Cheers to you, Sonoma
**Took this trip before all the #socialdistancing began at the end of 2019. Wrote it up and totally forgot to post it. Hope you gives you something to look forward to...when we can eat cheese and drink wine face to face...not just during #virtualhappyhour**
Colee, Vanessa, and I have been friends for 20+ years. When you have been a relationship that long you gotta find ways to keep the relationship spicy. Right? So how do we do that? Obvi, it had to be a: Girls trip! (airhorn sound)
Sonoma was on the bucket list for Vanessa so I said we “gotta go and drink wine.” All three of us booked tickets and an Airbnb and then I immediately started researching the quintessential “Things-to-do-in-Sonoma” phrase. Winery Tour. Check. Lists of local eateries to try. Check. Then I was stopped in my clicking tracks.
A food tour? Tell me more. Sonoma Food Tour. A three hour walking tour that includes food, wine, and history. You had me at food. Since I would be getting into CA before my friends, I needed an activity. Eating sounded like a totally valuable way to spend my time.
Take me to the 3 hour tour.
Click to set custom
First Stop: Vella Cheese
I was running a little late since I had to wait for a ride share from the Airbnb, but luckily when I got there my tour group hadn’t started eating yet. I mean, you know how much I love hanging out with my best friend, Cheese.
The tour consisted of the tour guide, Abby, an older couple and myself. A small but mighty group. Armed with a bottle of water, my food note-taking journal (yes, I am one of those people now) and my appetite, I was ready to start shoving all of the cheese into my mouth.
Vella Cheese is a sustainable, locally owned business that hand makes its cheeses and is renowned for its jack cheese recipe. We started with a sampling of seven different cheeses, all cow’s milk.
1. Toma- a wonderful melting harvarti
2. Mezzo Secco- a partially dry Monterey Jack
3. A dry jack that is aged for 12-24 months
4. Golden Bear- extra dry aged jack
5. Pesto jack
6. Habanero jack
7. Sharp cheddar
All of the cheese tasted wonderful, but my faves were the Golden Bear and the habanero jack. They weren’t kidding about their jack recipe. The Golden Bear was almost like a parmesan and had so many flavor crystals- I love that extra crunch and pop in my cheese. The habanero had a good kick to it without being scary spicy. There was a slight minty taste to it as well. Which had a refreshing effect on your palette.
We toured the quaint cheese shop and, yes, I wanted to buy everything...but with more than 2 hours to go on the tour I felt like it would be unwise to carry around cheese on my person in the nice, warm California weather. But! Then I found out that Vella Cheese vacuum seals their cheese and can stay fresh for 7-10 days WITHOUT refrigeration. So, I mean...what choice did I have? I had to buy some cheese. What better way to welcome my friends to #winecountry than with a cheese plate. I bought some dry jack and the pesto jack because I thought it would be the most pleasing for everyone. I rounded it out with some crackers and some dry sausage. This tour was officially starting out great!
Next, we walked to Mission San Francisco Solano, the last mission to be built on the El Camino Real. I love a little history lesson. Did you know that the curved shape of the Spanish tiles that are used on roofs are originally from monks slapping them against their thighs? So not all the tiles on the Mission are the exact same shape.
Oh, and I made a friend as we were exploring the naturally occurring peppercorns!
Third Stop: Figone’s Olive Oil
But first, some yummy olive oil. The Sonoma food tour specifically showcases local and family owned operations. Which I love! This olive oil has got roots, baby. It started with the owner’s great-grandfather planting a few olive tree saplings from Italy in the San Joaquin Valley and from there the delicious olive oil is produced from descendants of these trees today. They don’t even sell the olive oil in stores because they can’t maintain the standard of quality that they would like. Don't worry! They have a subscription membership so you can enjoy this delicious olive oil even if you don’t live locally. But wait, there’s more! They have delicious vinegars (as well as olive oil lotions and soaps). I left the tasting with a subscription membership to Figone’s Olive Oil. My first delivery will be a couple of bottles of the Blood Orange Olive Oil and the White Balsamic Vinegar.
