Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Laziest Baker: Double Vanilla Poundcake

Waaay back in June, Marie, the Breadbasketcase of the Lazy Bakers No Rules club, decided we ought to bake RLB's double vanilla poundcake. I was totally excited by the project.

And never got around to doing it. Maybe I was just seeing exactly how lazy and no-rulesy we could be. (Actually, I've just been busy baking other things it seems!)

Anyway, we just decided on our project for August, and so I figured I'd better start to catch up.

August 4, 2008
Name of cake: Double Vanilla Pound Cake
Occasion: Trying to catch up with the Not-So-Lazy Bakers!
Constituents: Pound Cake...with vanilla extract and a vanilla bean

Ahh, back to what I know how to do: cake. I like baking cake.

Thanks to the lovely young Melinda, I have vanilla beans that have been waiting for exactly this occasion. I pulled one out and mmmmm, the aroma was heavenly.

vanilla bean

It was a hot day and night, and I was reluctant to turn on the oven. So I took my time prepping the ingredients with many breaks to watch The Fellowship of the Ring with my roommate (the extra extra long version). When it came time to scrape the vanilla grains out of the pod, I discovered that my (impeccably clean) finger was the best tool for the job--got the most grains out the fastest.

The kitchen was so hot that I had to put the butter back in the refrigerator to keep it from melting at room temperature! The cake came together quickly and easily, and I couldn't help but show off to Joelf the thick, creamy batter dotted with vanilla grains.

double vanilla pound cake batter

I lazily lined the entire loaf pan with parchment (couldn't be bothered to cut out a little rectangle for just the bottom) and slid the cake into the oven. About an hour later, I poked the cake with a toothpick, which came out clean. I thought the cake could have been a touch more golden, but the toothpick was clean, so I pulled out the cake.

Ten minutes later (at 1 am) the cake looked a little shrunken and wrinkled which made me think it wasn't quite finished baking when I pulled it. But oh well. What could I do now?

double vanilla pound cake

This morning I can see that the bottom of the pound cake is a little underbaked, but who cares. This cake is tender and fine with that "barely perceptible crunch" as Rose puts it from the vanilla grains. I can't really tell if the flavor is better or more round as Rose says it is, because my sinuses are little on the clogged side killing my sense of smell and the finer notes of taste. But who's complaining? I ate my pound cake for breakfast with honey-sweetened mascarpone, fresh blueberries, and defrosted strawberries I picked in June. Yum, yum, and yum. I am planning on eating the same thing for lunch and dinner as well.

today's breakfast!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Fresh Blueberry Pie

As part of my 35 things to do before I'm 36, #11 is to make a pie from berries I picked that morning.

Well, blueberry season is at its peak. And, I love blueberries. And, I remember how much fun I had last time I picked them. And looking ahead, blackberry season is right around the corner, and I don't like picking blackberries, and I really don't like all them dang seeds.

So now seemed like a good time to work on #11.

fresh blueberry pie

July 31, 2008
Name of pie: Fresh Blueberry Pie
Occasion: Time to make a pie from berries I picked that morning
Constituents: One Flaky Pie Crust and four cups of freshly picked blueberries

Because this is kind of a double post, you'll have to go to my other blog to vicariously enjoy blueberry picking on Sauvie's Island with me last Thursday. It was a good day.

I forget that pie making is not a spontaneous act. Pie dough likes a lot of time to rest up in the refrigerator. Pie dough is best if you let it sit around and sort itself out for 24 hours.

So when I came home Thursday afternoon with my bounty of blueberries I realised I had a long time to go before I could be enjoying pie. I took a deep breath, and began to assemble pie dough ingredients. I discovered a mystery flour in a jar in my cupboard--was it glutinous or not? Was it unbleached all-purpose? Was it bleached all-purpose? Was it cake flour? Was it pastry flour?

The flour looked a lot like the unbleached all-purpose I had, so chances are that's what it was. But why did I have it stored in a different jar? With no label?

