I completely forgot about posting this.  I made a TON of cream puffs for Thanksgiving over 2 weeks ago.  I guess it was glossed over since it’s been crazy @ work and the photos are forgettable and this wasn’t a big deal; I’ve made these before.  Ain’t nothin’ special.

I was on a puff-making spree the morning of Vin’s family’s Thanksgiving dinner and made hundreds of little puffs.  I just kept going and going and all my racks were overfilling and I lost count after 250.  I made this many with the intention of bringing some for the T house dessert, then bringing them for my family’s post-turkey dinner on Saturday, and then doling out the rest to coworkers.

Pistachio puffs

I made pistachio filling for the T house puffs.  No, pistachio filling is not naturally green; a bit of food coloring gives it that lovely processed pastel shade.  And there were bits of nuts in there, too.  I also made chocolate filling and vanilla filling, but as usual, Vin likes to get to his parents’ house early so I didn’t have time to change tips and refill pastry bags to do multiple flavors.  I REALLY wanted to construct a tower of puffs (croquembouche), but there definitely wasn’t any time for that.  Meh.

TONS o' puffs

I brought about 60-70 puffs to the T house and brought along my nice cake stands to assemble them, but I was preoccupied with our new little niece for a few hours. She was so cute and peaceful sleeping on me that I didn’t want to move and wake her up to arrange cream puffs and hold her @ the same time, so Vin’s mom set them all up on one platter.  There were extra puffs so Mom T froze them.  (I was told she took them out to eat 2 weeks after Thanksgiving and they held up well and were still good.)

For my parent’s house, I packaged the dry, baked puffs in a bag and didn’t fill them till we got to the house.  I didn’t want the puffs to be soggy.  And it was a much more relaxed setting so I just sat down @ the dining table and took my time filling the assortment of pistaschio, chocolate, and vanilla while my siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, and my dad eyeballed the process and commented on the “messy ones that needed to be eaten right away.”  hahaha  It was a nice sampling dish… I think I made about 80 for my mom’s family feast and they were all gone by the time we left.

plate o' puffs - chocolate, vanilla, and pistachio

And I REALLY wanted to bring some for my coworkers and teammates since we were finishing up a big group project and this would have been a nice treat, but I just didn’t have time to make more filling before then.  So frustrating.  Now I have another 150+ empty, frozen puffs in my freezer, so maybe I can make a small caramel croquembouche tower for later.  In addition to the awesomely fun idea I have in mind for the Christmas…  stay tuned…

Things have been quite hectic these past few weeks so I’m just posting a quick blurb.  I’ve actually been doing a lot of baking, but a massive workload has been dumped upon my desk so I haven’t been able to take pics or write anything witty or creative about the goods.  Here’s a rundown of the past 3 weeks:

bright red batter --> dark red fluffy baked goodness

1) My lovely friend C asked for angel food cupcakes again for her 29th birthday (she looks 24, people  ;o) and of course, I couldn’t refuse.  She requested almost double the amount from last year, and this time requested half with vanilla frosting and half with chocolate frosting.  Done deal, woman!  C was kind enough to meet up with me @ my office for the pick up, and I felt like a d*ck for not being able to celebrate with her b/c of my workload.  =(  But I think this time around the angel food cakes came out better than last year’s batch.  I can tell b/c Vin ate all my extras… even the test “rejects”.  He said they were like eating fluffy marshmellows.  haha  I was in such a rush that day that I didn’t even remember to snap a cell phone shot of the goodies.  *sigh*  So stupid of me.

2) Our friends J and D just got engaged a few months ago and I baked red velvet cupcakes for their engagement party.  I made cream cheese frosting for this event and tried to make half of it appear to be fall colors, but homemade cream cheese frosting is fickle; I wanted a nice bold, orange color and ended up getting a peachy orange.  Meh.  The lovebirds and their guests liked them and said they were great so I could care about the color.  It was a last minute request so as long as they tasted fine and looked half decent… it’s all good.

engagement cupcakes for J & D

 

