Saturday, December 30, 2006

Pie in the Sky

One day at a friend's summer party I met a man who had been referred to as The Evil Pie Man. He was one of the hostess's best friends, and he was infamous for his decadent pies. He was dubbed Evil Pie Man because his pies were so good that they would entice you, no matter how long you had been dieting, no matter how much you had already eaten, to eat at least two pieces. And he would usually show up with several different pies. So doing the math, you knew if he was coming that you'd be eating at least four pieces of pie that night, if not more.

When I met him we hit it off right from the start. He was a very funny, very intelligent man which also meant that he was witty and clever. Plus, he was a lover of all things decadent and sumptous.

It was around this time that I started baking the RLB way, and as I needed places to bring my cakes, it became known that if I was showing up to a potluck you knew I was bringing cake. And so it became that Evil Pie Man would show up with his two or more pies and I would show up with my latest cake.

Hence I became the Evil Cake Lady.

Evil Pie Man decided at some point to "get healthy," which meant he wasn't going to supply cigarettes for me, the hostess, and himself to smoke in the backyard with our cocktails, and he stopped baking his delicious pies when he stopped eating sugar. Sigh. A little less decadent, but still the same caring, witty, delightful individual.

Evil Pie Man passed away in his sleep the other night, and I will miss his company at our friend's gatherings from now on. To his family and friends, I wish you ease of heart and a gentle healing. And to The Evil Pie Man, I wish you a safe journey back home. You will be missed.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Trifle Spongy


I have known my friend Cookie since our first day of college in 1991. She was a fresh transplant from the real OC, and I had come from the bay area. I didn’t think much of her at first, mainly because I was trained as a bay area girl to strongly dislike anyone and anything coming from the LA area of California, because LA gave the rest of California a bad name (still does).

We lived in this pseudo-hippie, pseudo-anarchist dorm call Metanoia. At least, for the mostly conservative campus of Willamette, we were all pseudo-hippie-anarchist-commie-pinko-scum. Metanoia was a smaller dorm (two floors with about 17 people per floor) located in what used to be a frat house. The fraternity had been kicked off campus a year or two earlier for accusations of gang rape and whatnot. The frat houses were clustered at the ends of the two large, general dorms on the east side of campus, and the frat boys hated us. I mean, HATED US.

I think living amongst such animosity drew out little clan tighter together in some respects. We Metanoian freshmen had spent a long evening together on the first night sharing stories and bonding, and when the rest of the house moved in a day or two later most people were very welcoming and accepting. I met some of my closest friends that first night, and crazy OC Cookie is one of them.

Fast forward to present day: Cookie is making Christmas dinner for her family and has decided to make a fabulous trifle for dessert. She needs a couple rounds of sponge cake, and instead of buying them, or baking them herself, she asked me to do it.

Of course I’d do it—it’s baking! Plus, she bribed me with pizza and beer. Which when I got to her house, included a CostCo hot dog. A win-win situation for everybody.

Cookie got married last year and one of her wedding gifts was a lovely red KitchenAid mixer. She keeps it in the box in her pantry. The first time she used it was last December when Joelf, Cookie, and I made cookies. This was the second time she used it.

Her red KitchenAid purrs like a kitten. Mine has been around the block a bit and I use the hell out of it—not that she’s faltering in any way but she is a lot noisier than Cookie’s Red. A pleasure to work with.

little red kitchenaid
sweet Red

December 20, 2006
Name of cake: Trifley Sponge Cake
Occasion: Cookie’s Making a Trifle
Constituents: one recipe Biscuit Roulade, baked in a sheet pan

how do you pronounce that?
it's not "BisKit", its "BeeskWee"

For her sponge cake, I chose to make the Biscuit Roulade because you bake it up in a sheet pan, and cut out your rounds afterwards. It turns out a super light, fluffy, golden cake that is about ¾ to 1 inch tall and dissolves in your mouth. It would make a great jelly roll-type cake.

This cake is all egg and sweetness. There is only about 200 grams of flour and a tiny bit of cornstarch, plus four eggs and one extra egg yolk. There is about twice as much sugar as there is flour, and a little bit of vanilla for flavor. No butter, no oil, no fat.

so puffy

RLB says this cake will either need to be encased in moist stuff like Bavarian cream, whipping cream, or the like or else you need to moisten it with a sugar syrup. I think Cookie is going to do both. She wants to spike it with dark rum.

The cake comes together pretty easily, but like all European-type sponge cake you either need two bowls for your mixer or else a hand-held beater as well. Or, you could do what I’ve been doing all these years which is to beat up the yolks and fold in the flour, transfer the mixture to another bowl, wash and dry the mixing bowl and whisk attachment, reuse the bowl and whisk to whip up the egg whites and sugar, and fold into the yolk mixture standing in the wings. I wonder if I am messing with the batter too much and deflating it more than necessary with all my transfers and whatnot. I probably am, but so far the sponge cakes I’ve made seem to have been okay. It's just a pain in the hoohah.

I tried to get Cookie involved in helping with the cake by asking her to separate two eggs. I forgot that she has a slimy issue and usually wears latex gloves when dealing with anything that could be slimy, like raw meat and eggs. Cookie delegated the egg separating task to her husband, Jeremy. Who did a fabulous job. Thanks, Jeremy!

gloves, rum, diet coke
gloves, rum, diet coke, and Cookie

The cake bakes in a 450 oven for 7 minutes, or until springy and golden brown. Our cake smelled delicious, just like a yellow cake would. We wanted to break out some chocolate chip whipped cream and spread it thick over the cake, roll it up, and eat it with some vanilla ice cream. Or—maybe that was just me.

I instructed her to report back on the trifle, and to take some pictures of it. Here’s to wishing her great success!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Coleen's Chocolate-Chocolate Cake

I have a headache. Too much cake.

Coleen is a wonderful friend of mine; she is caring and nurturing, and she believes in feeding whoever walks through her door. On Sunday she turned 50 something, but make no mistake--she still is a wild child. She dreams of studying the secrets in the shadows of steamy green jungles in South America. In the meantime, she works in the health care industry and tends to a yummy garden in NE Portland.

And she likes chocolate.

Last year I baked her an experimental Turtle Cake which was pretty darn good and all, but this year I have outdone even myself. If I may say so myself.

December 15, 2006
Name of Cake: Super Chocolate Cake
Occasion: Coleen's Birthday!
Constituents: two layers chocolate fudge cake filled and frosted with milk chocolate buttercream

If you are at all interested in baking the best cake ever, please buy RLB's The Cake Bible. I am serious. People always marvel over my cakes and how they taste good but they aren't too sweet. Come on people: it is possible to have a tasty dessert whose predominant flavor isn't sweet. It could be, oh I don't know, CHOCOLATE! Or, VANILLA! Or, ANYTHING BUT SUGAR! Dare to dream my friends, dare to dream.

So this cake, the chocolate fudge cake, is different than regular chocolate cake because it is made with brown sugar instead of regular sugar. The molasses in the brown sugar gives the cake a slightly bitter, earthy edge and brings more moisture to the cake. You can just barely detect that something is different about this cake; there is a more complex flavor due to the brown sugar which is very enjoyable.