Seriously, you can taste the quality in these products. I loved everything we had during our tasting. The flavors ranged from pesto to habanero. And the balsamics were delightful as well. I had never tasted a white balsamic but I am a believer now. It has a great viscosity- which I think makes for a great mouthfeel. But the flavor just pops in your mouth! Thanks to Figone’s, my current go-to snack is some burrata and avocado with a little red pepper flake, salt, pepper, with a drizzle of EVOO and this white balsamic. TRY IT!
During the tasting the facilitator commented that I have a good palette (I mean… I know. JK) and my tour counterpart said “She’s more savvy than she looks...and I just met her.” Uh... Thanks? I think it was a compliment…? I’ll just be over here drinking olive oil.
Head over to Figone’s Olive oil website and check out their products and get some delivered to your house! Because I am more savvy than I look.
Next up we have a 2-for-1. Bump Cellars with eats provided by Sunflower Caffe.
Bump Cellars is a small winery started by a husband and wife team. Their tasting room is a contemporary, modern space and was, at the time, doubling as a silent auction art venue. Mieko, one half of the husband and wife team led our wine tasting. What’s great about it being a small winery is that they can really focus on the wines that they produce. They had a few reds in stock which were very good. The tasting consisted of a couple of pinot noirs and a red blend. I am generally not a huge fan of red blends (Maybe I’m just being stuck up) but I ended up buying a bottle of theirs, plus a Pinot Noir. If I was going to prepare a cheese plate for my friends, I was going to provide the wine too. Obviously.
To go with our delicious varietals, The Sunflower Cafe provided a Smoked Roast Duck and gruyere sandwich. Served with caramelized onion and on a homemade baguette. It was the perfect companion to all the reds we were tasting. I mean homemade baguette? Duck? Gruyere? I am there!
I kept my earlier promise to myself and sauntered off to Sign of Bear and Basque Boulangerie as the last of the chocolate dissolved on my tongue. No cheese plate is complete without some bread. Sign of the Bear was temptation city. SO. MANY. THINGS. I needed...ok wanted for my kitchen. But since I didn’t check a bag on the flight, it prevented me from buying too much. However, I did get some cute SF/Sonoma coasters. Perfect for perching my glass of Bump Cellar wine upon.
I headed back to the AirBNB to await my friends. Complete with cheese, wine, and truffles.
The rest of the weekend was spent in the company of good food and good conversation...and falling asleep to movies while drinking wine (as you do in your 30s). A few more highlights:
The girls and I rounded our trip with a private guided tour and tasting at Quintessa. Have you seen the movie Wine Country on Netflix? It’s full of funny ladies and wine. Quintessa was one of the wineries that is featured in the movie. The scene where they are harmonizing in the cellar. I HAVE BEEN THERE. I felt cool, at least for a little bit.
Movie aside, if you have the chance go to Quintessa. Go there! Ask for Evan to be your guide. He was knowledgable and AWE-SOME. Mainly because he put up with our shenanigans. The ambience and the wine was delightful. Colee got to try grapes off the vine. We all got to sip wine and take in the views. And you get a delightful flight of wine paired with some cheese and snacks. Read: a lot of wine. After the tour, we took ourselves out to lunch with a view at Auberge du Soliel. Another great view with lunch, where Vanessa had the pleasure of eating her first bone marrow. That made me happy because I love roasted bone marrow. Rich and yummy. (Scroll down for my pics of food. We also enjoyed a leisurely dinner at the Fairmont one evening. )
I’m thankful that I got to spend time with these gals that have put up with me for soooo long. And I am thankful that I will have some great wine to sip and delicious olive oil to eat when I get home. Thanks for being such a good host, Sonoma. See you soon.
If you are a Sonoma county local and have suggestions about where I should visit next time I am there. Let me know! I’ll have more fresh blog posts coming out soon.
Until then, Happy Baking. Happy Eating. Happy Repeating.
(P.S. We got to hit one of my favorite spots in SF - Joe's Cafe. I used to walk there for Bacon, Avocado Omelettes and pancakes when I lived in the city. Perfect last meal to perfect Girls' Weekend.)
NOLA Love: Part 3
This is the last entry of my eating series: NOLA Love, where I take you on an eating journey through the wonderful city of New Orleans. If you missed parts 1 and 2...find them here and here. Let’s get to eating!
It’s Monday. I wake up and find myself thinking of all deliciousness that this city has to offer. Lindy has already gotten up and gone off to work. I feel a little guilty for sleeping in. Just a little. I may have a bit of a food hangover. And probably, a GOT hangover. It’s my last full day in the city for all things food and that makes me a sad panda. I’d better get to putting things in my mouth.