3) My little brother and sister’s birthdays were the end of September, but since my bro was coming to town this past weekend for Geekfest 2011, we had decided to wait to celebrate their birthdays later.  (And by “little” I’m making a reference to the age order.  I’m the oldest but I’m also the runt of the group and I have a mild Napoleon complex so I pull rank and still call them “little”  =)  I don’t quite remember the exact details that led up to this situation, but a few months back, I asked my sister what kind of cake she wanted for her birthday and somehow we were talking about being old and if she was cake decorating, then her cake would look like a My Little Pony taking a poo.  Really.  Don’t ask.  We discuss really random things and I think the two of us take the cake (pun!) when I say we can really talk about anything.  haha  So… since I didn’t have the time to sculpt a My Little Pony out of fondant or molding chocolate, I just bought this little cake topper thing from Amazon.  I had left over cake batter from the previous week’s red velvet engagement cupcakes, so I made a little 4″ filled cake with cream cheese frosting.  The top of the cake box caved in and smushed the top of the cake so I did a quick fix and covered the edge with shaved chocolate.  It didn’t look half bad for a speedy on-the-spot repair.  In went the plastic figurine, and I brought a little sandwich bag of chocolate frosting for the poo and made a little blob by the tail.  It looked weird as hell and you wouldn’t get it had I not mentioned the odd backstory, but eh, it was funny and everyone liked it.  haha

Left: chocolate frosting in a Ziploc bag... looking like a sandwich bag (which, by the way, is a perfect MacGyver substitute for a piping bag) of poo; Right: a plastic My Little Pony taking a dump on a mini red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting and messily strewn chocolate shavings

My little bro (he’s almost 6 feet tall and if he didn’t have such a baby face, he’d make a good linebacker) has a thing for pies.  I don’t know why he’s obsessed with pies, but since I’m a caring and thoughtful big sis, I made little banoffee pies for him instead of cake.  Last month, a girl friend and I checked out this place in the Village that was apparently known for this British dessert made of banana + toffee.  I got a slice to go and it was really tasty!  And I realized it was super easy to make for those times you’re in a time crunch (I was working on my sister’s cake the same time I was prepping the pie)!  I was in a bind so I bought ready made graham cracker crusts, but I still made the toffee, sliced the bananas, whipped the cream and hand shaved the chocolate.  You pretty much dump those ingredients into the pie crust, refrigerate, and eat.  As long as my brother and sister liked their speedy birthday baked goods, I was happy.  It was a nice way to end our family dinner  =)

Mini banoffee pies... I should've taken a pic of a half-eaten one to show the layers =/

4) We had our open house the day after my sibs’ birthday dinner.  I figured it wouldn’t hurt to sweeten the pot (another pun! I’m on a freaking roll!) for potential buyers checking out the house, so I made about 4 dozen mini red velvet cupcakes when I made my sister’s mini cake.  I used the last of my cream cheese frosting batch and made quick ghetto swirls on all those minis.  A few of them looked sloppy, but eh, I was being speedy since I needed to set them out quickly (what else is new these days?) and plopped them onto my glass cake stands.  Vin made a nice little sign and laid out my baking cards and napkins, and we rushed out the door so the realtor could work her magic.  She told us later that the cupcakes were a hit and that quite a few people were really interested in the house… but we haven’t heard anything since  =(   We’re just waiting for those offers to come rolling in.  Any day now.  C’mon, people… my house is realllly nice…

I’m pretty much spent.  I have a bridal shower order for this weekend and wedding favors for the same beautiful bride-to be, then making mini cupcakes in support of a rising actress friend’s play, but other than that I can’t really take anything else on with the borderline suicidal workload and all the extra effort needed in keeping the house neat and clean.  Such a Catch-22 getting all this business now and I have to turn people down b/c of my real job.  Meh.  I was thinking of making something pumpkin-y for Halloween, but who knows.  Aside from these projects, I’ll probably just be baking for Thanksgiving and Christmas family holiday dinners… and catching up on sleep.  And I’m kiiiiinda sick of red velvet now.  =P

Little Miss Irene came and went this past weekend without leaving her mark on our property.  There were some of us that said the storm would be overhyped in our area so we just stayed in and didn’t buy into the apocalyptic frenzy at the supermarkets, especially b/c we were fully stocked with liquids and snacks and batteries and candles and food anyway.  (I went grocery shopping on Monday afternoon and it was kind of funny to see bare shelves where cases and cases of water used to be and one lone dented jar of peanut butter next to tons of jelly and jam.)  We got lucky.  Some parts of the East Coast were hit hard: crazy flooding that covered cars, huge trees that crushed houses, and power outages that are STILL ongoing =(  Thankfully, no one I know got hurt…

The only thing that affected us was that the LIRR was suspended on Monday.  Man, what a pity =P  Vin and I worked from home and I was excited to use the extra time NOT COMMUTING to bake.  That didn’t happen.  A realtor was coming to check out our house the next day and I rushed to tidy up the place to appear semi-presentable.  I left work early to make sure I got home in time for the appointment with the real estate agent.  The train ride was surprisingly on time, so I had a couple hours to spare and decided to start making the dough for cream puffs, or pâte à choux en français.   I triple-checked to make sure I didn’t leave anything off the super simple ingredient list and cut the measurements in half (uhh, I have no reason to be making 80 puffs). 