Also, RLB uses cocoa powder instead of melted chocolate for her cakes. This gives the baker the ability to control the amount of sugar in relation to the amount of chocolate--if you use melted chocolate you will always be adding sugar when you add the chocolate. Also, cocoa powder gives you control over the amount of moisture being added and in what form. RLB believes that using milk in conjunction with chocolate brings out an unpleasant bitterness, so she uses water and cocoa powder. To the traditional cake baker this may seem like a terrible thing to do, and that you would lose some of the richness and flavor to use water instead of milk, but believe me that is not the case. What you get is a full, unadulterated, non-diluted chocolate taste.

So what did I do to make this cake so damn good?
1. Followed the recipe precisely.
1a. I mean, I weigh all the ingredients, and I even weigh the egg yolks and egg whites separately. Why? The egg yolk conspiracy.
2. RLB instructs you to boil the water and add it to the cocoa powder, stir thoroughly and let it cool to room temperature. Basically you are making a cocoa paste. And what none of us realised until the blessed Aaron came along, is that we were losing precious moisture as the water evaporated off while waiting for it to come down to room temperature. So after it cooled, I re-weighed it and added back in the 6 grams or so of water I had lost. This, my friends, is the real reason why my chocolate cakes have become incredibly freaking amazing. I owe it all to Aaron, may he be blessed, and RLB, for providing a forum where we can all share our passion for baking.

(moment of silence)

3. Also, for the brown sugar not only did I use the far superior muscovado sugar--which is better because it is REAL brown sugar, not white processed sugar with the molasses added back in like "regular" brown sugar--but I decided to use dark muscovado. Which smells heavenly. Really, you need to go out and buy some of this stuff. The difference in smell and feel and energetics between a white sugar and a less refined, more natural sugar is amazing.
4. The cocoa powder I've been using lately isn't anything really gourmet, it's just Hershey's Special Dark cocoa powder. It turns out a rich, chocolaty, almost black cake. Simply stunning.

As I checked on the cakes while they baked, I got nervous because I thought they were burning, they were turning so dark. I freaked out and turned the oven down to 300, and tented some foil over the cakes. I tried to figure out what happened--the oven had never done that before....ten minutes later the cakes were getting darker but still not fully baked...then I realised my cakes weren't burning, they were just that dark. I turned the oven back up and let them finish baking.
Quick tip for those who are baking in a hurry:
If you want your cakes to cool down quicker, take advantage of the near-freezing temperatures and place them in front of an open window. That arctic wind will blow right over your cakes and will cool them down to room temperature in about 30 minutes. Yes, you'll have to put on your coat and scarf, but you'll be ready to frost in about half the time!

For the frosting I chose the Milk Chocolate Buttercream which is super duper easy. There are three ingredients: milk chocolate, dark chocolate, butter.

I decided to use Guittard chocolate, which I've never used before. They have milk chocolate chips in a bag (which would make excellent cookies) and they were deliciously creamy, smooth, and chocolaty, with a hint of cinnamon in the background. I bought the dark chocolate couverture (spelling?) in convenient little wafers. The dark chocolate was 72%. (Didn't taste it)

The only problem I encountered when making the frosting was our cold kitchen. The arctic cooling technique made our already really cold apartment even colder. I had to keep the mixer going to keep the butter from hardening up in the mixer. The chocolate took forever to melt. And as soon as I took it off the double boiler to add to the butter, it began to HARDEN. ALREADY. There were little chunks of chocolate in the frosting, but really, that's not much of a problem.

After frosting the cake, I tried to drag a bread knife over the frosting to make neat lines but it didn’t really work. So then I decided to make a cool tonal design using cocoa powder. I placed the bottom of a 6 inch springform on top of the cake and sifted cocoa powder around the edge to make a dark brown border. In the middle of the circle, I hastily poured the cocoa powder in a big C. Ooooh. Fancy.

The cake was amazingly dark, moist, chocolaty, complex, and deeply satisfying. The frosting was intensely chocolaty and kind of was a distraction from the cake. As seriously tasty as the frosting was, I would have liked less of it. The cake was that good.

Coleen and I took photos with her camera since mine decided to die. I will post them once I receive them from Her Lady Coleen.

Friday, November 24, 2006

ECL Experiments With Gluten-Free Pie

(11/23, 4:10am) Boy, I've been baking like a fool lately. I've really enjoyed it!

My roommate and I are hosting a mellow, eating-centered, pj-wearing, movie-watching Thanksgiving later today.

Our friend Annmarie decided to join us for T-day, and she and my roomie are gluten-freers. Their bodily reactions to gluten are NOT pretty.

Annmarie said we had to have pies, so the two of us decided to try to bake up two GF pies: pumpkin and apple. I really wanted to try RLB's pumpkin and apple recipes, and I also wanted to see how well I could substitute GF flour in the RLB flaky pie crust recipe. Oooh! Experiments!

I think the best thing about using RLB's pie techniques for a GF crust will be her dedication to a non-soggy pie crust. I think that is a common ailment with GF crusts, along with being generally not flaky, tender, or tasty. I have high hopes for our crusts. I think they will be flaky, tender, buttery, and not soggy at all.

Keep your fingers crossed.

Annmarie and I agree that good GF baked goods is a huge untapped market. There is presently in Portland maybe one bakery that bakes gluten free stuff- and a very small menu of GF goods at that. One more will be opening up next month, but aside from that? One could go to a very high-end natural foods grocery store and buy their very expensive GF goods.

Or one could figure out how to do it herself. And sell them, my friends. Sell. Them.

So this pumpkin pie:
For the flour, I substituted 1/2 cup Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose GF Flour Mix, 1/3 heaping cup of Tapioca Flour, and 1/4 cup of my rommmate's GF flour mix (Tapioca, Potato, and Rice Flours). Also, a teaspoon of Xanthan Gum, which I guess holds stuff together much like gluten would. I kept all the rest of RLB's ingredients for a Basic Flaky Pie Crust the same.

Kneading the dough until it becomes a stretchy product is not really necessary, as it will never become a stretchy product. So I just mashed up the dough after cutting in all the butter and liquid, patted it into a circle, and let it rest in the refrigerator. Usually resting the dough is to relax the gluten so the pastry doesn't shrink or get tough, but in this case it was to keep the butter cold. And to let each other sort themselves out. Mostly about the butter.

Rolling out the dough wasn't that hard to do, although the edges cracked and split a bit at first. The dough was also very sticky and so I am glad I was rolling it between two lightly (GF) floured pieces of plastic wrap. Transferring the dough into the pan was no problem and turning under the edge went well enough. The dough was still prone to cracking and being sticky, but that also made it easier to patch up any holes or thin spots.

Instead of letting the pastry relax one more time in the refrigerator, I shoved it in the freezer. Again, this was mainly to cool down the butter. The refrigerator was full, otherwise I would have put it there. But actually, the freezer was great because since the pastry has no gluten to relax, I figured it didn't really need to rest up so seriously. Right?

Off the pie went into the oven, and after 30 minutes I fussed with getting foil around the edges. I fussed with that for about ten minutes, it seems. Should have just done what RLB suggested--put the foil on before baking the pie. I really don't know why I didn't.

The pumpkin pie came out after a 55 minute bake, and I tell you, it looks good. The crust is nice and golden, the filling looks all creamy and delicious. I wonder if we could break into the pie tomorrow morning for breakfast? It wouldn't look too bad if we served the pie to our guests with 3 slices already eaten? After all, we are having a mellow, pj wearing Thanksgiving....

