Sunday, April 25, 2010

Pretzels 4/26

April 26th is Pretzel Day! Ok, so maybe we like to celebrate stuff ok? Not everyday is a holiday but we like to bake and it's a way to celebrate.
Trader Joes used to sell these pretzels that had sunflower seeds in them and they were YUM! They were a great snack food for kids (camp counselor tested) and it was a tragedy when they stopped selling them. They said that not enough people were buying them but we (plus a whole lot of people we know) would have bought a pallet of them if that meant that they'd still be around today.
We decided to take matters into our own hands and are making some sunflower seed pretzels now. Alton Brown's hard preztel recipe seemed promising so we went with that but added sunflower seeds. So the ingredients list is:

  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
  • 1 large whole egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • vegetable oil, for pan
  • Water
  • Pretzel salt (or ground sea salt that we used)
  • 3/4 cup of roasted unsalted sunflower seeds
  • Everything we did was the same as Alton's recipe except after the dough was mixed, we added the seeds and then let it rise. 

We have to admit that it seemed pretty scary when the recipe called for dropping the pretzel dough in boiling water and then remove them and place on sheet pans. Sounds so simple, but in practice, it was a little more than that. 

We used forks to get them out and there were a few that fell apart. The recipe calls for them to be 14"-15" and we're not so sure how to execute that. Ours were much shorter. What tools would you use to get a 14"-15" noodle out of boiling water and keep it straight?
It wasn't so bad but again, ours were shorter. Then, they were brushed with the egg mixture and salted.

Then into the oven for 60 minutes!

They didn't come out the way Alton's looked but the were hard and salty. They looked more like bread sticks but they had the nutty flavor that we were looking for from the sunflower seeds. They were a little soft in the middle but overall, quite enjoyable. 

Lessons learned: If we were to try this again, we might be more diligent about making them skinnier to see if they'd be darker and crunchier. But, they tasted this way too.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day Brownies 4/22

So, today is Earth Day and we made brownies for it. Sorry this post is a bit late in the day, but work got in the way, the weather wasn't cooperating and we aren't thrilled to share with you that our plan didn't work out so well.

For this occasion (which happens to be the 40th Anniversary of the holiday BTW), we decided that there wasn't anything more environmentally friendly than baking with a solar oven. No, we don't have a new exciting recipe to share, and it's kind of nerdy but what do you expect from a blog called "2010: A Bake Odyssey?"

We started building the oven late last week. We used 2 cardboard boxes, one smaller than the other and put Styrofoam between them to provide some insulation.

We used another sheet of cardboard lined with aluminum foil to provide some reflection. We obtained a piece of glass from a garage sale and put it over the oven for a "greenhouse effect". When testing it out on Saturday afternoon, we reached a temperature of 150 degrees Fahrenheit.

We hoped for better and went and bought black poster board to line the inside of the oven and draw in more heat. In the spirit of the project, everything but the poster board and the foil was previously used.
The next day, in a test at about noon, the oven got up to 227 degrees F. Then we dawdled for a little bit and didn't get the brownies in there till about 2.

(This isn't what they looked like when they were done but pretty close. Imagine them with a tan.)

It was still pretty sunny with a few clouds. The oven got up to 202 degrees F and the brownies themselves were heated up to 161 degrees before the clouds rolled in and the temperature dropped rapidly.


They were only in there for a little over an hour. According to the FDA, eggs are satisfactorily edible if cooked to 145 degrees for 15 seconds. We reached that but we didn't achieve brownies. They were not even close to cooked through. We had to finish them in the real oven and that defeated the whole purpose. We were disappointed, especially since it's been gloomy and/or rainy for the last three days. We didn't even have a chance to redeem it. Well, we haven't given up anyway. We believe that this is possible and we are gonna make it happen.  We'll update this post with the next attempt and hopefully success. Till then, be green and Happy Earth Day!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Glee Cupcakes 4/13

Update: Our Glee Cupcakes were named #2 on the "20 Most Inventive Cupcakes Known to Man" by Also, due to the response and requests to make these cuties, there's another update further below to help explain the process.

We are Gleeks and we are proud of it. We are fans of Glee and enjoy every second of it. Glee returns today and we couldn't be more excited. To celebrate its return, we are dedicating a Post to it. We present to you: Glee Cupcakes.