Filled pâte à choux

As with many things that come out of my oven, this was a first time experiment and I made some amendments.  The first adjustment was… I mixed everything by hand.  I didn’t want to make a huge mess with the mixer so I mixed the dough with a wooden spoon and whisked the filling by hand.  And you wonder why I have Michelle Obama arms.  (Just kidding!)  I also added a whole extra egg to the dough just b/c I just felt like it.  In overused reality TV show speak, “this could totally make or break me,” and it turned out to be a great idea.  No risk, no reward, right?  (Though, I shouldn’t really be thinking such things considering my job.  haha)   The other change was that the recipe said to bake the choux for 25 min @ 380 degrees.  Uh… not in this kitchen.  I tested my first tray of puffs @ 350 for 10 minutes and they didn’t puff up enough (still tasty even though they look more like macarons than puffed pastries), so I tried the next tray @ 370 for 10 minutes.  MUCH better.  The final tray was the best @ 370 degrees for 12 minutes.  They were a buttery golden brown on top and puffed up to look like pastry roses b/c I piped them in swirl shapes.  I was worried about burning them or over-drying them, but I think if I left them in for just 30 seconds longer they would have been absolutely perfect.  Maybe.  I don’t know.  It needs to be tested.  =)

The realtor came in as I was placing the choux on the cooling rack and the house conveniently smelled awesome.  Seriously dude, I need to bottle that sh*t in a spray and have this odor wafting through the house whenever potential buyers come so maybe we won’t have our house stay on the market for long… I’d offer a year’s supply of baked goods to whoever buys our house but unfortunately I don’t think that’ll seal the deal.  haha  I whipped up a basic filling that tasted like a mix between whipped cream and Boston creme pie filling and squirted it in the puffs until they overflowed.  Vin tried one of the unfilled f*ck-ups.  He said it was still light, airy and fluffy. I couldn’t fill the flatter choux so I just dipped them in chocolate and dropped rainbow sprinkles on them.  Haphazard?  Yes!  Gross tasting? No!

I packed a bunch for my coworker since it was her birthday, hid a couple in Vin’s lunch, brought some to my sister and her boyfriend, and added some as part of a housewarming gift to a friend.  So far, the feedback has been outstanding (yay!): my coworkers loved them and said, “You always make people happy with your baking!”, my friend said “They’re so light and awesome I feel like I could keep popping them in” [A, that’s a totally TWSS  =P], and my sister said they were “Delightful!”  Vin said this is his favorite thing I’ve baked so far (crème brûlée, you just got served!) and almost ate all the extras last night.  haha  I can’t believe how incredibly easy this was, and I think for Thanksgiving I’m going to make a tower of them with caramel and spun sugar.  And hopefully, making a croquembouche won’t keep me up all night baking the day before the party.  haha

One cinnamon-lemon roll with lemon-cream cheese glaze and lemon zest

We had friends visiting this weekend and I had planned on making a nice breakfast and baking lemon rolls for them to wake up to on Sunday morning.  They ended up just staying for the day on Saturday b/c of a high-maintenance pet back @ the apartment… boo.  But I still wanted to make the lemon rolls anyway.  So I did.

Freshly baked cinnamon-lemon rolls

Making rolls isn’t so much complicated as it is time-consuming.  It mostly consists of waiting for the dough to rise.  I grated and juiced three lemons by hand (LOVE the scent… so fresh and so clean, clean!) and then made dough.  The recipe I used didn’t call for cinnamon, but I couldn’t help it.  I couldn’t have a cinnamon-less cinnamon roll.  So I snuck in a tablespoon to go along with the nutmeg.  While the dough rose, I started prepping for dinner… which isn’t baking related @ all but I was really, really excited about it so I had to share.  Plus, it ties in with the cinnamon and citrus theme anyway.  =)

Being that it was a rainy, dreary, completely blah Sunday, it was perfect weather for soup.  Not just any soup, but Vietnamese pho ♥  We had some oxtail in the freezer and I was craving this and waiting for the right time to make it, and I had the perfect opportunity being stuck inside with the crappy waterworks outside and 8 hours @ home on my hands.  This is the equivalent of an Italian grandmother spending all day making the perfect sauce; I needed all day to get the meat super tender and the broth flavor JUST right.  I started braising the oxtail around noon and worked on prepping the soup and getting the lemon rolls together @ the same time.  As the dough was rising the first time, I got my seasonings together for pho: seasoning packet, paste, fish sauce, roasted onion and ginger, star anise, peppercorns, cardamom seeds, cloves, sugar, chiles, and cinnamon sticks to go w/the theme of the day (the citrus will come later).  I just let all this simmer in the biggest pot in the house so I’d be able to save the extra broth for when I’d have my next hankering for Viet food… which will probably be for dinner tonight  haha