(11/24) Pie report:

The pumpkin pie was excellent. The pumpin was creamy and light, spiced but not too heavily (we added 1/4 tsp ground cloves), and just sweet enough. YUM. The crust was crunchy--the gingersnap and toasted pecan crunchy layer is a fabulous idea! The crust was flaky(ish), tender, buttery, and held itself together well. There is a texture difference, but it was fairly minor--just a little bit more grainy, but really not too bad at all. The GF girls really enjoyed the pie and especially the crust. They said it was the best GF pie crust they've tasted! That is so nice to hear!

The apple pie, oh the apple pie. First off, Annmarie was excited she was going to be able to eat a two-crust apple pie. I guess that is a treat! The apples were nicely spiced, tender but not mushy, the juices thick and not runny, and again, perfectly sweet--just enough to take the tart edge off. Yeah!

The crust was a little brittle, but golden brown and crisp. Tender, buttery, again a little grainy. Overall, pretty darn excellent. You know, there wasn't that buttery richness that a gluten pie crust can be, but again the GF girls were pleased as punch.

This crust was harder to deal with for several reasons:
1. The kitchen was super warm from the roasting turkey so the butter softened much more quickly when rolling out the dough.
2. This dough seemed stickier than the pumpkin pie dough the night before.
3. I had to tuck the top crust underneath the bottom crust and pinch everything shut, which was really hard to do because a GF crust really isn't very elastic at all. So nobody wanted to get pulled and tucked and etc. Plus, the dough was seriously sticky, and the butter seriously softening.

I know I should have put the pie in the refrigerator for a few minutes to cool down the butter, but I was getting impatient with the pie prep and just wanted to get it in the oven.

Interestingly enough, neither pie become very aromatic when baking. The whole apartment should have smelled like apple or pumpkin pie while they baked, and especially when cooling, but not really with these pies. Was that due to the GF crust? Or other wierd circumstances?

No matter the lack of aroma, these pies are excellent. And, gluten-free!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Thirteen Months

As a celebration of Eat My Cake turning, uh, one year and one month old, I decided to throw my blog a birthday party. And of course, its another good excuse TO BAKE A CAKE.

happy birthday Eat My Cake

November 18, 2006
Name of Cake: Eat My Birthday Cake, Fools
Occasion: One Year and One Month of The Cakeblog!
Constituents: three-layer Devil's Food Cake with Coffee Buttercream and some toffee chunks

I mean, Evil Cake Lady should bake a Devil's Food Cake for the blog, ya know?

I had all these wonderful plans for how this baking process would go. I would make the toffee early on in the week, maybe Monday or Tuesday. Thursday I would make the coffee buttercream. And Friday night, I'd bake the cakes. Saturday, sometime between oozing out of bed around noon and the party at seven, I would put the thing together, and lo, the masterpiece to behold.

Then my last birth client of 2006 told me she was getting induced Wednesday night. Which meant the end of my week would disappear into the hazy fog of laborland, and instead of making frosting or baking cakes I would be escorting a new couple through the dark and twisty maze that leads to the gates of parenthood--a journey fraught with unknowns and who knows whats that I knew would leave me exhausted and unable to operate heavy machinery.

So I decided to at least get the cake ready for baking by measuring out the dry ingredients and setting them aside in a tub until the baking day. That way, when I was ready, most of my prep would be done and I'd just have to deal with the wet ingredients and bringing the butter up to room temp. I think it would be cool to have pre-measured dry ingredients for several of the butter cakes measured up and set aside--a home made version of cake from a box. With like, way better results and stuff.

And I am SO glad I did do that, as I discovered that I was out of baking soda. One crisis averted. (check!)

i get a little messy when i bake...

Then on Monday I made the toffee, which didn't really come out right, but The Guy Who Doesn't Like The New Nickname (name changed to make fun of him) gave me the Key To Making Toffee In A Humid Environment for which I am eternally grateful. (Grateful enough to call him The Guy Who Doesn't Like The New Nickname instead of something else, that is.)

Wednesday I got antsy and decided to bake the cakes. I figured I could do a double wrap of plastic then foil and store them in the refrigerator until Saturday. The frosting wouldn't take that long, so I felt okay about leaving that task until Saturday.

I like that the cakes are leavened with baking soda and the cocoa powder is the non-alkaline kind. It gives the cake that cool reddish hue (not the be mistaken with the chemical red velvet cake which requires enough red food dye to mutate your unborn children's children's children.)

As cool as I thought I was to have the dry ingredients pre-measured, I didn't bother to take out the eggs and the FROZEN butter until only a few minutes before I was ready to get my bake on, and I still had to boil water to make the cocoa paste which would have to cool down to room temperature before I could mix it into the batter. So the oven patiently pumped out 350 degrees of heat for a good hour before I put anything in it, and I wandered around and around waiting for butter to warm up and cocoa paste to cool down. I cubed the butter and stuck it on a plate on top of the stove with hopes that the warm stove would encourage a little softening, but never ever a melting. The cocoa paste was in a ceramic bowl and cooling down slower than hot magma. Let me remind you that ceramic is a great material because it holds its temperature for a long time. Yeah I know, duh. I should have used a stainless steel bowl. In a fit I put the hot steamy bowl in the freezer. And paced around the kitchen some more.

Luckily for me, some dude named Aaron made a breakthrough with RLB's chocolate cake enigma. Many people, myself included, would follow her recipe for chocolate butter cake to the letter and would end up with a dry product. I thought I had fixed the problem when I started measuring yolks and whites separately. It did help, but Aaron, that smart mofo, put steam and evaporating water together and realised valuable moisture was being lost as millions of cake bakers waited for the cocoa paste to cool down to room temperature.

May the cake gods always smile on our friend Aaron.

Finally, the cakes were baked, cooled, and double-double-wrapped. I left them out overnight by accident and shoved them into the refrigerator Thursday morning.

That evening, I stepped into the labyrinth.

Very early Saturday morning I stumbled out of the labyrinth and fell asleep on my couch.

Around 5:30 this evening I started in on the coffee buttercream and discovered I didn't have enough corn syrup to use the Neoclassic Buttercream recipe. I like the Neoclassic Buttercream because you use corn syrup for a part of the sugar-water solution, and once it all comes up to a boil you're done. No temperature taking, no overcooking, just bring to a boil and off you go. Damn, I thought, almost made it through this bake without any cake trauma....

So I began the Classic Buttercream recipe. As I was making coffee buttercream, I dissolved a couple of tablespoons of Megdalia D'Oro instant espresso powder (where's my check for product placement?) in a teaspoon of boiling water. A teaspoon? I think RLB must have meant a tablespoon because the paste got really stiff...and...I probably should have covered it in plastic wrap too.

Ah well.

Anyway, here it comes, the REAL cake trauma:

I set up my little digital thermometer to alert me when the syrup's temperature reached 237 degrees, for at that point I was to immediately transfer the syrup to a greased pryrex measuring cup which was placed right next to my boiling pot in order to stop the cook and keep the syrup from reaching the hard ball stage. I added in my sugar and water, turned the burner on high, and began beating up the 5,000 egg yolks. I glanced at the sugar syrup, I glanced at the thermometer readout, and began to clean up some of my mess. Another glance at the readout a few minutes later said the syrup had cooled down a bit...enh?? A little bit later the thermometer was beeping and the temperature was already at 242--yikes! I quickly poured the syrup into the glass, scraped out the pot and began to alternate between adding incremental bits of syrup and mixing furiously to keep the eggs from cooking. After a few rounds I noticed something peculiar was forming at the bottom of the bowl. "Kathunk," said my KitchenAid, "kathunk." There was this growing chunk of syrup at the bottom of the bowl. "Crap," said I. "Kathunk kathunk kathunk," said my KitchenAid. "Shit crap damn no!" "Kathunk kachunk karunch."