For breakfast I decided to dig into my balls. Of cake. (From Bakery Bar).The ones I neglected to eat last night as we were watching The North battle the Night King at Winterfell. I make some hotel room coffee and open my box of cake. Lindy commented last night that the baked goods were pretty “soft.” As I investigated what was left of our cake balls, I tried some red velvet, some chocolate, and some tres leche. Lindy was right, they were all a little...soft. Not just soft in a moist, well-baked kind of way. It actually felt a little too soft. Oddly moist, as Lindy would say afterwards. Even though we bought a wide array of flavors... (red velvet, chocolate and peanut butter, cookies and cream and tres leche) there was no distinctiveness. The soft, oddly moist texture actually overpowered any flavor there might have been. The cake also leaned toward the sweet side, which didn’t help define any flavors, but instead, it just was a sweet and soft ball. Definitely would have passed the test for design and finesse by Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood (of The Great British Bake Off fame), but I think would have scored low marks for the flavors being “a bit muddled.”
Today there was no working out, not even pretending to do the minimum. I am going out on the “Garden Tour.” It’s a walking tour, so that counts for exercise right? Last time I was in NOLA, I did a carriage tour around the French Quarter that also went into some history of Marie Laveau (a voodoo practitioner from the 1800s, who is renowned in Nola) and the importance of the cemeteries in the city. I had wanted to do the Garden Tour but didn’t have time to fit it in. I promised Lindy and a couple of her coworkers that I would deliver po-boys during the day. So basically I was on a mission. Take in more of the city and bring back bomb ass food. My husband was flying into NOLA for work that evening and we were all going to go out for dinner. I would finally meet his boss and wife and Lindy would finally meet my husband. She had never met him in the few years that we have been friends, and she is convinced that he is made up. Tonight was the night to prove that he does exist.
Before I leave the hotel room, I note that there is still a bottle of rose in the hotel mini fridge that is in need of finishing. Must make sure I do that. I travel to the Garden District, which is just West of the French Quarter. Remember, I still have no 2019 mobile technology, so I am off exploring on a whim and a paper map. On my way out of the hotel I visit Lindy who is hard at work. She’s being very important as a stage manager for a conference in the hotel. She takes pity on me and lends me her phone for the afternoon. We devise a plan for her to know that I am not dead as I am out on my walking tour. I will periodically email her from her email. Yeah, you read that right.
Plan in place, I jump into a van taxi. I arrive at the meetup point for the tour at the Garden District Book Shop. One of those locally owned bookstores that just make you feel good. I have a few minutes before my tour starts, so I peruse the books. I see that they have the newest book from George R.R. Martin (Fire & Blood: 300 Years Before A Game of Thrones). I purchase it for my husband (and me) and take off on my tour.
The only photos that I snapped during the walking tour. Cemeteries and Architecture.
Besides the food culture in NOLA, I love that there is always something new to do or see as a tourist every time you visit. NOLA, for me, will be one of those places that I will visit many times in my life and always have something on my to-do list for the next time. Case in point: during the tour, I found my next thing for me to do in between eating adventures: visiting historic slave plantations. Maybe doesn’t sound like a great time to some, but I love learning about the historic and regional culture that makes up a place. That includes all points of history, the pretty AND ugly.
The tour was informative, fun and interesting. It was led by a die hard, born and raised local and she seemed to know EVERYTHING. I felt proud that I was able to answer some trivia questions thanks to our surprise private tour at Antoine’s (Read Part 1, shout out to our back waiter). Having only really explored the French Quarter, like many who visit NOLA, it was fascinating to learn about the gritty past of the entire city and the resiliency of its inhabitants. It is one of the biggest port cities in US and has weathered storms and disease, The Garden District was settled by people coming from farms and The Plains, so the architecture differs from what you find in the French Quarter.
My tour guide was impressed by my eating itinerary and said I was definitely hitting all the right places. I told her that I had initially wanted to go to Domilise’s for po-boys, but felt that it might be a little too far for my limited time, and was going to settle on delivering po-boys from Mother’s to Lindy. My guide said that I absolutely had to go to Domilise’s. Can’t argue with that. Thus, the decision was made. I could walk my happy, food-loving butt down Magazine street to Domilise’s and get delicious po-boys. Which is exactly what I did.