I went back to the dough and patted it out to fill it with the lemon-sugar mixture, roll it up, and laid them out in a Pyrex dish.  I was tempted to add more cinnamon and anise flavoring to the rolls, but I was worried it might be too much.  Maybe the smell of the soup was permeating my brain and I wanted everything to have the same taste.  haha  I had to let the cut up dough sit and rise AGAIN, so after sealing plastic wrap over the Pyrex, I sampled the broth in the metal tub on the stove.  *sigh*  The flavor definitely reminded me of home.  I added some beef balls (Asian meatballs, not the Rocky Mountain oysters variety) and prepped the rest of the fixin’s for the soup: lime, onion slices, scallions, and jalapenos for more heat and greenery and took out some hoisin sauce and Sri racha.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have fresh cilantro, Thai basil, or bean sprouts.  Enough said about the limited selection here in my ‘hood; I made do with what was available (and the special ingredients smuggled over by my mom and my sister) and it was pretty damn good.  My mom bought me a pack of broad pho noodles and I boiled them al dente so it wouldn’t get too mushy in the soup.  The oxtail fell off the bone; it was just so flavorful and tender.  And after Vin and I had two bowls each, I had enough leftover broth and meat to fill five plastic quart containers.  This means I’ll be happy with awesome dinners for the rest of this week!

Oxtail and beef ball pho... yum!

While the rolls were baking in the oven, I made a glaze topping out of cream cheese, sugar, and lemon juice. I really like it; it’s not too sweet, the citrus provides a nice amount of tartness, and it’s really creamy.  The baking was the only minor glitch in my day, and even then the unexpected surprise didn’t turn out to be so bad.  Knowing how hot the oven (or what Vin referred to as “the mutant”) gets, I cut down the suggested baking time by a substantial amount and reduced the oven temp by 25 degrees after about 10-15 minutes.  Good thing I made adjustments b/c I pretty much had to take them out of the oven when I checked on them because I didn’t want them to be overdone.  After the rolls cooled a bit, I spread the glaze on and sprinkled the remaining lemon zest.  The edges were a teeny bit drier than I’d prefer and I wish it was a little gooey-er in the center of the roll, but it still tasted really good.  I just had one for lunch today and it was perfect after zapping it in the microwave for 30 seconds.  Vin had one for breakfast @ work.  I gave one to a co-worker b/c it was his birthday.  And there is STILL a huge tray leftover.  Into the fridge it went…

Fully glazed and zested lemon rolls

There are times when my fridge and I go head to head and see who will come out on top b/c only so much can fit in there.  Between all the soup components and broth containers, the lemon rolls, tons of beer I’m not able to drink, other leftovers, and the rest of the food, it was pretty packed.  But I think I inherited my dad’s packrat skills and was able to fit everything comfortably in there.  I win again, fridge… you have no chance.  =)

I promised my mixer and oven some time off this week since they were worked to the point of slave labor during most of July (my poor oven… it seriously needs a cleaning).  But I felt like I still had to make SOMETHING and ended up using the stove and microwave instead.

I had about a dozen leftover red velvet cupcakes from last weekend’s bake-a-thon.  These were the f*ck-ups; they were a tray of red velvet gone wrong and was slightly overbaked in my inferno oven.  They didn’t taste bad; they were just a little dry but I would have been mortified to give them out to anyone b/c they weren’t absolutely perfect.  Plus, a week had gone by and they were starting to take up prime real estate in the fridge.  I also had 2 boxes of strawberries I bought last week that were about to turn, so it was getting to the use ’em or lose ’em stage.  However, being Asian, I felt guilty letting good food go to waste (thanks, mom!  =P)  so I gave myself a “Chopped”-like challenge with a subconscious spherical theme in mind.  What to do with very ripe strawberries and stale red velvet cupcakes…

Strawberry-rose mochi with red velvet cake balls. Yes, I know the plating attempt is cheesy. haha Vin's photography just made it look nice =)

The cupcakes were an easy save: cake balls.  They were actually a pretty ideal consistency for crumbling into… um, crumbs, and I just mashed it with some leftover cream cheese frosting.  I got a dozen little balls out of this and dipped half of them in melted Hershey’s milk chocolate and the other half in the never-ending supply I have of green candy coating.  I think I got the hang of making cake balls now that I figured out what tools work best and I’m pretty deft with the whole dunk/swirl/gently-yet-quickly-get-dipped-ball-off-stick-to-dry-on-tray-with-minimal-touching thing.  It took muuuuuuch less time than my first time w/the balls and I’m sure I’ll be a ball-dipping machine come fall for those wedding orders.  (TWSS!)  And there you have your basic reconstructed cake –> cake balls.

