused by chocolate that has been completely melted and cooled at an undesirable rate while not being properly seeded with well crystallized chocolate. So the chocolate becomes a little chalky, melts too quickly when handled, and generally looks less delicious. The middle chocolates don't have any blooming but do have less than awesome texture and also melt very quickly. The far right chocolates have been seeded well with chocolate of good texture that was not overheated to break down the seeds' crystallization. The result is a dark, smooth coat, able to stay at room temperature without any degradation in texture or appearance. Win! I ended up keeping most of the candies in the fridge until just before eating (to soften the nougat) so I could avoid the possible blooming since I wasn't sure how many (or which ones) were tempered correctly.
Here is a (bad) shot of the nougaty insides:

OK! Next up! I wanted to make Favorite something sweet and tasty for Valentine's day. I knew we wouldn't be going crazy this year because we are trying to save for a house, so instead of a romantic weekend away he would have to settle for some Sticky Toffee Squares. This recipe was very interesting as the batter for the cake-like base had NO sugar. The sweetness instead comes from reconstituted dates. The dates are roughly chopped and then boiled until they are soft and a little goopy and then baking soda is added which makes it all foamy and crazy!
The date mixture is then added to a bowl in which butter, flour, eggs, vanilla, baking powder, have been mixed just until combined. The recipe cautions often against overmixing and since I had used cold butter, due to my impatience, I ended up with a VERY lumpy mixture. I was suppose to bake these "bars" in an 8 X 12 pan, but I decided to go for cupcakes. The recipe made a dozen pretty perfectly. Then it was time for the topping. This is where the Sticky Toffee part comes into play. The frosting on these babies is brown sugar, butter, milk, and powdered sugar. VERY sweet. The instructions for the bars are to pour the frosting on, spread it out, and sprinkle some walnuts on top. Since I made cupcakes, and didn't want walnuts, I ended up frosting the cupcakes individually (which meant a thinner layer of frosting) and then rolled the tops in ground pecans. Here they are in various stages of dressing:
Favorite LOVED these babies! He was unsure of the topping at first because he is not a frosting kinda guy, and he wanted me to leave half naked, but once he tried one with frosting and nuts he wanted them all like that. The cupcake itself was just lightly sweet due to the flavor of the dates, and the sweetness and nuts of the topping combines to make this an utterly tasty treat. He especially liked the cupcake split, warmed and topped with vanilla ice cream. Sounds good to me. They really do look pretty yummy.

The last baking of the weekend was not such a success unfortunately. From the same book the Sticky Toffee guys came from I tried a recipe for baked rice pudding. It looked so tasty in the book! It appeared to be a cross between a creme brulee and a silky rice delight. Not so. This dessert tasty more like flan then either creme brulee or rice pudding. I know some people might think "Ooo, flan!" but I do not appreciate this version of custard. It is far too eggy, and especially with this dish, that had no sweet caramel to cover the flavor, the egg was just overwhelming. Trying not to hurt my feelings Favorite offered that maybe it would be good to eat for breakfast, where and egg flavor is more expected, but I think it should just be scrapped and never made again. Sometimes there's just nothing you can do to make a recipe taste good.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Help My Nougat!

Ok, so I have performed another experiment. I don't have any pics of it up yet because I am writing this post quickly and in desperation. Sadly, no one really follows my blog so I doubt I will get much wisdom, but I have to try something... even the internet won't give me the answer.

I tried to make divinity. I recognize the fact that I am not a very good candy maker. I'm more of a drop cookie kinda gal. I thought that maybe I should put in some practice though because candy can be expensive and making my own, being able to customize it, sounded intriguing.

So I found a recipe for divinity, that soft, fluffy, sweet, white nougat, in my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. It sounded relatively simple despite that there were 30 minutes in the recipe where I was supposed to be doing nothing, no stirring, no scraping, no measuring, nothing. I am not very good at doing nothing while I'm making something, I am very impatient. I tried my hand anyway. I put the sugar, water, and corn syrup in the pot and stirred just til it started to boil. I then turned the heat down until I achieved a consistent low boil. I boiled it untouched for probably about 25 minutes (though the recipe said 15-20 I wasn't relly concerned because I was being wussy about turning up the heat). Although I took the mixture off just as the termometer closed in on 260 (hard ball stage) I thought it looked pretty dark and had maybe overcooked despite the tellings of my equipment. I beat my egg whites in about 2 seconds with my hand mixed and brought them to what I'm pretty sure was pretty stiff peaks. Then I drizzled in the hot sugar syrup blending as I went. The candy turned out to taste pretty good. I had added vanilla and some chopped pecans to the mix. The problem I discovered was this: my divinity was not divine.