I pop in and out of some artist boutiques and resist the urge to buy treats at every cafe I pass. I keep my mind focused on the po-boys from Domilise’s. I do get Lindy a little present and mentally take note of a NOLA tank top, with the hope that Lindy and I can be annoying and buy matching ones.
I send Lindy an email so that she knows that I have not been Taken (which is good, since I don’t know Liam Neeson). After a few more blocks with substantial thigh rubbing, I arrive at Domilise’s. Tucked off of Magazine St., in a neighborhood, Domilise’s stands on a corner. The only thing that that demarcates that it’s a business is the hand-painted sign.
I see a few people standing around outside and I assume that they have ordered and are waiting for their prized po-boys. Inside this institution was a mix of dive bar and small town diner. It had a lived-in feel...definitely felt historic. And busy! A clump of people were nestled to the side and I noticed they were holding laminated cards with numbers on them. I picked up on the system and searched for the numbered cards. Apparently, I looked like an out-of-towner because after a few moments I was pointed in the direction of the counter (it was literally within one foot of me) where the numbers were being held.
Number 11. Shouldn’t be too bad, I thought. Seems like everyone was waiting for food so I figured that I should be called up in a MacDonald’s minute to order. There were three people bustling about the kitchen and they were working the counter as well. Old school operation with a finely honed system that had been put in place for years. There is no loud speaker or some perky host that comes out to yell your number to tell you that it’s your turn. You have to remain vigilant and pay attention.
Turns out people were waiting not for food but to order. And they were only on number 4. I went back outside since there was no room to wait in the doorway. I watched people walk in and out of the door. Seemed like a mix of locals and tourists. Everyone seemed to know the drill. Grab a number and wait. I eventually started telling people where to grab a number. I felt like I was part of the system.
Some people left after seeing the line. Some people patiently waited for their food before going off to the airport to fly back home. The numbers slowly ticked by and I was happy to stand in the shade, people watch, and wonder if my thighs were going to stop being sweaty and chafing. I made friends with No. 8 so I was able to know when my turn was coming close. No. 8’s wife was from the area and when they are in town they ALWAYS stop at Domilise’s. I was happy that I was going to try a place that was such an icon in the community.
Ok, so after No. 8 left, it seemed like the No. 9 and 10 came around quickly and then it was MY TURN! I am pretty sure I skipped to the counter and I happily handed them No. 11. I knew what I wanted and I wasn’t getting no small size. Mine were all large. Obviously.
Fun fact: I love oysters! And my mind had been set on getting an oyster po-boy in my stomach. I order my oyster and couple of shrimp po-boys to bring back to Lindy and I wait a few minutes longer. The ladies in the kitchen moved around almost hypnotically as they threw breaded seafood into the fryer, sliced, and built the sandwiches. She told me that they have been using the same bread for over a 100 years. It gets delivered fresh every morning. Sacks of bread were piled up against a wall all waiting to be turned into delicious sammies.
She rolled and bundled me up. I asked for directions to the streetcar, got pointed in the right direction and off I went. I clutched the bag of po-boys like my life depended on it. No one was taking these from me! I walked my chafed thighs to the streetcar stop and checked my paper map to make sure I was going in the right direction.
Even though I was hungry and tempted, I waited until I got back to the hotel to eat my po-boy. I am very nice eating friend. I went straight to the conference room to deliver the sandwiches (I kind of felt like an awesome Santa) and sat down to finally eat my treasure! These sandwiches had taken a few hours to procure and I was ready to eat.
The bread was crusty and soft. Not quite a baguette or ciabatta but a bread that was made to be a vehicle for shredded lettuce, mayo, tomato and choice of protein with a little hot sauce. I am not sure if I even breathed while I DE-VOUR-ED my po-boy but I do know it was damn good. I could tell that had it been fresh, it would have amped up the awesomeness of it… it was a little soggy by the time I got around to eating...but hey, No. 11 ain’t complaining.