Now for the strawberries, there were so many options.  At first, I was thinking of making strawberry shortcake but then I’d have to bake the buttermilk biscuits and that would go against my “no baking” rule.  So I looked through my flour and spice collection and saw a box of rice flour I bought a while back from this Korean grocery store in LI.  (It’s a b*tch to get to though, and even then I still have to ask my sister to smuggle me some goods from Manhattan’s Chinatown b/c this place doesn’t have much in terms of Viet ingredients).  I’ve been meaning to make mochi, so I decided it would be good to try to test out strawberry mochi.  I chopped up 2 pints of strawberries into 1/4″ pieces and made a fresh compote for the filling.  I don’t know why, but I felt like throwing in some vanilla, rum, and rose water in the compote and now the whole house smells like roses.  I mixed in some drained liquid from the cooked compote to enhance the strawberry flavor in the mochi dough.  It was sooo sticky.  I kept coating my hands and the roller with powder so it wouldn’t stick to everything, and that probably changed the whole consistency.  This was definitely an experiment.  I mean, it IS pretty unconventional and non-traditional b/c I didn’t use red bean or green tea filling, but hey, what the hell, you can’t die from eating it and personally I thought it tasted good.

I had Vin try a test mochi ball while he was editing pics from a photo job.  Here’s how the exchange went down:

Me: Hey baby, you want to try a bite of the mochi?

Vin [eyeballs the pink ball in my hand like I just stuck an alien fetus in his face]: Uh… sure. [He takes a smaller bite than I thought he would.] …Interesting.

Me [I cock my head and raise my left eyebrow–it’s a reflex, I can’t help it–and blink @ him for a couple seconds]: You’ve HAD mochi before, right?

Vin: Uhhhh oh look, I was about to spell “Greene Ave” incorrectly for this caption…

[I blink @ him again, then quickly turn my heel and walk out of the room.]

Vin [calling out after me]: Yeah, I’ve had it before!  It tastes gummy… like edible gum… that you can eat…  [His voice trails off in the distance as I’m already back in the kitchen, sulking.]

PPPfffffttt.  Sorry, baby, but that was weak.  That was like, giving your wife the wrong answer when she asks, “Does this dress make me look fat?”… which, I can honestly say, I’ve never tricked Vin with that question with the intent of entrapment.  haha   Whatever, I’m just teasing…  he’s the best and most supportive taste tester ever <3  But I admit, “…interesting” was not what I wanted to hear. 

I decided to take a couple mochi balls into work to get better feedback.   It sounds like food snobbery, but well… some of my co-workers are Japanese and I’ll believe their critique over Vin’s on this one.  haha  I brought in a couple to one of the Admins and she was instantly impressed by their appearance (phew!).  I should probably disclose that she loves strawberries so maybe her opinion may be a LITTLE biased, but my co-worker was honest.  She said that my “homework was to make the mochi dough a little stickier”, but other than that they were “really good!”, she liked the flavor combination, and she said they looked really nice considering I don’t have a mochi machine (I wasn’t aware these things existed  haha)  Yay!  It wasn’t a terrible review @ all!

I’m pleased now and can go merrily back to baking.  This weekend is Vin’s brother’s birthday and the plan is to make something really special.  Stay tuned…

Bacon cornbread with Sriracha & truffle salt butter

A few weeks ago, my cousin and I were griping about how certain foods have become ridiculous fads.  I was rolling my eyes about how Sriracha sauce was EVERYWHERE as a go-to ingredient and was seen in every other cooking show like it had JUST been discovered, and my cousin was disgusted with the bacon-everything craze and how it abuses the privilege of enjoying bacon.  It got to the point where we tried to think of the craziest food product that contained the most overhyped ingredients, and we came up with: truffle and bacon bread with artisanal cheese and ramps topped with Sriracha crème fraîche with a side of foie gras and a cupcake (ok, that last one hit home a little, but I agree; it’s totally trendy  hahaha).  As my cousin said, “I love those things independently, but together, it’s grotesque.”