My roommate, who has been the unfortunate spectator of countless ECL cake tantrums, coolly glanced over and said, "huh." She mumbled something about "do-over" to which I replied: "I don't have time for this shit damn crap fuck! Shit shit shit." "Kathunk karunch kerackle kachunk," my KitchenAid replied sympathetically. It sent out a little splatter of egg yolky-syrupy stuff which hit my face and stuck in my hair.

Luckily for everyone, especially my roommate, I was really too exhausted to work myself into a good tantrum. In desperation I just dumped the rest of the syrup into the bowl and ramped up the mixer.

And lo, that seemed to do the trick. The karunching and kerackling started to mellow out, the hard chunk of syrup began to chunk up, or soften up, or dissolve, or something, and with a good long beating that yolky stuff seemed to sort itself out.

I added in the butter and soon the mixing bowl held an almost silky smooth buttery frosting. It was a little more buttery and a little less sweet than usual, as well as a little bit chunkier. Little sugar crunchies sparkled in my frosting like diamonds. Hey, who needs toffee crunchies when you can have sugar crunchies?


The cake assembly went pretty smoothly, hahaha nice pun. (You do realise I'm a little delirious, don't you??)

Everyone, please take a moment for the Jellos for giving me a rotating cake stand for Christmas last year. You kids are my favorites. Don't tell everyone else.

I did end up using Heath Bar Milk Chocolate Toffee Crunch in the filling for one of the layers (why not both? not sure) and to decorate the top. Apparently they were tasteless as many people asked me, "hey what were the crunchy things?" And I would answer, "heath bar crunch," and not mention the sugar syrup mishap at all. They were on a need-to-know basis, and they didn't need to know.

Many fun people showed up to celebrate thirteen months of Eat My Cake and the introduction of ECL to the internet. We had coffee drinks, red wine, cake and ice cream, and the highlight of my evening, baby-holding! My roommate, who is a celiac and can't Eat My Cake even if she wanted to, baked up a couple of experimental gluten-free, agave sweetened cakes which people were curious to try. I have not tried them yet as I have fuzzy teeth and a high glucose count as it is. I am saving her cakes for breakfast. Heck yeah.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

ECL Makes Toffee

(11/13) (Thinking to self) I better make the toffee NOW if my client is going to be induced on Wednesday night. I'll probably be at the birth from Thursday until Friday, and there goes all the days I set aside for baking. Okay, I'll make the toffee now.

(Adds 1 tbsp corn syrup and 1 cup sugar to saucepan with 3/4 cup heavy cream) I think I have time to make toffee. What if the toffee comes out wrong and I have to do it over? What will I do with the old toffee? What if I burn it? How dark do I want it? How long will this take?

(Standing over stove watching mixture start to boil in saucepan) Okay now I'm not supposed to touch it until it boils down to a nutty brown color. I think I turned the heat down too early, do you think I turned the heat down too early? Maybe I turned the heat down too early. Will that be a problem? I bet it will just take longer to caramelize that's all.

(Leaning on the stove, watching the mixture continue to boil down in the saucepan) Is it starting the caramelize? I think I see a little bit of a tawny color. I am waiting for a nutty brown color. I can't let it get too dark 'cause then it will burn. I wonder if the difference between toffee and soft caramel is the fact that you boil down the cream with the sugar in toffee and you add the cream to the caramelized sugar when making soft caramel or caramel sauce. I wonder who came up with that idea. Was it just a mistake that someone made and it turned out to be tasty? How that that all happen? Which came first, toffee or caramel?

(Leaning on stove, watching mixture start to caramelize) I think we are getting close now, the toffee is looking like it is getting done. Is that a nutty brown color? I think it could be darker. What if it doesn't harden right? Am I going to have to use a Skor bar instead if this doesn't come out right? Maybe I don't really need the toffee for this cake. I keep thinking that coffee and toffee are great complimentary flavors, but what if they are not? Maybe if the toffee comes out sticky then I won't use toffee at all. But I like the idea of something a little crunchy in there....could use toasted nuts. Hmm, I could do that. Is that a nutty brown color? I think it is a nutty brown color. At least it looks like a caramelly color. Maybe I should pull it off now and if it isn't dark enough I can just make another batch. No problem. I'm going to pull it off now.

(Pouring the toffee out onto a silicone liner) Maybe the toffee is too light; is that a nutty brown color? Oh well, I can just make more if I need to. Now I'm supposed to leave it alone to harden. How long will it take to harden? Is that a nutty brown color?

(Next day, breaking up the toffee) Is this really a nutty brown color? *Snap* wow this toffee seems like it hardened all right! *snap* oohh this is fun! *snap* let's try a piece and see how it is... *chew* oh. it is sticky. it's stuck to my teeth. but the flavor is good! *bend* hey this part isn't snapping off at all. it just bends like a big sheet of soft caramel. *chew* how'd that happen? *snap* it snaps off over this part thicker? it isn't--but then why will some of the toffee snap and the rest just bend? *chew* did I need to caramelize it more? Maybe this isn't a nutty brown color. Oh well, it still tastes good, but I'm not sure its going on the cake. *picking teeth*

Friday, November 10, 2006


This is post 102--wow!!

Since Zetta is the one who came up with the idea of pear-spice cake, I decided to bake one up for her.

November 10, 2006
Name of cake: Spicy Pear Zetta
Occasion: Another excuse to bake!
Constituents: Pear-Spice Cake with Golden Cream Cheese Frosting and chopped toasted walnuts

Spicy Pear Zetta

The recipe was aptly titled "Pear Spice Cake." It came from the Fannie Farmer Baking Book, and it was the recipe just before the spice cake recipe I used in last week's Spicy Blessings cupcakes.

However, it was much, much tastier.

The cool baking thing about this cake was that it didn't call for any liquid--no milk, no water, no oil, nothing. It also called for all-purpose flour, which tends to produce a coarser cake.

A couple of years ago I decided to make up my own apple-spice cake recipe for a September birthday party. I took RLB's yellow cake recipe, added a bunch of spices to it, chopped up a honeycrisp apple or two, tossed them in flour, mixed them into the cake batter and baked up a couple of 9-inch cake layers. Which tasted good, but were pretty mushy/soggy on the bottoms. I had wondered about all the excess moisture of the fresh apples, and didn't really know what to do about it. (Well, I was too lazy to figure out what to do about it.)

This recipe figured out what to do about it. Granted we are talking pears, not apples, but the same principal applies: very juicy fruit. So this recipe turned out a thick, stiff batter made with a coarser flour to absorb and hold the juiciness from the fruit. Which it did. Once I began to stir in the pears, the whole batter became softer and, well, wetter.

I baked this cake at the clinic so I cleverly pre-measured all the ingredients, packed up the flour-oil spray, the fine mesh colander, the baking pan, the balloon whisk and my new special baking only silicone spatula, the recipe, and the ingredients, including the rest of the golden cream cheese that I had frozen for later use. I did forget to pack my beloved Nielsen-Massey pure bourbon madagascar vanilla extract, but Zetta made me go to her house and get her extract. So all was okay.

