Dude, Where's My Streusel?

Thursday, May 31, 2007

This may come as a shock to you (yeah, right), but something went very wrong with my Sour Cream Coffeecake.

First, this post might be short. Why? Because I went back to my beloved YMCA today (May 31, 2007) and tried those damn arm machines. My arms kill again. I'm close to calling Amnesty International to report that crazy pectoral fly machine (of course, I'm lifting a hefty TEN pounds!). I think this exercise stuff affects my cooking dexterity as I dropped an egg, butter tray, and sour cream container top tonight.

I tried the Sour Cream Coffeecake from Baking Illustrated (page 340). The streusel topping calls for 1 cup pecans, chopped...but I excluded these because one of my co-workers cannot eat nuts (and I'm not crazy about pecans). So that left my topping to be flour, sugar, dark brown sugar, cinnamon and butter - a pretty standard streusel topping, no?

I've measured the dry ingredients and was in the process of measuring the wet ingredients. 4 eggs - check. Vanilla extract - check. 1 1/2 cups of sour cream...hum...holy mother of [insert Deity here]. I got an 8 ounce container of sour cream...about 1/2 cup too short. So I drag myself (still in my gym clothes) to the most janky Ralphs on the planet. It is about the size of a 1 bedroom apartment and it's just, well, janky. This is the emergency Ralphs - you only go in an emergency. Of course, only one check-out line is open at 9 pm. Mr. Manager is checking and shouting orders to his staff (in addition to talking about the game...Now, it's totally fine to talk about the game, but you really don't need to absolutely STOP scanning items while doing this. Multi-tasking...it's a good thing.) Anyway, two people ahead of me purchase $1.00 per pound apples (with RalphsClubCard!) They pay. They leave. Mr. Manager finally starts to work on the next customer who is buying a huge Mylar balloon and is busy texting her friends while waiting in line. As Mr. Manager starts on the balloon purchase (and asking his staff who knows how to add helium to her sagging balloon...), the apple couple come back. They were charged $2.29 per pound! Turns out, after Mr. Manager thinks about it, their apples have two different stickers on them with two different numbers!!! Voids happen...very, very slowly. Refunds are given...very, very slowly. Apple couple needs to sign and fill out their address because the refund was more than $5. By the time I left, there were about 8 people behind me. The carts weaved around the magazines and into the Canned Meats aisle (yes, Chef Boyardee is only $1/can this week!) The lady at the end wasn't browsing magazines while waiting - she grabbed a novel. Whew! Thanks for letting me vent. Yeah...back to baking.

After I add the proper amount of sour cream, things look okay. Mixing is good. I'm to "increase the speed to medium-high and beat for 1 minute" and the batter is supposed to aerate and become pale - and I get pale!! Oh yeah, this cake is going to happen!

SCCC (you know, Sour Cream Coffeecake) bakes for 55 minutes. I open the oven while talking to my friend. Screams of "Where's My Topping?!" can be heard throughout Los Angeles. The top of my cake is absent any sense of the word Streusel. I think the whole thing melted into the cake...perhaps I should have reconsidered the pecans.

But wait! There's more!! If you buy the SCCC with no topping, you also get a cake with internal streusel stuck to the bottom of the pan!! How could you turn this down? There was supposed to be TWO layers of streusel (this streusel did not have nuts in it so I can't blame my lack of pecans). In the book, there is even a color photo of this coffeecake and it is beautiful. But mine has this globby mess at the bottom of the pan. No definition of Streusel. No beauty. No bringing this into work. Mr. Trashman gets yet another meal.

Alrighty then. I'm getting a little frustrated with this baking thing so I'm going to make a chemical-filled, emulsifier-filled box cake mix. I'm going to watch the movie Waitress this weekend because I heard the lead character bakes a lot (things like "I hate my husband cake.") Perhaps I can learn a few culinary techniques. Damn, I need them! (Yes, so much for the short post! :)
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Picnic Brownies

Monday, May 28, 2007

After a hint from my friend, I've decided to bring brownies to the Memorial Day BBQ! I'm heading back to Cook's Illustrated Baking Illustrated book for brownies ("Chewy, Fudgy Triple-Chocolate Brownies", page 486.) New ingredients include bittersweet chocolate morsels for baking and unsweetened baking chocolate squares.

For this one, you use the double boiler technique to melt the chocolates and butter together before whisking in some cocoa powder.

Cook's recommends creating a sling-like devise to easily remove your brownies. You can use parchment paper or aluminum foil. See, you can just lift out your brownies! This is quite handy!

I find that the brownies are pretty dense. Very chocolately, but not as cakey as you get from a box. Cook's recommends cutting them into 1 inch squares because they are hefty. You are supposed to get 64 brownies, (8x8) but my edges were pretty brown so I ended up with about 36 pieces.
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Almost Chocolate Cake

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Last night (May 23, 2007), I started on my quest to make Martha Stewart’s Moist Devil’s Food Cake with Mrs. Milman’s Chocolate Frosting.