On the show, the Glee kids are considered unpopular and targets for teasing. The main attack is what is called a slushie facial. The football players throw slushies in the faces of the poor Glee Club students. So, not that we condone this sort of behavior but our cupcakes are meant to look like the slushies. We even watched the episodes closely to see that they are called "Big Quench" as opposed to "Big Gulp".
We've been planning this for months. The cupcake challenge was involved too. As has been said before, we do not believe in looks over flavor. We could not let the presentation be better than the taste.  The cupcake challenge yielded a chocolate cupcake as the winner. That doesn't work so well for a slushie cupcake. The vanilla cupcake came in last place at the challenge but we liked it. We did some research, made some improvements and went for it.  Our recipe was a combination of the amended Magnolia Bakery recipe from Cast Sugar and the highly praised one from We went with the following ingredients:
1 3/4 cups cake flour
1 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 tbspn baking powder
3/4 tspn salt
1 cup unsalted butter
4 eggs
1 cup yogurt
2 tspn vanilla extract
Then we followed the steps on the 52 Cupcakes site. 

The decoration was the next big step for us. We made the frosting and then split it into 3 bowls. We planned on dyeing one blue, one red, and one purple to match typical slushie flavors.

Then we topped them with colored sanding sugar in the same color. 

UPDATE (more details): Then they went into the cups.
We cut down 9oz plastic cups to the point where the cupcakes don't slide into the cup anymore. Then we wrapped the labels that we made around the cups and tucked the ends into the cup.

We have to say they came out super cute!!

Happy return of Glee, everybody!

Lessons learned: We don't use as much frosting as most recipes call for, we ended up with A LOT left over. Cake flour is great for cupcakes, we ended up with a nice soft texture that we were aiming for.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Flourless Chocolate Cake 4/8

This recipe came about for a couple of reasons.  1) Erin has a couple of co-workers that are on gluten free diets and have been wanting to try our creations.  2) I was on a strict diet a few years ago where I couldn't eat wheat and I didn't find wheat free food that tasted that good.  At lot of gluten free recipes use lots of specialized flours and sweeteners so we thought we would eliminate the extra ingredients (that we probably won't use again) and go with Flourless Chocolate Cake.

I have to admit to my addiction to Baking/Food Blogs.  I love looking at the pictures, reading the recipes, and witty commentary.  It is helpful to plan what we are going to make next.  I have come across a few recipes for Flourless Chocolate Cake and they looked so good.  The recipe from Gluten Free Goddess looked both simple and yummy.

The consistency of the batter was like a thick soup.  Being that this cake has no flour, this is more like Chocolate Souffle than Cake with all the eggs (8 in all).

The whole cake raised up pretty high as you can see but it did settle down nicely.

Because the recipe called for Strong Hot Coffee, the cake came out tasting kinda like a mocha.  The gluten free people at Erin's work liked it and because it is so rich the pieces went a long way.

Lessons learned: Hot coffee and food processor equal melted chocolate in a jiffy.  Although this has a long bake and chill time it is a pretty easy recipe over all.

On an unrelated side note....  Erin and I baked this weekend for a close friend's birthday.  Usually we are a good team when it comes to tag teaming a recipe however we kinda goofed on our first attempt at making dark chocolate cupcakes.  When mixing the recipe, we thought the other had measured and included the sugar. Neither of us did.  Instead of yummy cupcakes we had lumpy tasteless rocks.  Those of course, went straight into the trash and a new batch was made.  A definite lesson learned:  Forgetting the sugar doesn't mean sugar free and still good.  Baking is about chemistry. Both in the baking and in the teamwork.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Crackers 4/4

Technically, we're a little late with this post but we've been doing lots including baking, we promise. This week, we decided to try crackers. We're not sure we'll ever try them again though...
We fell in love with an idea from Design Sponge. They're crackers that are shaped like sheep!
We were especially excited about this because our Grandma had an amazing recipe for zucchini soup and it would be perfect for Easter. 
Granted, the process did sound tedious, but lately we've been getting more and more ambitious so we decided to go for it. 
I'm sorry to say, it didn't go so well. We cut out a couple of sheep and put them in the oven to see how it was going.

