Saturday, October 22, 2011

COOKING: Cake Decorating Attempt #2

I had my father-in-law over today because I needed someone to help eat all this cake! After staring at them for 6 hours, it was no longer very appetizing to me, and Bill couldn't eat them all himself (plus since they were girly wedding cakes, I didn't want to make him eat them at work). They both said it tasted great though. I didn't quite believe them until I ate part of the second cake - the sweet marshmallowy fondant combined with the simple vanilla cream cheese cake base tasted great - not overly sweet. I actually craved more through the day. Apparently once the fondant had sat over night, it turned into something yummy.

Anyway, once most of the cake was gone, I had a reason to make more. So before FIL even left the house, I already had chocolate cake in the oven. I had such high hopes for this one, it was supposed to be a nice simple cake, made in normal 9" round pans. But even after letting it cool for 2 hours, the cakes were stuck in their pans. I well oiled the pans and never had this problem, so I have no idea what had gone wrong, but they came out broken and crumbled. I pieced them together best I could, but not much could be done for it.

Still, the fondant had already de-cooled and i was determined to get another chance at decorating today. Besides, if I didn't, I would have had to make cake balls, and that was much more work. So instead I rolled out the fondant and used it as a wall to keep all the cake standing behind. I tucked the ends in so cake didn't fall out, even though that made the fondant not happy. Once the fondant was on, I smoothed it out (and the buttercream underneath as it tends to lump) then piped on designs.

I made the wrong color icing, as you can guess. That was not the color I was going for! I actually had wanted rose red as I had planned to try a rose on top. Instead, in my haste to finish because of the baby crying, I dumped the orange food coloring in, and quite a bit (as I had wanted a dark red color). Well, only when I was mixing and seeing it a yellow orange did I bother to stop and look at the lid and realize what I did. I tried combatting it with red, but it didn't turn the way I wanted it too. Fearing it would get worse and turn brown if I kept adding to it, I just stuck with this pumpkin-y orange color. It's just practice, and this cake was already ruined, so it didn't matter much at this point.

The pictures are below:

COOKING: Professional Cakes Attempt #1

I should have updated this earlier. In fact, I'm surprised I didn't as I've been jumping off the walls excited about getting bakery  tools and beginning to invest in running a bakery one day.

Even though I've never lost steam or enthusiasm for this idea, walking up and down State Street every day has kicked me into gear. State Street is where my desired future bakery shop is, in a place that is currently a notary. The place makes me nearly drool, as there's so much I could do with it. Every time I pass it I look in and my mind runs wild. So far they've very successful as they double in vinyl making - who knew that could go anywhere? But I heard the owner talking about having enough of a business to open on the internet for international sales, and they were profitable enough to afford building a handicap slope outside their door.

I have back ups because of this. In fact, the notary is attached to another store. The store front is smaller but it has a huge back room, ideal for baking. The place I like has a very small back room, probably not enough to bake on premise. This attached store holds promise and looks cheaper to rent. There's a store on the other side of my favorite store, separated by an alley lane. It looks pretty shot down and would need work, but it's charming looking and reminds me of Buddy's store, if it was even smaller than it is. But I won't have the money to fix up an entire place, so that's a last shot. Across the street is a huge place, ideal window store front and very nice looking, but I doubt I'd be able to afford the first year's rent, even after saving up for a few years. I think I'll stick with fantasizing over the two red attached stores, as they're my best bet.

ANYWAY, I didn't mean to say any of that. I meant to say that I'm buying lots of tools to build up my baking artilery. They're expensive, so I can only afford two or three things at a time, which is about every two weeks. But I'm going to keep gathering. So far this past week I bought three things that are just wonderful. First, my favorite baking thing ever, my professional grade cast iron bottom cake stand. It doesn't wobble, not even a little. It's so smooth and perfect.

Then I got a cake pan that makes mini three tiered cakes. It's like making little mini wedding cakes, they're adorable! The pan works GREAT. I couldn't believe how easily the whole cake slid out, as I anticipated it getting stuck (I made two cakes thinking one would probably crumble, but no problems at all there!) The cakes are so cute.