Placed visited for this cake:

1. Bristol Farms for cocoa, heavy whipping cream, and whole milk. I went there specifically for the Dutch-process unsweetened cocoa powder that Martha raves about (and that I couldn’t find in my local grocery store), but the boxes I found at Bristol looked old and didn’t have an expiration date on them…so I ended up getting the Ghirardelli unsweetened cocoa, thinking it was close enough. I think that was a mistake…but I’ll get to that later. Oh my gosh, the frosting recipe calls for FOUR CUPS of heavy whipping cream. Yes, if you remember your math, that is a quart of cream. I think the “nutrition” (because there is no nutrition in this carton) label says there are 63 servings…at 50 calories and 5 grams of fat each! I left the field of accounting to become a librarian so my math skills are rusty...but I think that is 3,150 calories and 315 grams of fat. And, whipping cream is expensive stuff! $6.50 for the quart. I bought a kid's size milk jug of whole milk because I’m a soy milk person. There are lots of new items in the kitchen now!

2. Target for the 8 inch cake pans. I’m at Target at 8 pm last night looking for 8 inch cake pans. Seems that 9 inch cake pans are the overwhelming favorite, and there isn't an 8 inch pan in the store.

3. Albertsons for 8 inch cake pans. I drive there after visiting Target. I remember seeing them here so I pick up the last three pans.

4. Ralphs for cake flour. I bought this earlier in the week. Have you seen this stuff before? Never knew it existed…it comes in a box.

5. Costco for chocolate chips. I love Costco. I could live in Costco. Anyway, they have a massive bag of chocolate chips (72 ounces) for $7 – such as steal. The frosting calls for 24 ounces – that is double the size for a regular batch of chocolate chip cookies.

Okay, the baking. Starts out okay. I watched the video of Martha making the cake before I start. Sorta like watching sports films before the championship game. I’m using the KitchenAid mixer (yet another product from heaven), and things almost look like TV except for the massive mess I’m making in the kitchen. The only thing is that the cake batter doesn’t look as dark chocolate as Martha’s. After mixing, shifting, creaming, dusting and all other manner of cooking verbs, it is off to the ovens for these guys.

The cakes cook up and fill the pan. This is going to be a very tall cake! Here is a photo of them cooling off…

Before I go to bed, I take a slice off the top (you know, to level the cake) and try it. It tastes very chocolately but the color certainly doesn’t match Martha. I can’t help but hear Martha saying, “You need to use the Dutch-process cocoa…” Damn.

I set my alarm for 3:30 am. I know, I’m crazy but I want to start making the frosting. You need to melt the cream and chocolate chips for 30 minutes, put the mixture in the refrigerator for 2 hours but – get this part – stir it every 15 minutes. Then, you have to use the frosting immediately. I figure if I start early, I can get it going, nap in-between stirs, take a shower, frost the cake and I’ll be good to go.

Well, my alarm was set for 3:30 PM and I woke up at 5:30 am instead. Luckily, I had two jars of canned frosting in the pantry and put them to use…

I brought the cake to work, and despite the canned frosting, everyone loved it! I'm going to get the Dutch-process cocoa and try the cake again...perhaps on a weekend where I can relax while babysitting the frosting. Keep posted for more adventures with chocolate cake!

Mr. Muffin Man Hates Me! Two desserts where Mr. Trashcan didn’t get fed, you think? Well, not quite. I also tried to make Martha's mini coffeecake muffins (Martha’s recipe but with no video) this morning and those are on a long-term vacation with Mr. Trashcan. I didn't like the topping at all. I’m not going to make muffins again unless accompanied by an experienced muffin man or woman.

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She's a felon, but I got apple cake!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

After getting very frustrated with the blueberry muffin fiasco, I decided to switch tactics. I found Martha Stewart's website has instructional videos (clips from her show). These are a blessing as I'm such a visual learner. (I better tape America's Test Kitchen on PBS so I'll have a clue). It was important to see how long she mixed the batter - much longer than I would if left with written instructions such as "mix well."

Today, May 20, 2007, I watched Dorothy Mae Brown make her Apple Spice Cake on streaming video. The main ingredients are lots of flour, eggs, sugar and granny smith apples. And, baking soda. I'll never live that one down. Here's a look at the process.

The recipe calls for a caramel topping but they didn't demonstrate that on the video...I was on my own and I've never made caramel before. Caramel is amazing! It bubbles and bubbles, you stir and stir and your kitchen smells beyond sweet. It hardens as it cools...I hope I'm going to be able to cut the cake later. Anyway, I just regret not dipping some apples.