These look fancy enough to be served at a trendy restaurant. Let’s see who steals this snack… watch, it’ll be on “Top Chef” or “Chopped” or something soon  =P

All our bitching aside, I didn’t have any orders this weekend so I had some free time to experiment and decided to basically make a grotesque concoction of our fad food pet peeves… well, minus the ramps (they don’t exist in the ‘burbs of LI), the crème fraîche (I COULD have made it @ home, but it would have taken a couple days and I didn’t feel like waiting when I could just watch the “South Park” episode  instead), foie gras (see explanation for “ramps” above… Vin and I were overjoyed to have found bone marrow a few times @ the supermarket but it’s not a readily available product), and the cupcake (I hadn’t baked cakes since Vin’s steak cake and unfortunately we had to throw out the leftovers.  Like steak, cake and fondant don’t last forever).  I ended up making cornbread mixed with bacon and Vermont white cheddar cheese (aged… in our fridge) with Sriracha butter and truffle-seasoned salt (yes, it’s a knock-off, but truffles are wicked expensive and if anyone wants to buy me one, be my guest).  And the kicker is… “grotesque” ended up looking AND tasting pretty good.  I made different variations of it: one with the elegant swirl of spicy orange-hued butter topped with a bacon crisp, and the other had chopped candied bacon bits sprinkled on it.  I only had a square of cornbread and bacon since any more would be pushing it and I’d be back in the hospital, but it really wasn’t too bad with the light hint of brown sugar.  Vin said it was pretty tasty, too.  Either way, the Sriracha butter was surprisingly delicious.  That stuff is a keeper.  And I can say that b/c I’ve pretty much been eating Sriracha w/Viet food since I was born and I keep a stockpile of it in our basement.  Like butter, I’d get antsy if we were ever down to the last bottle.  haha 

Toffee and chocolate cake cookie bars

I actually wanted to make something more elaborate like macarons or a specialty cake this weekend, but I had a migraine yesterday and my head was pounding too much to prep in advance for major baking projects.  I still felt the cloudiness in my head and had bouts of “fuzzy vision” today, but I had to bake SOMETHING.  Yet I felt the trendy cornbread was too quick and easy, so I rummaged up some dark chocolate and crushed Heath bar cookies, but baked them in the same square-shaped pan as the cornbread (I really like this shape) so it came out a bit more like cake.  Two baked items in one afternoon… not too shabby, eh?

OK, this post is a day late, but that doesn’t mean the cake doesn’t taste good!  I took a couple weeks off from baking because my butter and sugar supply had depleted to nothing and because this little project damned near wiped me out.  We went to Costco over the weekend and I restocked on butter and powdered sugar, so impending panic attacks were averted and we were good to slowly get back in the game.  The suggestion to make a king cake for Mardi Gras was perfect for what I’d like to call my “physical therapy and recovery” phase.  haha

Vin took me to New Orleans a couple years ago for my birthday and we ate and drank our faces off.  Un/fortunately, I’ve never experienced full-fledged Mardi Gras insanity in the Big Easy before Ash Wednesday and making this king cake is probably as festive as I’m going to get for it.  I’ve never made it before (really, like nothing else in this blog is about first time baking experiments) but I remember having it in elementary school and that it was basically bread with colored sugar and some kid almost broke their tooth and choked chomping down on the plastic baby Jesus inside.  We learned AFTERWARD that you were supposed to have good luck for the year if you got the Christ child in your piece of king cake.  Luckily, I don’t have a little figurine to sneak inside the cake so your teeth are safe. 

Purple food coloring tastes terrible.  Even in sugar.  Eww.

There are several variations of king cake: plain or filled, usually with cream and/or fruit.  I picked strawberry and cream cheese filling since it sounded delicious (thank you, Danielle).  And the consistency is more like bread than cake.  I made the bread dough from scratch and felt obligated to use the mixer (the monster looked dusty and lonely and was giving me this forlorn “you don’t love me anymore” look) so I used the bread hook attachment.  It probably took the same amount of time as it would if I mixed this by hand with a wooden spoon.  Whatever.  I waited an hour for the dough to rise and prepped the cream cheese and strawberry fillings in the meantime.  After flattening out the dough and layering the fillings on top, I rolled the mess into a Bundt pan and let it rise again before popping it into the oven.  Meanwhile, I worked on the sugar icing and colored sugar topping.  Vibrant yellow, green, and purple drops of food coloring went into the sugar cups and I made a slightly runny glaze to drizzle on top of the cake.  I admit I was worried with sugar being included in every step of this, but as my sister said, “wow, this sounds amazingly unhealthy.”  Enjoy the gluttony before Lent! 

