Monday, August 30, 2010

Bonus Post: Giving Tree Cupcakes 8/28

Sara helped throw a baby shower for her best friend this past weekend. The theme was bed time stories and Sara's favorite is "The Giving Tree." We decided to make applesauce spice cupcakes that look like apples a la Martha Stewart. 

To add our own little flare, we took 5 of those cupcakes and decorated them to be the different stages depicted in the book. 

We had a lot of fun turning tootsie rolls, frosting and sprinkles into an edible version of a beloved classic.

Lessons learned: We'd use a thicker, fluffier frosting next time to make the leaves look thicker. Also, tootsie rolls don't want to stand up on their own too well. Toothpicks are necessary.

Ding Dongs 8/24

DING DONG! Have you had those delicious silver covered hockey pucks made by Hostess? Don't know what we are talking about?  Click Here!

We play on a Co-Ed slow pitch softball team.  This isn't just any softball team.  We have been devoted members of Team Ryan Design for over 5 years now.  We are a very solid B division team but this year we were put in the A division.  So to say it nicely...  we didn't do very well.  So to celebrate our last game of the season aka the first round of playoffs, we made Ding Dongs.

We found a recipe on Smitten Kitchen, but she makes one big cake so we decided to use this recipe for a sheet cake.  From the sheet cake we cut circles using a biscuit cutter.  Erin decided to make a 2nd sheet cake because she didn't think we would have enough with one.  However, she didn't closely read the recipe and used baking soda instead of baking powder.  So, if you ever wanted to see the difference, here is a side by side comparison.  The cakes both tasted about the same though.

We cut each biscuit in half and filled with the recipe for 7 minute frosting. This stuff is very tasty. We don't know why we haven't made it before. We then went about melting some milk chocolate to cover them. This does not work the way it does at Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. It does not flow that well. We went back to the drawing board and tried a ganache.

We didn't have time to let the chocolate fully set before the game so they didn't get wrapped up in foil.  But they turned out tasty anyways. It was a very warm night so even if the chocolate had set, it may have melted again anyway. We never saw them fully set and we'd like to. Someday...

Lessons learned:  Baking powder is definitely not the same as baking soda.  Nothing really beats chocolate covered chocolate.  We are on the search for a hard setting easy pouring chocolate.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Peach Pie with Ice Cream 8/22

This month is Peach month and we've been feeling a desire to bake something with this in-season fruit. At first, we thought we'd make a cobbler but our research enticed us to go in a different direction. Last week, our local radio station KCRW (98.9 fm) was having it's Summer membership drive. We were planning on subscribing since we enjoy their programming and this led us to their blog for the show "Good Eats." There was a lot of frenzied instant messaging that consisted of "oooh look at this " and "this looks great! " We were very inspired. The fact that they have a pie-a-day post spoke directly to us. There are lots of great ideas and tricks from chefs and bakers all over LA and needless to say our baking excitement has been rekindled once again. It seems there aren't enough weeks left in the year to bake everything we want to for this blog. We'll have to come up with a solution for that.
The pie that we decided on was a Darjeeling Tea Peach Pie with Darjeeling Infused Ice Cream. We planned on doing both the pie and the ice cream. That is a lot of work so we knew we'd have to wait for the weekend for this one. We also didn't have much time for shopping and left that for Saturday as well.  Our friend, Annie was visiting from Australia and she was very gracious in tagging along as we pursued this endeavor.

We went to the farmer's market, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, a few other stops including a grocery store (redundant, yes) and came up with all of the ingredients except for the Darjeeling tea. We couldn't spend all day on this so an executive decision was made. We would substitute the Darjeeling tea with Earl Grey. We've heard of other people baking with Earl Grey and decided it was a good plan. Off to the kitchen.

We began with the dough and that went well. Then came time to prep the peaches, that didn't go so well. The Farmers Market is a great spot to get fresh, locally grown fruits and veggies. What you are not guaranteed is that said produce will be ripe. When we selected the peaches we were unaware of just how not ripe they were. These peaches were more the texture of apples and although they would be stewed before being baked, the recipe calls for ripe peaches and these were far from it. Back out we went.
On our way to Costco (because we had already been there this morning, saw lots of peaches and were hoping to not spend too much more than we already had), Annie asked us if we had any green grocers. We said that we don't have anything by that name but she explained that its a store that only sells produce. Mostly, we just have supermarkets but there is one place...and it was a true "Why didn't I think of that?" moment, even more embarassing that someone who isn't from around here, or even from this country thought of it; Marina Farms!! We probably didn't think of it because when we go there we want to buy a lot of fruit but we can't eat it fast enough. It's often too ripe and doesn't even last thorugh the week. We know, we know duh! We should have bought the fruit from there to begin with. We bought 7 peaches because these were much bigger and headed back to the kitchen.