Beating up a cake without a mixer is really labor intensive. Creaming butter and sugar by hand is a special kind of torture. A word to the wise: Don't use the balloon whisk to cream butter, my friends. The butter collects inside the whisk as if it is afraid of being creamed, and it only comes out when you poke at it between the tines. Use your favorite, for baking only green silicone spatula. Also, bring an apron or something so that you don't get butter and sugar and flour all over your work shirt.

By the way, I used the golden cane sugar again, and MAN o man, the sugar and butter smelled so good--it had a spicy, molassesy, almost floral scent to it. Aaah. It made the arm fatigue and messy shirt worthwhile.

The awesome part about baking at the clinic is that our fully functional kitchen doubles as our medicinary and office, so having the oven on and pumping out heat keeps the kitchen/medicinary/office nice and toasty. That, and knowing that our clients are smelling CAKE while they get acupuncture treatments.

This cake is my favorite of the spice cake extravaganza that I have been going through. The cake was moist, and full of big chunks of pear (I interpreted "finely chopped fresh pears" as "cubed chunks"). The cake was spicy, but not out of control, and the cream cheese frosting with the toasted walnuts was an excellent finish. As an alternate, a caramel drizzle would have been good, too. Or maybe a cinnamon whipped cream. Or nothing at all--this cake was that tasty.

I think this will be last of the spice cakes for this season...I mean four rounds in three weeks has got to be enough, so next week I'm making a devil's food cake with coffee buttercream and toffee chunks. Stay tuned, cake eaters!

Spicy Pear Zetta

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Spice Cake

Well, I decided to make spice cupcakes, since cupcakes are the "it" food of the decade...and they are oh so cute.

November 04, 2006
Name of cake: Spicy Blessings
Occasion: Jesse's Blessingway
Constituents: Spice cupcakes with golden cream cheese frosting...some with toasted walnuts

spice cupcakes with golden cream cheese frosting

Last night when I came home from performing The Experiment at Brain's house, I converted this spice cake recipe from medieval measurements to grams (thanks Rose Levy Beranbaum for providing the guidelines!! I just love that woman). I changed the dead battery in my roommate's scale, which now works perfectly, hooray, and I weighed out the dry ingredients and mixed them together. Then I pulled out the 2 eggs and the butter and fell asleep before my head hit the pillow.

This morning when my eyes snapped open at 8 am (which NEVER happens) I got up and got ready to bake the cupcakes. That's when I read the instructions carefully and noticed that I was to add the brown sugar to the egg-sour cream mix, not mix it in with all the dry ingredients like I did. Oh well.

This is a fascinating cake mix because there's no butter!!!! The fat comes from the sour does this technically mean it isn't a butter cake? I guess that's an obvious yes but what category would this cake fit under? In every other respect it is a butter-type cake.

It is really nice to have half of the cake pre-measured and mixed; these suckers came together quickly and off they went into the oven. I added 1 tsp of vanilla and 1 tsp of ground cardamom, because why not?? For the nutcakes, I added the chopped nuts by hand as I scraped the batter into the blue cupcake cups. Blue cups=nuts, yellow cups=no nuts. In case there were nut-sensitives.

i color coded the cupcake papers

These little cupcakes raised quite high above their papers during the bake, and I assumed they would deflate a bit during the cool down, but they didn't! Very cute little guys.

before frosting

Not to brag, but my cream cheese frosting rocks. It is tangy, silky, perfectly sweet, and ass kickingly good. I found the initial recipe online, but I changed it up a bit because the amount of sugar it called for was ridiculous, and I also find the idea of using powdered sugar and then adding milk stupid. I use fine or superfine granulated sugar--if all the ingredients are at room temperature the sugar will dissolve no problem. This time, I used the golden baker's superfine sugar--which is basically less refined sugar so it still has some of the original molasses and minerals. This makes for a sweet taste that has a little depth and earthiness to it, unlike white sugar which is sharp, one dimensional, and completely devoid of anything resembling the original product it came from. It also gave the frosting an off-white hue--almost like a pale tawny color which people mistook for a maple frosting. Which wouldn't be a bad idea.

The spice cake recipe made 16 cupcakes in total, and I have about half of the batch of frosting freezing in my freezer.

In a fit of decorating, I sprinkled finely chopped toasted walnuts on the nut cakes, and a little bit of ground cinnamon on the plain cakes. So fancy! Although if I were truly a fancypants I would have tried to remove all the walnut skins before sprinkling them on the cupcakes.

Despite there already being a ton of baked goods at the Blessingway, the cupcakes seemed to be well received and Jesse took home a bunch for her boys. Hooray!

And now, drumroll please, the recipes!!
Spice Cake adapted from Fannie Farmer's Baking Book, pg 344

2 eggs
1 cup/242 g sour cream
1 tsp real vanilla extract
1 cup/217 g brown sugar (light)
2 cups/260 g cake flour
1 tsp/5 g baking soda
1/4 tsp fine grained sea salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves (freshly ground if possible)
1 tsp ground cardamom (freshly ground if possible)
optional: 1/2 cup toasted chopped walnuts

preheat oven to 350 degrees farenheit. grease and flour two 8-in round cake pans, or prep your cupcake tins.

beat the eggs, sour cream, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl until thoroughly blended, then beat in the sugar. in a medium bowl, combine the rest of the dry ingredients (except the optional nuts) and thoroughly combine and aerate with a whisk. add in three to four batches to the sour cream mixture and beat until the batter is smooth. it will look a little runny. stir in (by hand) the optional walnuts. pour batter into prepared pans; divide evenly in the cake pans or fill cupcake molds 1/2 to 2/3 full.

bake cake rounds for 30-40 minutes or until a wooden toothpick or wire cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. the top should spring back lightly when touched. cool in the pans for 5-10 minutes and unmold; let cool completely before frosting or storing airtight.

bake cupcakes for 15-25 minutes until a wooden toothpick or wire cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean. the tops should spring back lightly when touched. cool in the pans for 5-10 minutes and unmold; let cool thoroughly before frosting or storing airtight.

Kick-Ass Cream Cheese Frosting

3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 pound (2 8-oz boxes = 1 pound) cream cheese (not fat free) softened but not warm
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1 cup fine or superfine milled cane sugar or honey or whatever

in a bowl, beat the butter with an electric mixer at medium speed until soft and fluffy. add the cream cheese, vanilla, and salt and beat at low speed just until the mixture is smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. using a rubber spatula, clean the beaters and scrape the sides of the bowl whenever necessary during beating. start by adding half a cup of sugar or sweetener and beat well. add enough sugar to taste; not more than one cup. beat well to ensure the sugar dissolves.

use soon after or refrigerate. let the frosting come up to room temperature if cold, and beat a bit to fluff it back up.

enough to fill and frost a 2 layer 9 inch cake.

The Experiment

(11/03) I am going to a potluck tomorrow and guess what I'm bringing? If you guessed something other than cake, you obviously haven't been reading my blog for very long.

However, as I mentioned to Zetta what my baking plans were--spice cake with cream cheese frosting--she asked if I could squirrel away some of the batter and make two spice cupcakes with pear. Pear?? And where would I put this pear, I asked. Top, middle, or bottom? And Zetta said, "bottom."

And that got me thinking. What if I sliced the pear really thin and used it to line the cupcake molds?