Honestly when I was making the divinity, I did not know it was a form of nougat. I figured this out when nougat was what I ended up with. Hard, dense, filling removing nougat. It wasn't fluffy at all. It didn't stay in nice little mounds on my baking sheet. Instead, it pretended to keep a shape only to ooze into a flattened blob a half an hour later. Why is my divinity so dense? What did I do wrong? How does one achieve the glorious fluffy texture I so desire? I have reviewed a number of divinity and nougat recipes now and they seem so similar that I cannot even really choose a technique out of the recipe that makes them different. Help, someone. Please, help my nougat!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Successes and Failures

Despite my lack of postings I have made a number of forays into the battlefield of baking since last we met. Some battles have been victorious while others left a good number of casualties.

The first recipe I tried after the squash buns was another recipe from my new book The Ultimate Cookie book. This was the first dud from this publication. The recipe was for Spiced Chocolate Tea Cakes. I know it says cake and not cookie, which should have warned me, but the texture was just all wrong! In making the batter I realized that the dough was VERY stiff.The recipe wanted me to pipe the cookies into shell shapes using a 1/2 inch star tip. The star tip I have was too small and the dough was just too thick so I ended up just using my trusty cookie scoop and smooshing them flat with a wet finger. Favorite thought the turned out ok, but I thought they were dry and flavorless. I will NOT be making these again.
Next up was squashy cakes. I took the leftover squash paste from the buns and added some egg so they would set up. I tried pan frying them but they were too dense with no leavening so I tried steaming them and they just turned into gummy goops. Another failure in the kitchen.
Next up is a winner!! Well, I KINDA made these. Over the Christmas holiday my mom and I made an excess of gingerbread dough and ended up freezing an entire batch. The dough kept very well and I was able to make a really good amount of cookies. Some were nice and big, but I also made a bunch of tiny ones using pie crust cutters in case someone just wanted a nibble.Above you can see my dough rolled out on a pastry cloth with my assorted cookie cutters and my pastry cloth covered rolling pin. Pastry cloth is brilliant by the way. If you've never tried it for rolling cookies or pie crusts you really must. The only downside is when you don't put quite enough flour and then you have to wash the cloth after the dough gets stuck. But here are the glorious cookies!!

I also managed to make a chocolate banana tart after completely destroying some caramel that was meant for a caramel custard. I have no pictures of the tart however. It wasn't very pretty but it tasted ok. It was a pretty simple recipe for a cocoa tart crust (that did not come out too well) and basically milk, eggs, and chocolate poured in the crust with sliced up bananas and baked until set. Not exactly glamorous, but we had company and I needed to make SOMETHING for dessert!

I have also been secretly working on a hat. I got some absolutely splendid alpaca yarn from Favorite's mom for Christmas last year and I finally decided I wanted to turn it into a sweet stocking cap. I did the large bulk of it in about 3 days and then got tired of it and left it for weeks. I finally picked it up again this past weekend with a vengeance. I needed to finish it and so I did. Here it is:I think the grey looks fantastic with Favorite's blue eyes! Since I made him pose for this picture I did him a favor too. He woke up asking for muffins; any muffins. So I provided him with Oatmeal Cinnamon Chip muffins!!It is not super great picture, I know, but the tops had just a little chewy crunch and the insides were moist and pillowy and probably the best muffin texture I had ever achieved. I actually got this recipe from another blogger at Cookie Madness. She has a much better photo of the muffins here. The muffins look a little different however because I have a secret in where I get my cinnamon chips (they are the same ones they use in bakery scones, tiny little delicious cinnamon bursts) and it looks like Anna had to use the big waxy Hershey bits. Eiher way they are just fantastic muffins great for breakfast.