Unanswered questions, friends.

I used all the unknown flour plus my unbleached all-purpose flour for the pie dough. Now, RLB recommends bleached AP or pastry flour, but I wasn't about to leave the house for flour. I thought I could just make do.

I followed RLB's instructions for a basic flaky pie crust as best I could; I still have no idea what she's talking about when she tells you to grab the openings of the bag with your fingers and knead the dough with your hands and knuckles. I kept trying to do what I think she says, but all the dough did was stick to the bag, remaining crumbly and non cohesive. So I kept on fumbling with it, thinking that maybe the dough was like mousseline buttercream, and it looks worse before it looks right. However my hands must get really hot because the butter began to soften and get melty and the dough still was a crumbly mess. Instead of refrigerating the dough for a bit like I should have, I dumped the dough out on the counter and mashed it together. Then I wrapped the mess in plastic wrap and refrigerated it for several hours, just like RLB says.

I eventually went back to it, and began the rolling out process. It kind of rolled out okay, but the butter began to melt again and I could see big patches in the dough that were just softened butter--no flour--and I got frustrated. I guess I'm not a very patient person. I wrestled the dough into the pie plate, patched up the really buttery parts with leftover dough, put it back in the refrigerator, and went to bed.

I decided that a pie made with berries I picked the day before was just as good.

The next morning wasn't the best morning for me. Many things did not go according to plan, including waking up, blind baking the pie, packing a lunch for work, and getting to work on time. I was not very chipper.

The pie crust would have been just fine if I didn't leave it in the oven too long and burn it. After all my struggles with the darn pie dough all I could do was ensure ruin and burn it?!

dangit!  i burnt the crust

I vowed to never make pie dough again. I would have cursed pie dough during my entire commute to work but I got stuck in unbelievably slow traffic and ended up cursing all of Portland for being in my way.

Like I said, I was not very chipper!

My plan was to cheat and buy a premade dough. I couldn't spend another 24 hours wrestling with pie dough. I didn't have it in me.

Work cheered me up, which it usually does. There's nothing like sticking little needles in people or shoving my elbow into the muscles of someone's back to give me a little perspective on my life. That hour or so I spend thinking about them and not at all about me is just the break I need to get me out of a mood. Thanks patients!

When I went home, I picked at my dark brown pie crust, and decided to use it anyway. What the heck. I could just eat around it if it was that terrible.

Making the filling for the blueberry pie was incredibly easy. Of the four cups of berries, you only cook down one cup with half a cup of water until the berries burst and the juices thicken. Then you add a cornstarch slurry and half a cup of sugar and stir like crazy for another minute or so. Once the jam-like stuff turns translucent you pull the pan off the heat, fold in the other three cups of berries, and spoon into the pie shell. Voila! Pie!

fresh blueberry pie

It is a very tasty pie. It tastes mostly like giant spoonfuls of fresh blueberries. I can't really taste the pie crust at all, which in this case is probably a good thing. When I eat the crust at the top, it is crisp and actually kind of flaky. It doesn't taste like anything more than very browned crust, but my guess is that it would have been quite excellent if done properly.

I like the natural sweet of the berries so I would cut down on the sugar next time--maybe only 1/3 cup sugar. Also, this morning I came across RLB's recipe for a meringue pie shell, with cocoa and bittersweet chip variations. As I was snacking on handfuls of fresh blueberries and chocolate chips when I found it, I thought a bittersweet meringue pie shell with the fresh blueberry filling would be kind of fun. And then my gluten free people would be able to eat it! And I could skip making pie dough! Win-win for everybody!

Actually, I am not giving up on pie dough. I really want to learn how to do it. I looked at Rose's blog yesterday after I burnt my crust and saw her heavenly peach galette. Her dough looks so silky and soft--it is really so beautiful. I hope that at some point in my life I will be able to make a dough like that.