So this is what I decided to do, because I am a freak:
  • try this pear-lined cupcake idea out
  • but use a cake mix and a tub o' frosting
  • so that if it turns out sucky, I won't feel like I wasted my time or my precious ingredients
  • and if it works out, make a *real* batch of pear-lined cupcakes for the potluck
  • real meaning, from scratch
Nov 11, 2006
Name of cake: Late Night With Pear and Brains
Occasion: Potluck tomorrow
Constituents: Spice cupcakes (from a box) baked in giant muffin tins with D'Anjou pears lining the molds and frosted with "cream cheese" frosting (from a tub)

At 6 pm, I thought I had plenty of time to make a couple of batches of cupcakes or whatever.

Then I called The Brains to see if he wanted to grab a slice of pizza and go grocery shopping and then help out in The Experiment.

evil indeed

Somehow we spent forever at the Fred Meyer and by the time we got back to his place, it was like, 10 pm. Then Brains cleaned up his kitchen (which used to be my kitchen, before I moved out and he moved in) and so I didn't get to baking until 11ish. Oi!

It was kinda cool to be baking away in my old kitchen. Many memories of crazy middle of the night baking escapades came flooding back. Oh, the times I spent, sitting by the stove on my stepstool, half asleep and waiting for the cakes to finish baking...

Man, you gotta love cake from a box. Well, not love in a delicious kind of way, but love in a spontaneous, in twenty minutes we'll have cake kind of way. When I bust out a cake, its more like in an hour or so we'll have cake! And lots of dirty dishes! Hurrah!


Brains only had one of those mega-muffin tins, where you pour in about two cups of batter per mold and you make 6 at a time. At first I protested about the huge size these cupcakes would be, but as he pointed out, these were only prototypes so who cares?

Brains donated his nicely ripened pears, and I sliced them fairly thin. The first pear I tried to peel and core but I mainly just mangled it, so the rest of the pears kept their skin which really didn't make a big flavor difference. It took about a quarter of a pear per giant muffin cup; each of which I heavily buttered.

pear lined mega-mold

The mega-cupcakes took about 30 minutes to bake; and the pear-spice aroma was heavenly. After a ten-minute cool down, I ran a thin spatula between the molds and the pear-lined cupcakes, and turned them out of the pan. Wow! It worked!! They all unmolded easily and without fuss, and they all kept their little pear straitjackets on.

up close and personal

We realised that having the pears on the outside and bottom makes them hard to eat, as the pears are soft and slippery. We thought about pear-upside down cupcakes, but then I thought we could just level the tops of all the cupcakes and leave them pear side up. Which looked pretty cool, I must say.

But, the frosting! Where was it to go if we kept the pears on top? Brains said we could just frost over the pears, which we tried. It worked, but I think the tub frosting totally overpowered the pears. We decided a caramel drizzle would be a better embellishment.

By the way, that tub of cream cheese frosting? I looked at the ingredients, and there ISN'T ANY CREAM CHEESE in the cream cheese frosting! If that isn't a reason to learn how to do it better from scratch, I don't know what is.

there's no crean cheese in the cream cheese frosting

So what am I baking up tomorrow morning for the potluck? Spice cake with cream cheese frosting. 100% real.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Who Will Step Up?

I was trolling my sitemeter to see how people have found me, and my favorite one so far has been somebody who googled "gooey cake lady."

Gooey Cake Lady!! That's awesome!! Who's going to step up and take on the name?? ECL would like to have a Gooey Cake Lady friend.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Pear-Cardamom Disappointment

(10/19) Sigh. Why do I keep trying to experiment with stuff that I don't like to bake with? I am breaking all my own rules for cakes that rock.

October 12, 2006
Name of Cake: Pear-Cardamom Bread
Occasion: Lindy's Potluck Party!!
Constituents:Pear-Cardamom (Quick)bread from the recipe book "Three Bowls" by Seppo Ed Farrey

Pear Cardamom Bread

For those of you who don't know about Three Bowls, it is a cookbook written by a man who was the head chef at the Dai Bosatsu Zendo in the Catskill Mountains. I spent some time up there for a quantum shiatsu seminar in 2001 and although we spent most of our time in our workshop, we did do morning and midday meditations with the monks, and more importantly, Seppo cooked for us in addition to cooking for all the monks.

Seppo was well known for his yummy cooking, almost vegan and low-fat as it was. I have to agree, his cooking was pretty damn tasty, and I am a card-carrying, devoted meat eater (not to mention anti-soy). I was so impressed by his food that I bought his cookbook and intended to make every single dish in there.

That I still haven't done, although there are some winners in there that I like to make on a fairly regular basis....and that I usually add a little animal flesh to.

But his little dessert section drives me batty. Way too healthy. But I keep trying to make it work anyway. Someone hit me over the head and tell me to stop trying, please!

I chose to make this bread for Lindy's Potluck mainly because everyone who was attending has already been subjected to my tastier cakes for a couple of years now--I mean, like sometimes twice a month I would show up with an awesome cake that they would have to help eat--and I'm not saying that they didn't like eating them, but now most of them have sworn off sugar to some you know, I feel bad bringing around one of my goodies.

So I thought, "Hey that Seppo has some of them healthy cakes there in that book..maybe I'll try that!" And so Pear-Cardamom bread it was.

This quick bread is made with 100% whole wheat pastry flour, is sweetened with maple syrup, and fattened up with non fat yogurt and unsweetened applesauce.


In rebellion I bought full-fat, cream on top, vanilla yogurt, forgot to get applesauce, and bought a couple of bosc pears that were a little under ripe. I thought they would mush out less.

What a Cool Teaspoon I Have

And I discovered that my teaspoon can double as a pear corer/melon baller!! Cool!

What a Cool Teaspoon I Have

Since I forgot the applesauce, I turned back to using full fat 100% real butter. And unfortunately, there was no half-and-half in the house so I had to use my roommate's soy milk. I didn't use much of that. Ick.

The yogurt was sweetened a bit already (with maple syrup) so I cut back how much maple syrup the recipe called for and omitted the vanilla extract (not on purpose).

The Cardamom

I used twice as many pear cubes as were called for and a bunch more cardamom and cinnamon. The batter tasted....okay...and so I put it in a loaf pan and let it bake up.

People at the potluck were excited for my quick bread, but I warned them that it was experimental and I didn't know what it tasted like. Which was a good idea, because the bread was
  • dry
  • boring
  • tasteless
  • kind of gummy even though it was baked thoroughly
  • the pears weren't even juicy
  • somebody said, "there's cardamom in here??"
  • and somehow, even though it was wrapped up, the fruit flies were all over it the next day--YUCK
Oh well. I'm going to have to do something drastic to make up for it...

(6 hours later) I did do something drastic...I baked brownies...from a BOX!!!

I Cheated

(at least the frosting is my mocha buttercream from scratch)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

NPR's Cake Lady

Thanks for the article Zetta!

This lady at NPR bakes a cake and brings it into work every Monday. All from scratch, no repeats in the recipe. If the cake sucked she does a re-bake later in the week.

This woman rocks my world. Go read the article. And then someone bake up that graham cracker cake and call me over.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Um, Never Mind...

I've got too much crap to deal with this week and I am allowing myself to drop one of the balls.

So, I won't actually be baking up any of those cupcakes I had promised previously.

I've ordered little cakes from a local bakery; I've tried them and let me tell you they are GOOD. They have the ECL stamp of approval (which I do not bestow lightly).