I ate my po-boy quickly enough to get back to my hotel room to wait for my hubby to call since he was landing any minute in NOLA. On the eating itinerary, I had initially planned for Jacque-Imo’s but the only reservations I could get were for people who were their 20s (9pm) or people in their 80s (5pm) and with a five person party we didn’t want to risk standing in line forever. My hubby’s boss and wife (who are locals) helped navigate eating anxiety and suggested Meril. This is the 11th restaurant by Chef Emeril Lagasse but the 4th in NOLA and named for his daughter. I was excited to compare and contrast two of Chef Emeril’s restaurants.
Note: Due to my neverending technology complications, I don’t have all my usual food photos for this section. I used my husband’s phone for ease and after he shared the photos with me he erased them, but I didn’t get them imported...so, alas, no photos.
My husband and I get there early. We are hungry. Naturally. We decided to order something at the bar while we wait for everyone and to quell our appetites. The ambience was very chic and had a youthful and sophisticated vibe to it. They have classy hand crafted cocktails and a good variety of beer and wine. The menu is set up as sharing plates. Great! One of everything please. Okay, we didn’t order one of everything but there were many plates on the table. There was a mix of proteins, veggies (which my husband doesn’t touch), carbs, and cheese engulfing our table.
This is where you can berate me for being a bad food blogger (hey! I am still getting the hang of it). Since, I don’t have any photos to reference, I am not sure of all of what we ordered. I know, I know. Trust me, I know that I am the worst right now. But let me tell you in an overview how I felt about Meril. I think it was creative and clever. There was a definite distinction between the vibe and food crafted between Emeril’s and Meril. I am not a chef restaurateur, but I can imagine how hard it is to craft a vibe that is authentic while cooking up great food at a multitude of restaurants. I would definitely go back and check out Meril again. While the menu offered fare that was more “southern” or “New Orleans,” they definitely took more liberties to play with the flavors and offered more of a global variety of flavors too. It seems like the menu gets updated pretty often because looking at the menu now (Meril menu), there are about 20 things that jump out at me that I must eat...that I know that I didn’t eat when I was there.
But not all is lost… here is one pic at Meril.
Now it is time for THE LAST LUNCH. It is Tuesday and I am flying out today. But first I get to have one last meal with my friend, Lindy. The place is Cochon. The day is sunny and I am wearing pants so my thighs don’t chafe. I am already winning.
We both agree that lunch was good. Across the board good. It hit all the satisfying foodie checkboxes. Well cooked, well seasoned, comforting, and creative.
Lindy wept tears when I had to leave. Ok, she didn’t say she did, but I know that she was crying in her heart. She actually had the afternoon off to go explore NOLA after I left. Like a good student, she took my advice on the eating itinerary and dutifully chose a place that we couldn’t get to.
She went to Port-of-Call. I went there on my first trip to NOLA in 2011 and I was not disappointed. I was told to get a burger with everything and a baked potato. I told Lindy to do the same. She did (minus the sour cream because she’s a heathen). Still, I was proud of her. Lindy also had an amazing po-boy that was pretty close to our hotel. She is still raving about that sandwich. Now, I will have to go back and hunt it down.
I hope you have enjoyed all the LOVE I have for the food of NOLA. I will definitely be back. To eat. To talk with locals. To eat some more. My husband already has two work trips planned to the Crescent City and I am trying to figure out a way to go ...to eat. As far as more eating food trips with Lindy, we are currently trying to figure out where to eat next. Comment below with your suggestions from your travels or must-eat places in your hometown!
Some photos from around Nola. Including me helping Lindy work and her fabulous po-boy and cheese biscuit.
Thanks so much for reading! What are your favorite things to eat in NOLA? Leave a comment! Connect with me on IG @dana.does.things - would love to hear from you! Next week, we got my first Bread Showstopper - a filled loaf! And then it’s on to Dessert Week and some other (smaller) eating adventures.
Until then...happy baking, happy eating, happy repeating.
P.S. Lindy did get us those matching tank tops...
P.P.S The cross stitch that I got for Lindy as a present (she stitched it herself)
P.P.P.S (Last one, I swear) My hubby does exist.
Springtime Time Ciabatta
Hope you are having a wonderful spring! Food adventures (#adventuresineating) have been in full effect for me and I hope that the spring time gives you a chance to get out and try some delicious food or better yet, BAKE some delicious food.