The cake is dotted with little fresh apple bites - yum! It filled the whole Bundt pan and is pretty dense. It is not very sweet and a good breakfast cake. Whew! Finally, something I can bring into work.
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Mr. Trashcan is Full - Muffin Disaster Part 2

Thursday, May 17, 2007

It is Thursday, May 17, 2007. Last night I went to Trader Joe's and got me some frozen organic WILD blueberries. They didn't have baking powder, but cans and cans of baking soda. It was like they were mocking me. I went to Ralphs to pick up the baking powder. While there, I was talking to my friend and had to hang up the phone because my arms hurt. Why? Was it a cooking injury? No, I went to the YMCA and learned how to use 8 upper body torture machines. Oh dear. I was in pain and it was only 30 minutes after I stopped exercising...but I digress. Needless to say, I'm popping lots of ibruprofen.

So, this morning I wake up at 5:00 am to try the blueberry muffins again. Arms kill while trying to whisk those damn wet ingredients. Anyway, things go well. Those damn wild blueberries are really much better for this recipe - they are cute and small. Yeah, and I'm sure using baking powder will help out.

Bake the muffins for 350 degrees (I bought an oven thermometer before starting on this mission) for 27 minutes. Tops are light brown. Toothpicks comes out clean in the 5 muffins I tested (yes, a little overkill, but I wanted to make sure they were done).

I pull them out and pop them out like the book says. Well, darn it, the book is wrong. Again, muffins are flying and getting themselves totally smashed and flattened! It was and will always be the start of a train wreck. One of the little buggers stays in the pan and I leave it there while I try to fix my hot purple dough balls. Turns out that by leaving the muffins in the pan for about 5 minutes, they come out with a much better shape. Take that, Cook's Illustrated!

I let them cool to the touch and finally taste one (of course, you taste the ugliest one so you can bring the handsome ones into work or the party). Although they don't taste like salty metal like yesterday, they just taste very bland and "doughy." Sweet Jesus. What does it take to make a decent muffin?

This batch of so-called baked goods (more like "baked bads") met the same fate as yesterday's muffins. Mr. Trashman is full. My co-workers think I'm making up this whole baking thing by now.

I feel it is best for my mental health if I move on from the muffin and try something else! Cakes is next!!!
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Here Comes the Muffin Man - Not!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

After my success with Banana Bread, my confidence is growing. I decide to bring in hot blueberry muffins to work! (page 46 - I decided against doing all these recipes in order).

Well. That didn't quite happen this morning (May 16, 2007). It started out great... woke up at 5:00 am to start my batch of blueberry muffins.

Everything goes well. I use the Cook's Illustrated method of whisking the eggs and sugar first, then adding other stuff I can't remember (whisking some more) and then adding the sour cream. My arm hurt after all that whisking my hand.

I carefully fold the wet and dry ingredients. I employ a light spray of nonstick cooking spray on my spatula to prevent sticking when I fill my muffin tin (no paper liners for these muffins!)

They bake up for 25 minutes as I wash the dishes and make breakfast. I pull them out and the muffin tops look Elaine-worthy. The recipe tells me to flip out the muffin and let them cool for 5 minutes. One of them completely falls apart on me. The others have huge amounts of blueberries on the bottom - making a smurf-butt muffin. (I used regular Trader Joe's frozen blueberries but Cook's says I should use frozen WILD blueberries because they are smaller...okay, next time).

The all important moment arrives. The taste test. The whole damn reason for learning how to cook! So I can EAT baked goods!

I take one bite and it was like eating a piece of salty metal. Oh, the disaster.

Turns out I used Baking Soda instead of Baking Powder. In my defense, it was (a) 5:00 am in the morning and (b) since when does Baking Soda come in cylinder containers?! I had previously purchased baking powder at Trader Joe's. When Cook's Illustrated tells me that baking powder only lasts 6 months (who knew!?), I went out to TJ and picked up what I thought was baking powder. Well, as I found out this morning...it wasn't. Here is a photo of the cans.

This is where the muffins ended up. Oh well. I'll try again tomorrow.
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Banana Bread

My first attempt! After watching my poor bananas ripen on the counter for about a week, it was time to try the banana bread recipe. It's the first recipe in the book (page 24).

I went to my janky Ralphs market and bought new flour (unbleached) and sugar (C&H) and plain yogurt (Cook's like it full fat). I already had the butter (unsalted) from Trader Joe's.

I mixed the dry ingredients together in one bowl. Then I started on the wet ingredients. I peeled my very brown bananas and found that I let them go too far. Oh the humanity...overripe overripe bananas. I ended up cutting off a lot of the banana and only ended up with 1 cup of mashed banana when I need 1 1/2 cups. Shoot. I grabbed a very yellow banana without any spots and mashed that one up. I mix them all together and hope nobody notices.

Here is a photo of the bread - including the all-important cross section (If you watch New Dotch Cooking Show, you'll understand its importance).

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Christopher Kimball is my hero

Okay. Here goes. I'm going to learn to bake. By myself. In my green kitchen. No more Betty Crocker box mixes and Pillsbury tubs of frosting. Just lots of butter, flour and eggs.

I'm a librarian in Los Angeles. I borrowed Baking Illustrated (edited by the cool fellows at Cook's Illustrated) from the library (of course!) and am starting at the beginning.

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