Sorry I got you all anticipated.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Hold On, Little Ones

just you wait. the clinic is throwing another damn party this friday and guess who's in charge of the baking?

i still haven't figured out what i'll be baking up, but i decided on cupcakes yet again, as it is easy to make a ton of them at once and they are easy to serve and they are the "it" food of the decade.


from Chockylit:
    chocolate-cherry cupcakes with whipped cream or vanilla buttercream or cream cheese frosting
    vietnamese coffee cupcakes with some sort of creamy frosting

from my own head:
    pumpkin-pecan cupcakes with maple buttercream
    zucchini cupcakes with cream cheese frosting
    cinnamon cupcakes with coffee frosting
    vanilla cupcakes with chocolate or vanilla frosting
    chocolate cupcakes with vanilla or chocolate frosting
    banana cupcakes with sour cream ganache
    gingerbread cupcakes with chestnut buttercream

don't bother getting in your votes. by the time i wake up tomorrow, i'll have it figured out. just thought i'd create a little anticipation around here.


talk to you soon.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Stash

As I was rearranging the contents in the freezer, I discovered several tubs of frozen chocolate frosting from last year. Time to do something with them!!

The Stash

Also, Cookie and her husband (the Jellos) are remodeling their bedroom and in need of something sweet and tasty. This sounds like a job for [duh-da-dah-nah!] evil cake lady!

September 4, 2006
Occasion: Cheer Up The Jellos, and Get Rid of Some of That Frosting
Name of Cake: Yellow Cupcakes and Cakelettes with a Variety of Chocolate Frostings
Constituents: Yellow Cakes and Egg White Milk Chocolate Buttercream, Egg White Mocha Buttercream, Chai Chocolate Buttercream, and Sour Cream Ganache

rose cakelette

My roommate's scale is freaking out. The battery is dying so it keeps flashing a little warning, and on top of that it has become completely unreliable. When I put something on it to weigh in grams, the digital readout flashes a number, and then about 30 seconds later, the number (which is the supposed weight) begins to slide downwards until it hits zero. Then if you take the thing off the scale, instead of resetting at zero, it resets at -9. Piece of crap machine.

The problem is, I am totally addicted to that piece of crap machine. I haven't measured ingredients in over two years...the thought of dipping and sweeping to get 300 grams of flour makes me shudder. Measuring medieval.

medieval system of measurement
these are antiques from king henry VIII's personal baker

So I comically, and probably tragically, tried to get the scale to listen to reason: I would tare out my bowl and try really quickly to add the ingredients, thinking that if I didn't give the machine a chance to pause at a weight that the numbers wouldn't start to backslide...(didn't really work--any slight pause would start sending the numbers backwards. Stupid machine.)

So the anal baking ECL didn't get her exact grams like she prefers, and in fact spent a few minutes swearing violently at her roommate's doddering machine, and even once hit the machine as a way to get out her ridiculous frustrations at trying to make a broken machine do her bidding.

stupid machine
guess which finger that is?

The cake making part was pretty easy, and quick, and uneventful. However, I will say this: when filling a cakelette pan, it is important to not overfill the cups. Even though 2/3 full is fine for a cupcake cup, for a cakelette 1/2 full is just fine.

This is an important thing to note because I eagerly filled each cup 2/3 full and they puffed up well over the pan, and when I took a closer look at the cakelettes as they cooled, I noticed the edges of the cakes were well baked, but the centers were not so baked.


I left them for about 20 minutes in the pan to cool/bake a little longer hoping that would help them solidify. I don't know if it worked, but the cakes didn't collapse, so....

The frostings all defrosted nicely; with a minimum of whipping up with a fork they fluffed up and became spreadable. The chai chocolate buttercream did need a little more whipping than the others, but eventually it too became nice and spreadable.

For the cakelettes I split each of them horizontally and filled them with buttercream. The cupcakes I left as is because Cookie expressed much excitement at frosting the cupcakes. And when I brought them over, she ran into the kitchen and came back with a variety of frosting utensils and immediately went to task.


I ate a cakelette filled with the mocha buttercream, and as a result didn't really get tired until around 4:30 am. Why don't I remember how sensitive I am to caffeine?? Duh!!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Blackberries By The Train Tracks

blackberry orange vanilla cupcakes

(8/07) Sigh. I've been trying to write this post for over a week now. I just haven't been up for it. Am I burning out on this blogging thing? Maybe, but I have also been busy as all get-up, at least for me. I've attended one birth per week for the last three weeks--phew. All that coming and going around the veil sure can make a girl permanently tired and disoriented. And I want to be a midwife. How will I manage???

(08/11) Sigh again. I'm still trying to post this. Someday I will upload the pictures so that you can see how cute these cupcakes were. But not today!

(08/13) Finally. Tonight is the night.

Monday, July 31, 2006
Name of Cake: Blackberry Train Wrecks
Occasion: I gotta do something with all these blackberries
Constituents: Blackberry-Orange Cupcakes with leftover Vanilla Frosting

Brains got me all fired up about his new secret blackberry patch that he discovered during one of his nightly walks in the SE industrial district.

Now, you should understand something about Brains. He grew up in the Eastern Washington backwoods, without electricity for the first few years of his life, with a cow for a pet. He likes to pick things. He likes to pick things for free.

If I'm ever posting about something I've baked up with freshly picked ingredients, 9 times out of 10 it will be the Brains that got me out there pickin'. We once spent several days picking dandelion flowers out of deserted lots in N Portland so that he would have enough to make dandelion wine. We often go down around the train tracks to pick blackberries. We've made numerous trips to Sauvie Island to u-pick raspberries and strawberries. We've sneakily picked thimbleberries from the bushes in Hoyt Arboretum, salmonberries during hikes in the Gorge, and huckleberries off the side of Mt Hood.

Anyhoo, off we went last Monday to pick a bunch of blackberries down by the train tracks in SE Portland so that he could hopefully get enough to make blackberry wine, and me to bake up something.

I LOVE trains, so of course I was all excited. No offense to the blackberries, but I like picking them the least. I would really rather buy them in the store, so I can avoid the thorns, spiders, juice stains, and the feeling that I am standing in shit. I don't know why in my memory I associate blackberry brambles with poo, but I do. I don't get it.

I was really there for the company, and the trains. I freakin' love trains.

The brambles were well stocked with juicy berries, but many of them were either totally out of reach or not yet ripe. But I still walked away with a good haul. Meredith still needs more for his wine.

blackberry orange vanilla cupcakes

Stained, scratched, slightly traumatized by spiders and the feeling of lingering dookie, yet totally jazzed by all the loud, polluting, clanking, mysterious trains rumbling by I hurried off to bellydance class, wondering what I would do with all those damn blackberries.

I thought I should dutifully try my hand at yet another pie, but I am a little turned off by pies at this point. All that freaking time and work for pie dough just pisses me off. I'll get over it, I'm sure, but right now, to heck with pies and hooray for cake. After all, I'm the evil cake lady, not the pie dough dominatrix.

So cake it was. And I was excited! I remembered, with fondness, the blackberry-orange cake I made two years ago for a midsummer night's dream party thingy. That was a damn good, very good, hella good cake. That's right, I said hella.

blackberry orange vanilla cupcakes

I decided to bake it up again, but this time as cupcakes; the "it" food of the year.

Using RLB's yellow cake as the base, I added about 4 tsp of grated orange zest to the egg yolks, milk, and vanilla and let it steep as long as I could stand. The first time I used this recipe, I tossed the blackberries in flour and at the last minute folded them into the batter before scraping into the pans. I had hoped the flour would help the blackberries cling to the batter and not fall to the bottom, but it didn't work. So this time, I left the blackberries where they were until I had scraped about 1/2 to 2/3 of the batter into the cupcake cups. Then I added about five berries to each cup, and dropped a little bit more batter on top of the berries. This last bit of batter I smoothed over the top of the berries as best I could, and baked them for about 20 minutes.

blackberry orange vanilla cupcakes

This technique worked as the berries stayed at about the middle of each cupcake. Looking back, I think I should have added enough berries to make a solid layer of blackberry in the middle of each cupcake. That would have been spectacular.