Apologies for the sloppy decorating.  And because of the soft filling, it looks pretty unappetizing inside, but all I can say is that it’s supposed to be ooey and gooey and it tastes awesome and one slice covers 200% of your daily recommended intake of sugar.  haha  If you ask nicely I’ll bring you a piece!  No boobs or beads necessary, thanks.  =D

I’m planning on making something this weekend, not necessarily Irish-themed since I already made these a couple months ago…  I’ll get back to you on that and will have a new post on Monday!

This past weekend was a roller coaster ride of emotions.  Up: Vin and I had our nice little romantic Valentine’s Day outing; Down: he got a migraine. Up: we both decided we wanted to move back to the city and had a realtor come to check out our house; Down: the housing market is much worse than we thought and the only way we could sell the house is to take a huge, heart attack-inducing loss.  On the plus side, I’ll still have a nice spacious kitchen to work in for a while…  but I AM trying to whittle down my possessions so we’ll be ready to GTFO when the time comes.  Let’s just hope I haven’t lost my mind by then.  haha  Trying to part with my crap will probably be like pulling teeth, but getting back to Manhattan is motivation enough to pare down to the bare bones necessities: shoes, dresses, and (duh) baking supplies. 

Cherry-chocolate cream cheese cupcake!

Speaking of baking supplies, I need to buy more cupcake wrappers.  I had no idea I was going through so many so quickly, especially the mini ones.  I decided a couple weeks ago that I wanted to make little cheesecakes for Valentine’s Day and discovered I’m running low on those little liners.  And I browsed the Interwebs for a legit cake cheesecake recipe but couldn’t find one; searches for “cheesecake cupcakes” led me to miniature cheesecakes in cupcake liners.  Pppfffftttt.  I’ve made that before… good, basic, but nothing too special.  I wanted to achieve a legit airy cake-like consistency, not just make little cheesecakes, so I did what any mad scientist aspiring pastry chef would do: I made up my own recipe.

This is the first time I tried to concoct an entire recipe on my own.  My little cake dealer notebook (yes, I have a notebook that has “The Cake Dealer” and skulls and flowers printed on it, thank you very much, Vistaprint) now has a page full of scribbles and crazed writing with a recipe that I think actually works quite well casinonorske.com Spill Rulett Spill.  I kept trying the batter and adding more of this and that and guessed how much flour I needed, and I may have a minor stomach ache from tasting too many raw eggs.  Or it could be from all the salty/fried crap I ate this weekend.  Anyway, even the baking time and temperature were part of my mad experiment, but I’m quite proud of my trial and error… actually, not too many errors; the cupcakes actually do have a light cake-like texture with cheesecake taste.  And they’re not too sweet @ all, which is fine b/c they’ll go perfectly with the fruit topping and not be overloaded with sugar.

I topped these mini cupcakes with cherry pie filling and felt extra creative and baked chocolate batter into some of the regular sized cupcakes. And of course it wouldn’t be cheesecake without the graham cracker crust, so if you look closely at the bottom of the cupcake liners, that’s not burned cake… it’s the pièce de résistance.  =)

It’s past 1 am and I need to get up in 4 hours.  I got a late start on my baking today and didn’t have time to make gallons of frosting for what I hope to be is my greatest masterpiece… stay tuned for next week’s dramatic episode of The Cake Dealer chronic-what-cles to find out how it goes!  hahaha

Happy <3 day!!!

Thank goodness Christmas is done and over with!  I was on a baking binge for the past week.  I just couldn’t stop making SOMETHING and I made almost one item a day.  Insane!  I feel like confectioner’s sugar, flour, and butter are seeping out of my pores.  I think I need to detox now.

 

For Christmas eve dinner @ the T house I made another Bundt loaf of savory monkey bread.  Personally, I think it came out better for Thanksgiving because I used more butter.  Seriously, what was I thinking trying to cut down on the butter for Christmas?  It was still good.  There was about half the loaf left by the time the 14 of us were done eating.  Vin and I packed up some leftovers but left the bread for Mom T.  I can easily make some @ home for us (more on this below) and she loved it the most, so it’s the least I could do  =)

 

I brought over the eggnog crème brûlées for Christmas eve dessert and they were a hit. Vin helped me torch the sugar just before serving and went around telling everyone to eat them and basically shoved the ramekins in their faces.  (Aww… my #1 fan  <3)  I introduced one of my brothers-in-law to it since he had never had crème brûlée before, and another one was raving about it all night (then again, he and Vin had a lot of scotch so it could have been the liquor talking  hahaha). I didn’t try any during Christmas eve, but today I had a little bit of the last ramekin we saved.  The custard consistency was perfect and the flavor of my improvised eggnog was on the money.  It was so money it was like Guy Fieri and his permanent sunglasses tan.  Now, what other flavors can I infuse into the next batch of crème brûlée… HHHMMMmmmm…