Then I bought icing presser patterns. These are fancy shapes in different sizes that let you push them into the icing, leaving a pattern. Then you just easily follow the lines with icing and it looks like you did it perfectly by hand. I love these - it's something so simple that really helps make cakes look amazing and professionally done.

The cake stand arrived yesterday, as I planned it would. The day before I prepared to make everything I'd need to have a professional looking cake and yesterday I unfolded the plan.

Things went a bit rocky. First, I followed the recipe on the cake pan since I wanted to try something new. It was a vanilla cream cheese cake that tasted great. I assumed that since it was on the cake pan, that it would be enough to fill the cake pan. It wasn't, it only made two instead of four. I was fine with that - it would have taken double time to do all of them and that would have drove me crazy. I enjoyed only working with two.

Then I made buttercream. I knew i needed to cover both mini cakes with it and have plenty left over for the decorating, so I made a double batch, having no idea that it needed so much powdered sugar. I had about half of what i needed. I just went with it - the icing tastes pretty buttery this way but hey, it's called butter cream. It ended up making so much I still have enough for another normal sized cake.

Then I realized oops, I used all my powdered sugar, which I had to have for the fondant - the fondant being the most important experiment of the day. It was like 8 PM and cold, so I couldn't just run to the store with Katie. Instead I called my mom and convinced her to let me have her powdered sugar, her fondant rolling pin, and to drive it down to me for a small payment. Thankfully that worked out, and I made the fondant with little problem after that.

Though fondant is SO difficult to work with. I wasn't at all surprised, as I never heard anyone refer to fondant as something easy to work with. It dries up within ten minutes, which means you have to roll it out, shape it and get it perfect on the cake within 10 minutes. LOTS OF PRESSURE! Especially when you have to scrap it and reroll it about 5 times over because it won't stop tearing on the cutting board.

When they say to "dust the cutting board" for your fondant, don't listen to that. You want to COAT the board like you're trying to keep the fondant warm for the frosty winter using only powdered sugar. You need layers on everything that touches it - including your hands and wrists. And DON'T touch you're clothing at all, as fondant loves fibers. Keep any clothing that's fluffy out of the kitchen, as fondant acts like a magnet.

I tried two different methods with the cake. The lazy way, ie, just covering the whole cake with icing and putting fondant on it, and the better way: cutting the layers off, fondant-ing them individually and gluing them back together with icing. You can see which one worked better!

It took about 4-6 hours to make and decorate these cakes, but I had fun. In fact, I'm doing it again today, this time with a new chocolate cake recipe and doing a normal 9" round cake so I have more room to decorate.

Here's pictures from yesterday. Note: Some of the decorating was done with one hand while holding a baby!

Monday, October 3, 2011

COOKING: Roasts & Muffins

Big day of cooking again! I don't even know where to put all this food!

First up, I had to use my beef roast that's been defrosting, so I broke out my crock pot and searched my cabinets. I found a giant can of cream of mushroom soup, beef broth and onion mix packets. I typed these things into google and found a great recipe. I flavored the beef with salt, garlic salt and something else, seared it, floured it, then put it into a mixture of the ingredients above. It's slow cooking until 11 PM.

(seared and seasoned beef roast)

Then I made my first ever muffins from scratch. I started with chocolate chips. As the recipe warned, they don't look elegant but they're yummy! They were on the small side and the batter was hard to work with but the taste is yummy!

I then grabbed my last can of pumpkin to make more muffins. I put some chocolate chips in it per the recipe, still waiting to see how that tastes as they just came out of the oven. It seemed like the best alternative, as I hate raisins or walnuts in things.

The best part about the muffins was actually the difficulty they gave me. It was a huge  recipe, and my large yellow pyrex bowl just couldn't fit it all. Katie was crying so I also had no time to play. I grabbed my Kitchen Aid mixer, plugged it in, quickly figured things out and dumped all the ingredients in and turned it on low stir.