It’s the continuation of #breadweek. After my long post about rye rolls, this post, in comparison, will be short and sweet. Today we are baking Ciabatta. Ciabatta is a fairly new Italian bread. Being known for pasta wasn’t enough for the Italians, they wanted to make sure they could compete with the French and their famous baguette. Thus, Ciabatta was born out of the oven.
According to Wikipedia Ciabatta was created in 1982 by a baker in Italy, in response to the notoriety of the French baguette. Since then Ciabatta has been baked into various different forms with slight variations in dough. You might know ciabatta from delicious eats such as paninis or from the light, airy structure of the bread. The word ciabatta literally means slipper in Italian. But why would you put these on your feet and not in your mouth?? #getinmybelly
Aside from eating ciabatta, I didn’t know much about it until I watched The Show (The Great British Bake Off is the show of course). As I began this #technicalchallenge, the word “patience” kept repeating in my head. Mr. Paul Hollywood’s infamous words of wisdom during the episode (which, baker Kate heeded, and came in first for the technical (spoiler alert)). I decided that I would be as patient as I could be while I delved into Mr Hollywood’s recipe (from the How to Bake).
Bread making, in general, can cause anxiety. You know... that kneading, that proofing, that I-hope-that-is-a-hollow-sound when you are tapping the bottom of the loaf to check if it is done. Since I was putting ciabatta and baguette on the same plane, I began to get a little nervous for this challenge. I have only made baguettes once (but recently started to feel the urge to make them again, now that I am more learned). However baguettes were the ultimate finicky bread and an exercise in the value of PATIENCE. Ciabatta, the Baguette rival, must be the same way, right?
I was pleasantly surprised when I opened my How to Bake book to the ciabatta recipe and found that it was surprisingly simple. In fact, the recipe called to ONLY use an electric mixer since the dough is a very wet dough. The proofing time listed was 1-2 hours (making sure the dough double or even trebled (oh, those Brits!) in size).
The tricky part is after the proofing, to NOT knock the air out from the dough, as many bread recipes will tell you to do. The air that is created from the yeast is what gives the ciabatta that light, airy texture.
Ok, for those of you that are following along (Thank you!), there is no crazy Pantry Caper during this ciabatta technical bake. Simple ingredients that anyone would have on hand: bread flour, olive oil, salt, yeast. No eggs, no butter. I would definitely spring for some good olive oil to infuse some delicious taste since you oil a square plastic tub to proof the dough in.
Square? The shape is specifically requested by Mr. Hollywood in order to help with the shaping. Well, Paul, I only had a round tub so my round tub will have to make due. I oiled my ROUND tub and felt satisfied.
I followed the directions as listed by the recipe and my dough doubled within an hour so I decided to cut and shape and not wait another hour.
(Patience, out the window, btw).
Definitely a wet dough! I gave it almost an extra 10 minutes of “kneading” in the electric mixer (#kitchenaid, if you are asking...see selfie of me and my mixer on my instagram account @dana.does.things), even though the recipe only called for 5-8 minutes. I decided to add the extra 10 minutes because the dough didn’t look like it was fully “together” and smooth. The kneading time and the round tub were my only diversions from this recipe.
A Bonus look at my delicious lunch :) You are WELCOME.
So, after baking and writing this blog... I rewatched the season 1 Bread episode... and kept my eyes and ears open for more tips about ciabatta. I think when I bake some more ciabatta next time, I will let the first proof go a little longer (going up to 2 hours, if I dare), not in a proofing drawer or overly warm area because I don't want to over activate the yeast, and still let the dough rest a little longer than 10 minutes after shaping. I loved my golden color and the chew of my ciabatta, so I think my bake time was right (less than 20 min), but less stretching for the shaping and keeping with the slipper shape may help me. I'll let you know when . I bake it again. But for now, it's onto the #showstopper.
Showstopper or a Dana stopper
I feel so accomplished in FINALLY finishing my first biscuit showstopper. I am not going to lie, I was feeling a lot of resistance to doing this bake… even though I practiced this biscuit bake, which is not always the case.
The reason I was feeling a lot of resistance to this, is that I am just not that kind of baker. You’ve heard me write about it before but I am not that strong at decorating in detail. And I think contributed to the anxiety of this showstopper.
But the good news (!) is that I feel like I learned a lot by doing this bake. And I learned a lot about myself as a baker.