These cupcakes rock my world. The light, springy texture, the not-too-sweet cake that bursts with juicy tartness from the berries with orange and vanilla notes in the background...sigh. I think this is my favorite cake I've ever made. You don't really need a frosting, but the vanilla buttercream is a nice, creamy, vanilla add-on.

blackberry orange vanilla cupcakes

(And, a side note about frosting cupcakes: why do so many bakers feel the need to spooge on so much frosting that you can't take a proper bite?? You should be able to bite through the frosting and cupcake in one bite. But with these over-frosted cupcakes you end up with two bites: one being 80% frosting and the next being 100% cake. Wrong!! Especially cupcakes like these, where halfway down there is a berry good surprise, you want to be able to bite down through the entire cupcake so you get the real experience. So the frosting has to remain mellow. And, these are cupcakes, not cups o' frosting! So all you out there, go easy on that damn frosting! I mean it, people.)

(8/08) I have a few left over from last week and I'm going to eat them for dinner with some peanut butter ice cream. I'm not convinced its a good idea, but I'm doing it anyway. You only live once.

(08/11) I'm sure that dinner had nothing to do with my present cold.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

ECL vs Pie, Round Two

This pie has been in the making since Monday.

and scene

I tell you a story.

My roommate, who is also an acupunk, has a patient who bought a fabulous house a year ago. This fabulous house sits near the top of Mt Scott, has a commanding view of the Portland metro area, and used to belong to some fruit-obsessed people. There is a small vineyard along the south end of the yard, a super cool vine of concord grapes growing along the west facing deck, and a long row of very happy, very abundant blueberry bushes. I mean, abundant.

So abundant that this client can go out and pick close to a gallon of blueberries off of one or two bushes. There are about twelve blueberry bushes.

She has been inviting everybody she can think of to help her out and pick blueberries. And so Monday around noon, my roommate and I ambled out of the house and off we went.

There were several different varieties of blueberries: tart little ones, big fat juicy ones that tasted like grape pez, and little tiny super sweet ones. I didn't care about separating the varieties; I just started pickin'. I think my favorite were the pez flavored ones.

There is something just so satisfying about harvesting these ripe, round, full, juicy, plump, blue, happy little berries. Something in me sighed a deep sigh and let go.


When I get happy I get chatty, and so I chatted away with the blueberry bushes, admiring how well they produced, complementing how round and juicy and blue their berries were, thanking them for letting me take some of their fruit. It was a most excellent way to spend a Monday.

My roommate filled three of those big tubs you get from New Season's (you know, not the pint size tubs, the ones that holds about 2 lbs of ground meat) , I filled a gallon ice cream tub and another one of those tubs.

I decided it was time to try another pie.

Pie dough, part one:
Again, I bitch about RLB's cryptic pie dough making instructions. For an author who spends as much time as she does perfecting recipes and figuring out how to make them foolproof, I just don't get what she's trying to instruct me to do when it comes to her flaky pie crust. But, the dough came together, and seemed to be a little bit better than my first try, so I flattened it into a disk and wrapped it up and shoved it in the refrigerator.

Filling, part one:
I decided to make the open faced fresh blueberry pie because it calls for less sugar, and you really only cook down 1/4 of the berries and you don't have to roll out two pie crusts. I also decided to make the white chocolate ganache (basically white choc whipped cream) to go with it. So, off to the store I went.

...And detoured into the mall where I made a return and purchased a few lacy underthings.

Pie dough, part two:
When I returned home with all of my purchases (food and lacy things alike) I set to rolling out the dough into a huge circle. I looked for my pie plate, and I looked again. And I looked again. Huh. Where in the hoohah is my pie plate? I'm still looking for it.

Seriously. I'm still looking for it.

This set me back a bit, but I decided I could use my cast-iron skillet as a pie plate, and so the rolling of the dough continued.

Rolling out dough with a vinegar bottle has lost its fun.

the rolling pin

After a bit the dough started to get too warm so I shoved it back into the refrigerator, and got called away to a birth.

I don't think I did much about the pie situation because I had a super busy day. I don't know how I got through it all. But I did. I think this is the day I bought, out of desperation, a pie plate from the QFC on my way home from work.

Decided to finish the pie. Noticed the pie plate was a little bigger than the recipe called for, and by golly, I think it might kind of be a deep dish plate too. Oh well. By this point, I didn't care. I just wanted to finish the freaking pie.

Pie dough, part three:
I finished rolling out the dough into what I thought would be a big enough circle. I used the plastic wrap that I was rolling it between to fold it into quarters, noticed the dough was sticky, thought about giving it another rest but decided, no, I'm finishing the freaking pie tonight, and placed the dough in the pie plate. And tried to unfold it nicely, but there was tearing and general noncompliance but eventually I got the dough patched up, in the plate and the edge folded under. Okay. Back in the refrigerator to rest up.

Pie dough, part four:
A couple hours later, I gathered up my courage and blind baked the pie shell. That part seemed to go well enough. After baking and letting it cool for 3 minutes, I brushed the shell with egg white, to form a barrier between the crust and the filling.

ready for the filling

Filling, part two:
I had previously (in Filling, the prequel) separated out one cup of slightly smooshy berries to cook down. Into the pan they went with about 1/2 cup of water and I brought it to a boil. I also prepared a cornstarch slurry, measured out the 1/2 cup of sugar and squeezed a little lemon juice. When the berries almost boiled over, I turned down the heat, stirred constantly, and waited for the juices to thicken.

cooking down the berries

This is where I learned about cornstarch. In all fairness, the book did say to stir constantly, but it didn't say stir constantly when adding the cornstarch or it will congeal in one big clump. Which is kind of what happened. I broke most of it up, the berry stuff thickened up, and I took it off the heat. I added a little more than 3 cups of fresh berries to this and gently folded everything together.

And into the pie shell this berry goodness went.

And off to bed this ECL went.

Brains called to wake me up and made me go to coffee with him. I tell you, I still feel all wonky from Tuesday's birth. We agreed on caffeine and then pie. Finally! Pie time!

White Chocolate Ganache:
In a double boiler I melted my 3 oz of white chocolate with 1/4 cup of cream. This part was fine. As the chocolate/cream mixture cooled, I began to whip up the rest of the cream and got all distracted talking to Brains and cleaning up the table. When I got back to the cream, it had whipped itself up quite thoroughly, a little too thoroughly, and when I added in the chocolate and whipped it up even more, the whipped cream began to break down. Into white chocolate butter and white chocolate buttermilk.

look ma, i churned white chocolate butter!

Oh well.

The pie was pretty damn good. Sweet, but not cloying. I actually would have added less sugar if I was thinking about it because I like things to be on the tart side. The pie crust was flaky, buttery (oh so buttery!) and maybe a little too tender. It didn't really hold itself together too well. But it was Good.

lookit how pretty that pie slice is

The creamy stuff, separated as it was, was really good, too. The creamy tanginess complemented the blueberries well.

As Brains said, when he started in on his second piece, "holy antioxidant pie, Batman!"

I think that pretty much sums it up.

pie, ready for eating