 

So I lied and broke out mixer again before New Year’s.  Poor baby.  The little monster probably thinks I hate it because I’m so abusive.  Whatever.  It’s still protected by the warranty and I needed to make frosting.  I still had plenty of leftover chocolate cupcakes and we were going to make rounds to see other family, so I decided to whip up frosting and quickly ice two dozen cupcakes and a dozen minis.  I have a tendency to rummage and be impulsive, so on a whim, I made Bailey’s mint-flavored frosting.  Yes, you read that correctly: Bailey’s.  With mint.  And it was delicious!  I swirled it on the cupcakes and sprinkled some red/green/white sugar on top and voila!  Instant awesome desserts.  We brought a dozen to each of Vin’s sisters’ houses.  I have to say, I always like watching everyone’s reactions when they eat my baked goods because I always worry it doesn’t come out well or they don’t like it, so when people say, “This is the best chocolate cupcake I’ve ever had!” or “The frosting is perfect!” or “Oh my God I’m soooo full but I ate the whole thing it was so good!”… I just love it!  It’s all I need.  As long as I have fans who like eating my baked goods, I’ll keep having fun  =)

The view from our front porch @ 8 pm
Today is the day after Christmas and it’s been snowing alllll day.  It’s coming down hard and it’s so windy the house is creaking… like there’s someone walking around in the attic *shudder!*  We had the fire going today, and I made more savory monkey bread just for the two of us.  This time, I added crushed red pepper for some kick and Vin chopped up some green olives and pimentos to incorporate in the bread.  And I used smaller square pans.  And more butter =P  They came out flawless this time.  There’s a wonderful crust along the edges but a fantastic chewiness inside and the flavor of the olives just takes it to another level.  I wasn’t intending on baking today, but it was nice to have the oven on the warm the house.  Or… smoke up the house because the butter bubbled over and burned in the bottom of the oven, which made smoke come out and the detector to go off and Vin laugh @ me and ask, “What is going on in there?”  hahaha  Oooops.  Either way, the kitchen smells awesome.
The roaring fireplace in our sick living room.

Right now Vin is playing with his Christmas present.  Let’s hope it doesn’t fritz out on him or I’d be pissed.  And I don’t even know where to start with mine.  It’s a crazy awesome machine that’s “1) a very mysterious and powerful device and 2) its mystery is only exceeded by its power”. (Ten points if you know where that’s from. Hint: it’s my favorite movie.)  I think I’m going to let it sit in the box for a while (you can even see it on the left in the pic of our living room) and let the idea of my owning a crazy Cricut Cake machine fester.  I don’t even know where to start with this.  It’s like… if I take it out, it’ll force me to go to the next step: using fondant.  That’s unknown territory I’m not quite ready for yet…

I had planned to make crème brûlée @ some point this week but wasn’t sure when I would have the time.  Of course inspiration randomly bit me in the @ss as I was staring out the window on the LIRR, on my way home from a late evening out with a girl friend.  By “late” I mean the night ended @ 8:50 pm. On a work night.  OOOoooohhhh… totally girls gone wild, right?  hahaha  Anyway, after Vin picked me up and I put away the dishes to make room for the ones in the overflowing sink, I noticed that he was “photo-ing”.  And the “Inception” soundtrack was playing.  And I took this to be my cue to get started on the crème brûlée because the aforementioned “photo-ing” (a.k.a. “photo editing”) would take some time.  @ 11:40 pm.  On a work night.  I wasn’t feeling like I wanted to make the same old crème brûlée, which, I’ve made plenty of times before since it’s Vin’s favorite dessert. So after taking out the separated egg yolks (the whites are for macarons!), I came across imitation rum extract while rummaging through my random flavors.  I figured I might as well take a shot @ making something slightly different and thought eggnog would be perfect!  A splash of “rum” here, a dash of nutmeg there, a hint of cinnamon…. I sipped a taste and the flavors were pretty spot on.  And from what I gather, the actual recipe for eggnog is very similar to the pre-oven crème brûlée mixture anyway.  I filled the ramekins to the brim and the delicious holiday smell of ‘nog wafted from the oven.  


Right now the ramekins are cooling in the fridge.  I’ll have to post a picture of the actual brûlée’d caramel top tomorrow (err… later today) before we eat it.  Why not now?  It’s almost 2 in the morning and I’m in no mood for sugar now and… it’s a work night.  This midnight-insomnia baking is getting a bit out of hand…

Update 12/26/10: click here for a shot of a torched crème brûlée serving.