Everything else went pretty smoothly. We tested the smell of an Earl Grey tea bag next to the freshly cut peaches and decided that this would definitely be something we want to eat, it was very exciting. We had a little too much fluid/too little corn starch in the finished pie filling but that didn't detract from the flavor.

The ice cream was great. We'd make both the pie and the ice cream again but we may have been more enamored with the frozen treat than the baked one...

Lessons learned: If you need your fruit to be ripe, buy it before the day you want to bake it, unless there's a Marina Farms near you. Also, spoon some of the fluid out of the filling. It doesn't need too much or it'll bubble over.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Zwiebelkuchen 8/8

This week, our parents were hosts to two families from Germany. On Sunday, we had a big BBQ and we thought it would be fun if they showed us how to bake something from Germany. Monika and Anya chose to make Zwiebelkuchen which literally translated means Onion Cake.

This is more savory than sweet so we made it as an appetizer to the meal. It is traditionally served in the fall in the wine making regions of Germany and it is enjoyed with a "fresh young wine", we chose Riesling as partially fermented wine was not readily available to us.

As you might guess, we did have a few translation problems. A few of the ingredients are not sold here in the way that they are in Germany or they're just different. The flour for example is not the same. Theirs is less processed and we could have gone on a hunt for something closer to traditional but the point of this dish, we were reminded is that it should be easy and enjoyable. We used regular unbleached all-purpose.

The next obstacle was the measurements. They use milliliters, we use cups. They measure weight, we measure volume. They use Celsius, we use Fahrenheit. One thing we had in common though was that we would not be deterred.
We pulled out the flour and Monika asked for a scale. We know that some bakers use a scale for accuracy but we aren't those kinds of bakers so we had to eyeball it. Monika has some culinary experience working in a hotel kitchen and was very familiar with how the dough should look and feel as it is getting close to the end of the kneading process. She said that when the dough is no longer sticking to the sides of the bowl or your hands, it's done. It should still be moist but not sticky. If there's too much liquid, add more flour, but make sure the existing flour is already well mixed. Sometimes, you just need a little more kneading. We have a better idea now of how much of each ingredient as you'll see in the recipe below. There was a lot of trial in this baking process but thankfully for Monika and Anya's vast experience, not too much error. The dough was set aside to rise and we moved on.

The next step was the onions. Lots and lots of onions (5 large ones!) Monika was superb at chopping them up but there's only so much someone can take. This isn't a sad post but there were lots of tears in the kitchen on Sunday. They don't have to be finely chopped because they get sauteed later and broken down some more in that process. In Germany, they call them "Vegetable Onions." These are the large onions that are not very potent. We should have refrigerated them to help diminish the sting but it was too late by the time we thought of it.

The onions were sauteed with a whole package of cut up bacon (we were making 2 cakes) and a little bit of oil. Then there's a cream mixture with eggs and sour cream. The last ingredient for this part is some Caraway seeds. We ran them through a spice grinder to increase the potency with the added bonus of decreasing the likelihood that they'll get stuck in your teeth. This spice also aids in digestion. Some people don't like the taste though so we made one cake with it and one without. We liked it but it wasn't bad without it.
The onion/bacon/caraway mixture gets spread over the dough and then the egg/sour cream mixture get poured evenly over that.

Then it's time for the baking. In Germany, it gets baked at 200 degress celsius so on an American oven, that translates to 390 fahrenheit. It's an umfamiliar temperature for us but after rotating halfway through and baking for 20 minutes, we couldn't argue with the results.

Monika was happy that they smelled like home, we must have done it right. Her son, Felix was sad that it smelled like home, he was enjoying the trip and didn't want to leave in 2 days.

250ml warm milk
1 packet of yeast
1/2 stick of butter (room temp)
500 grams (German pound) of Flour
Mix together and let rise to double

Onion Mixture:
3 large onions, chopped
1/2 Package of Bacon
Cook bacon with salt and pepper, then drain fat. Add onions. Cook for 15-20 minutes until soft.

Cream sauce:
3 eggs
200 grams of sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Caraway seeds (ground or powder) to taste

Spread the dough in a baking pan. Lay the onion mixture over top then pour the cream mixture in evenly.
Bake at 390 degrees Fahrenheit for 20-30 minutes depending on how crusty you want the top to be.

Lessons learned: We learned a lot this week about some German culture and some more about dough making. We are so grateful to Monika and Anya for showing us this dish and doing most of the work. We are excited to try it again on our own. We had a lot of fun with this.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Pecan Sandies 8/5

When I(Sara) think of summer, I think of sand and the beach.  I thought we should make something resembling that and Pecan Sandies, because they have sand in their name I guess, popped into my head.  I remember eating the Keebler Pecan Sandies growing up.

So we googled away and found various recipes for "Pecan Sandies."  Most of these recipes are short bread based(including the Keebler one), which requires anywhere from an half an hour to three hours of dough chilling time.  Since this time we were baking on a school night, we didn't have that kind of chilling time.  We found a recipe on Martha's website for a quick batch of Pecan Sandies.