Unfortunately, we didn't roll the dough out thin enough and we ended up with Sheep Shaped dog biscuit sized crackers. That doesn't work so well. We weren't sure that we were fans of the recipe either. So we made one last attempt. Rolled it out flatter, used a cookie cutter for large Ship Shape Crackers, cut out one more sheep and called it done.

We think they came out alright. Quite acceptable. 
We made enough for everyone to have one cracker with their soup at dinner. By the time dinner came along, there were 3 less....a mystery was a foot. The sheep and ship sleuths were on the cracker case. Don't worry the case was easily solved. Our brother in law was the culprit. He said they taste like biscuits that didn't rise and he likes biscuits. 
So there is it. We started out for sheep crackers and ended up with ship crackers. Eh, you do what you can.
Lessons learned: Crackers are thinner than we thought. We'll want to try a different recipe next time or just buy them. Don't look at us that way, we're only human!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

1st Quarterly Challenge

Ladies and Gentlemen, we'd like to proudly present our first of the Quarterly challenges. Mostly it's a competition in recipe choice because we just can't help but assist each other but it's a bigger baking endeavor than our usual weekly posts.

This time we chose Cupcakes. Those omnipresent little pastries that seem to gain in popularity no matter how many bakeries specializing in them pop up. Sara maintains a strong fondness for them though I struggle to understand their appeal. I can't help it, I'm a cookie girl.
The rules:
As usual, they had to be made from scratch.
We were allowed to make 24 cupcakes and present 12 for competition.
There were 8 non-biased judges to decide the winner based on overall enjoyment.
The winner gets to write the post and pick the flavor of cupcake in a future post (you'll see).
The contenders:
Sara made a beautiful Cherry Limeade Cupcake with a lime cupcake infused with juice and cherry frosting.
I made a chocolate cupcake with Vanilla frosting. Sounds boring but the secret ingredient was...mayonnaise. Sounds even worse now but you'll hear more later.
The third entry was a collaborative effort between the 2 of us: a vanilla cupcake recipe from Magnolia Bakery (famous in NYC) with Dark Chocolate frosting.
The results:
The third sounds like the second just opposite but we wanted to make a different kind of frosting and the vanilla cupcake recipe sounded so great to us. When we tasted it, Sara thought it tasted like a sprinkles cupcake. It came in third...
Second place went to the Cherry Limeade cupcake that Sara made. Although most judges remarked that the look of the cupcake was most appealing and moistest, they went for a more classic flavor.

The winner was the Chocolate Mayo Cake. To be fair, the judges were not told what they were tasting when they tasted them. They felt tricked when the truth was revealed. A couple proclaimed a hatred for Mayonnaise but they couldn't taste is because they voted for it anyway. 
To be honest, I'm not a big fan of mayonnaise either. In fact, it was the only ingredient on the recipe list that I didn't already have.  I had heard about it from a friend who had cupcakes at her wedding and her guests went crazy over the Mayo cake. I thought it was an interesting idea and did some research.
The problem with a lot of online recipe reviews is that most people exclaim about how excited they are to try it or how yummy it looks. There are very few about how it actually came out for people. A lot of people made comments about how Mayo Cake was something their mom used to make. Not our Mom. And not anyone I know's mom either. I took from this that the use of mayonnaise is an old fashioned technique and grew even more intrigued. 
The recipes that I found on Food Geeks and Pastry Wiz except the latter served about a third more and the measurements were about a third more. I took this to mean that this may be a popular recipe and the one to try.  The recipe on the Food Network Site however was different. It called for Buttermilk which we have discovered we aren't big fans of so I disqualified it. I did see however that they used more cocoa and one reviewer noted that the cake wasn't chocolatey enough and would add mini morsels the next time. I decided to try that since my chosen recipe had less cocoa.
It all went fine. I had my doubts while mixing in the mayo. It looked gross, it smelled gross.
But there was hope to be found with the vanilla extract and water.
Then it started smelling and looking like cake. I added the morsels to all but one cupcake just to see and boy did that ever save it!

The came out beautifully and I frosted them with from scratch vanilla frosting. Perfect!
Lessons learned: Extra chocolate never hurts. You don't always need to "Hold the Mayo."