I was amazed. The sight of this machine doing the hard work and turning sloppiness into beautifully mixed batter just awestruck me. What is this hand stirring stuff and WHY did I ever do it? I was so excited that I called my mom so she could hear the awesomeness of the efficient stirring. Yeah, that's how overwhelmed I was by my new toy. No wonder they get so much money for these things, they're great!  It will now have a permanent home on my counter near an outlet for easy stirring. I want to bake just as an excuse to use this now! I love love love it.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

COOKING: Sides and Desserts

I experimented for the first time with chicken wings today. I've been craving them so I bought a pack of 20, found a recipe, and went at it. Last night I covered them in a flour mix and let them sit over night. Today I got them out, added butter to them, and popped them into the oven. They sat on a cooling rack over a cookie sheet so the juices would drip down and keep the chicken crisp instead of soggy. I realized too late that it was only in my imagination that we owned hot sauce (as Bill said we have never bought hot sauce ever) so it was just regular chicken wings. We dipped them in ranch and they were juicy but grease free and yummy.

Since it was cold today, I needed a reason to keep the oven on to warm the house. So after the chicken was done, I made pie dough and let it sit while preheating for pie #1. I cleaned the kitchen up and took care of Katie, then got one pie dough out, rolled it flat, and made a coconut custard pie (one of my favorite types of pie!) it came out looking beautiful and perfect!

After that was pumpkin pie. I made this in a rush though and Katie started to cry. I couldn't believe how easy and fast it was, and though the batter was super liquidy, I decided to go with it and pop it in the oven since Katie was still upset. I started to hurry and put the ingredients away when I grabbed the unopened pumpkin can and went to put it back on the shelf. Oops! I grabbed the pumpkinless pie out of the oven and mixed the pumpkin in, then popped it back in. My other problem was I forgot to cut down the recipe and made enough for two pies. Knowing I wouldn't be making more pie dough soon as I'm out of flour and butter now, I decided to do a deep dish - but forgot to lower the oven temp so it would cook slower and thoroughly. I ended up with dark crust and taking double and a half the normal amount of time. I've yet to try it, but my fingers are crossed. It's the first time I've ever experimented with deep dish pies, so I'm not being too hard on myself.

This morning I wanted to also make cookies, but after I was frazzled with the pie and I needed to prepare dinner for Bill coming home, I decided to stop baking and leave the rest for another day (plus I was running out of room in my fridge!)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

COOKING - Oct 1st

Five Minute Chocolate Cake in a mug. It sounds delicious and easy. It drove me crazy at the idea in pregnancy. Finally I found the recipe again and I tried it.

Let me first say that it's NOT WORTH IT. By the time you drag out all of the ingredients (a five minute task in itself), there's no reason to make only a mugful of cake. You could just as quickly as easily dump all of the same ingredients into a bowl, just with biggest measurements, and you've got yourself a real cake. None of this tiny mug stuff where you need to make five to satisfy your pregnancy self. So that was my first problem.

The other one was, while the cake did rise in five minutes and was done, it was terrible. It didn't taste at all like chocolate, it tasted just nasty. So much in fact that I threw it out. I tried it three times (the first time was to taste, the second was in disbelief that it could be that bad, and the third was after I walked away, did laundry, and though there must be some good in it somewhere if I dug deep enough!) it went in the trash. Five minute chocolate cake ended up being five minutes of prepare time, five minutes of cooking, and then five minutes of trying to get the taste out of my mouth while mourning the loss of ingredients.

You know it's bad when the dog didn't even try to dig it back out of the trash as a midnight treat. Even she left it in there and she eats things like, you know, dirty diapers.

 So today's project is chicken wings. I'm trying a recipe that had over 200+ reviews on it and modifications for it, so hopefully it'll come out well.

So far, I covered them in a flour mixture and popped them into the fridge to sit for a few hours. Here's the wings all covered:

It has to come out better than the cake, so I'm optimistic.