With only 6 ingredients, this recipe came together really quickly.  I kept thinking "are we getting better at baking or is this just a really easy recipe?"  I think it is a bit of both.  I did realize that "coarsely chopped" means a once through with the knife rather than what is pictured above.

One of the best parts about this batter is, there is no egg in it and that means you can eat away!  I don't think there is much that tastes much better than flour, sugar, butter and vanilla. 

Once the dough is rolled into balls, you squish them.  I think that ours were a bit on the large size so we didn't end up with 18 cookies as the recipe says.  However, they were tasty.  Our dad reviewed them as "Not Bad" and had a hard time coming up with an improvement other than "they could use a bit more salt."

Although these didn't quite taste like the Keebler ones that we remember, this was a really simple and quick recipe that is worth making.  I think we might have to take the time to make the shortbread ones one of these days. 

Lessons learned: Homemade baking from scratch is always worth it. This is a good cookie base.  Maybe next time we try with some other ingredients, butterscotch perhaps?  Chop the pecans bigger.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Potato Chips 7/27

SNACK TIME!!!! This is one of our favorite parts of the day. You get to take a break and nosh on something yummy. Lately there's been a craze with potato chips and crackers where the packaging toughts that they are baked. This is supposed to be healthier so lots of popular brands are now available in a baked variety including Doritos and Cheetos. We think that's a little weird but we figured if they can bake up a batch of chips, they why couldn't we do the same?

Well it's not that easy. After several attempts with different recipes, a trip to the vet and a sleepless night, we came up with the answer. We'll share the trials with you:
We found 2 recipes on and we're excited to try this because it didn't seem so hard to make up some "mountain style" chips with some simple and healthy ingredients.

What we ended up with a variety of potato "items", none of which were what we were aiming for. They ranged from thin mojo potatoes to inedible burnt crisps. It was sad. We tried thicker slices of potato. We tried lower oven temps. Each time we thought we were gonna get it right and each time it was dissapointing.

We had out last attempt in the oven when we looked down and saw that our neice puppy, Lilly had a huge (well, huge for her) lump on her leg. We didn't know what it was and our concern for her far outweighed our attempts at potatoes so we took them out of the oven and dealt with the major matter at hand. We'll try again another time.

Lilly is fine. She had a foxtail working its way out from her paw. She doesn't seem to be hurting but she will be in the cone of shame for 2 weeks.

We did not try the potatoes again on Wednesday because we had a softball game. It was a fun game because it's a good group of people. The bad parts were that we lost and I (Erin) took a hard line drive to the thigh at the pitchers mound. I did pick it up and get him out at first but the resulting bruise kept me up all night. In that sleeplessness, I thought about potatoes and came up with something. We won't call it an epiphany but it is fair to call it a worthy idea. Potato excitement returned.
Sara left for Colorado to visit her pregnant bestie, Briana so the potato torch (Potatorch??) was carried on by me. The worthy idea consisted of fan folding aluminum foil and laying it on the baking sheet iso that there was less surface area touching the potato and more dehydrating warm air surrounding it.

This idea was in the test phase and so in order not to waste lots of Al foil, I used our very excellent toaster oven. Smaller area, less foil, less energy, it was a good plan.

Tim, my husband helped out since I had potato and oil all over my hands. He took some pics for us. He was soon fired in a scene that went like this:
Erin: Tim stop, that's too many!
Erin: Tim, it's a baking blog not a fashion mag. I don't need you to be all "come on potato give me sexy eyes."
Tim: Well, that's no fun (puts camera down and walks away).
Erin: Thanks...
He did have a good idea though and one that makes a whole lot of sense. After cutting the potatoes, dab them dry with a paper towel. This helps them bake in the oil not their own potato juices. Potato juices are bad.
A potato is only gonna soak up so much oil, so we found that measuring it out was kind of pointless since we were never making as many chips as the recipes made. We were trying it out and failing. So when we sliced up as many chips as we wanted (then dried them), we just barely coated them with oil and pepper. We didn't need much more. Here's the recipe that we found worked for us:

Sweet potato
Olive oil
Fresh ground pepper
(Few ingedients means healthy-ish)

I cut the sweet potato in half and then sliced it to about 1/8 inch with a mandolin (this dish would be impossible without one).
Once I had as many chips as I wanted, I put them in a bowl, coated with olive oil and pepper. The sweet potato is not a wet as the russet and didn't need as much drying.
These were then placed on the fan foil lined baking sheet.
Since I used a toaster oven , I didn't preheat but would in mass quantities in a large oven. Also, I used the convection setting which I think was very insturmental in the drying, not burning of the chips.

They cooked for 25 minutes at 275 degrees.

Lessons learned: Try, try again. We knew we were on the right track and now we're happy to know that we can make healthy-ish potato chips that actually taste like potatoes and have no preservatives.
Also, maybe "Potatorch" should be a word. Thoughts?