Things I learned:
I knew that my constructing skills were going to be pretty rudimentary, so I decided to take some pressure off of myself and do A SECTION of Hogwarts, instead of trying to do a whole silhouette. I even thought at one point I would do the same section on the front and back so you would see it either way… but I realized that I wouldn’t have enough biscuit dough to do that. And honestly, I didn’t want to make more (and I didn't have the time).
I decided that I would fake some relief work and cut out windows and such and paste them on the sides of the sculpture so it would add a little extra somethin-somethin to it. Confused by the syntax of "relief work?" This is what I mean: Relief is a sculptural technique where the sculpted elements remain attached to a solid background of the same material. The term relief is from the Latin verb relevo, to raise. To create asculpture in relief is to give the impression that the sculpted material has been raised above the background plane. (Brought to you by: Wikipedia). Can I just tell you how cool meringue powder is?! Totally awesome to use as a edible and delicious (and highly sugared) glue. Helping my “relief work” to stay in place.
You can find the recipe I used for the royal icing below as well. I opted for a recipe that did NOT use corn syrup because... gross. And I did not have any corn syrup in my pantry (I definitely did not have time for another Pantry Caper). As I was doing research about royal icing, because that is what one does when embarking on making a 3D sculpture scene, I learned a trick to keep royal icing from drying out: place a damp paper towel on top of the icing when not in use and (!) add coloring before thinning out to decorate so that you don’t over-thin the icing. Love learning #bakehacks. I kept my royal icing pretty thick as I was using it to paste together biscuits. I had enough left over for any decorating that I would need to do. In theory I would have then added a tablespoon of water at a time to thin the royal icing out, but... I didn’t need it for further decorating (keep reading). But I stored the rest of the icing in a mason jar so I can use it on some cookies (that I WILL NOT be making a sculpture out of) later.
Not only did I get to learn some #bakehacks but I also got to use my new baking toys: my rolling spacers! These are the ones that I got and I think they worked great! I felt that my biscuit thickness came out really even… I am super excited to use it while rolling pastry. More excuses to bake. #bakerproblems
You can see in my video documenting my construction, the moments when I was trying to figure it out on the fly. There are a lot of those moments. Also, see if you can pinpoint the actual moment when I just decided to say "good enough" to figuring out what to do with the inside of the structure. If you don't blink you can see when I pop a little biscuit in my mouth too. :)
Confession time. By the time I was done with constructing it… I honestly was like, “I’m good” and I didn’t even bother with making cream cheese frosting to do some decorations. I had a notion to make it Hogwarts in winter because who doesn’t love Hogwarts in winter?! Instead, the end product is a little more like a vague representation of a castle made out of edible things. To paraphrase a classic movie: "It's a little like a Monet...looks good from afar, but up close it's a bit of a mess. #clueless.
BUT I AM STILL PROUD. Remember all the anxiety I had about doing this bake. Well, I did it! Do I wish that I had the follow through to make it as pretty as it could be? A little. Do I feel bad about it? Not really. I know that I have grown as a baker and I know that I don’t ever want to do a 3D biscuit anything again… but I am excited to have the holidays roll around again so I can make awesome gingerbread cookies with treacle and the cream cheese frosting...mmmmm.
In case you are wondering...the biscuit structure is STILL standing 24+ hours later. It didn’t collapse! No, I am still not going to eat it. But I do feel like making more shortbread biscuits (perhaps, blueberry shortbread?!) and those I WILL eat.
Bread Week is next. Until then, Happy Baking. Happy Eating. Happy Repeating.
What is GBBO?
I hadn’t planned to write an entry to answer this question. Because I ASSUMED that all awesome, informed 21st century-living-breathing people know what this magical show is. Imagine my surprise when I texted one of my besties (and one part of girlintheworldproductions) and asked for help editing my wordiness. Below is a summary of conversation.
Me: help me! I’m going to bake a lot of things.
Her: Yes! Are you sending me British baked things?
Me: Yes. If I figure out how.
Her: One question….what is the Great British Bake Off?
That got me to thinking… some people may not actually know about this little piece of TV heaven. Maybe some of you are wondering why do I love GBBO, as well? Therefore, I decided to write a little background for anyone that cares to read. Please if you have more detailed information (or corrections), comment below. But this is what Wikipedia tells me:
“The Great British Bake Off (often referred to as Bake Off or GBBO) is a British television baking competition produced by Love Productions, in which a group of amateur bakers compete against each other in a series of rounds, attempting to impress a group of judges with their baking skills, with a contestant being eliminated in each round, with the winner being selected from the remaining contestants that make it to the finals. The show's first episode was aired on 17 August 2010, with its first four series broadcast on BBC Two, until its growing popularity led the BBC to move it to BBC One for the next three series. After its seventh series, Love Productions signed a three-year deal with Channel 4 to produce the show for the broadcaster.
The programme was originally presented by Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, with judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood.”
I won’t give you spoliers about who the winners are, since you can binge watch it on Netflix (while eating pie). Then, after negotiations it moved the series to Channel 4, the original presenters (the awesome duo) Mel and Sue decided not to the make the transition. Mary Berry also decided it was best for her to leave the series as well. Old Blue Eyes, Paul Hollywood has stayed on as judge with new judge Prue Leith. The current hosts are Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig.
The format of the show is a nice consumable hunk of crusty bread. Twelve amateur bakers (I think on occasion 13), are picked from thousands and thousands of submissions throughout the country. For ten weeks, they travel to the “tent” in the English countryside, complete with sheep, and bake THREE bakes over the course of a weekend. Each week is themed ie. cake, bread, etc. One day they complete a SIGNATURE BAKE, which they have gotten to practice throughout the week in the comfort of their own homes. They also complete a TECHNICAL CHALLENGE - which they have no clue what they will be baking- and often times I have no clue too ...since I have NEVER heard of 90% of the technical challenges (Kouign Amann?! (which is delicious btw, I recently had my first one, now I have to bake it)). The Technical Challenge is especially difficult because the recipe the bakers are supplied is a pared down version- meaning no directions!!! Often with no proofing or baking times or even how to combine the ingredients! The third and final bake of the weekend is the SHOWSTOPPER (insert jazz hands). And it is exactly as it sounds: complicated, beautiful, delicious (kinda like me). The bakers have had the chance to practice this as well, which leads me to believe that none of these bakers sleep while they are in the competition. This bake needs to be nothing short of sensational.
A baker leaves every week until the Final, where the last three bakers battle it out or bake it out to be the GREAT BRITISH BAKER! (#ironbaker)
WHY DO I LOVE GBBO, INQUIRING MINDS LIKE YOUR WANT TO KNOW.
Now that you know what I am up against… maybe you will have some sympathy when a bake of mine collapses. Not being negative...but it’s most likely (will) going to happen. The way the show came to be seems like an idyllic dream… it was pitched to emulate quaint village fetes that have community bake offs (In the words of Liz Lemon of 30Rock, “I want to go to there.”) and, surprisingly, inspired the baking competitions as seen on TV in the United States. One of the main reasons I find this “reality” show of the cooking genre so endearing, is that there is no drama, at least none of that manufactured drama to pit one baker against the other. There is a camaraderie amongst the bakers and I find that refreshing. I heard a rumor that when a baker was having a difficult and emotional time with the oven, Mel and Sue would stand by them and say all sorts of things that you can’t say on TV so that editors couldn’t use potentially embarrassing moments in the broadcast. Drama free reality TV? Yes, please. Of course all the nail biting (or cake biting) moments come from bakes toppling over the benches or the male judge poking his fingers through an underbaked bread. (#bakinghorror). The newest hosts, Noel and Sandi, often are emotionally choked up when they have to announce the next baker to leave... everyone truly becomes friends. I LOVE THAT. Probably because I am a nicer person when I am baking…
As far as I know, the winner of GBBO doesn’t receive loads of money or a contract to their own cookbook or anything like that… they get the title, a cool little cake stand and huge bouquet of flowers. So these bakers are literally just doing it out of their own passion and gumption. Again, AMAZING. Of course, many of the winners have gone on to write books or host other TV shows and things like that… but the main goal of all the bakers is to bake well and share it with people.
The show is like a mini baking school. I learn SO. MUCH. every time I watch it. I can only imagine the breadth of knowledge you absorb when you are actually in that tent. Maybe one day… one can only hope.
There you have it. A glimpse into my own baking addiction. Totally yummy and deliciously awesome. Or as Prue (and my husband) would say, “worth the calories.”
All the juicy facts will be right here.