The Big Easy. NOLA. New Orleans. A city with many nicknames, but known to most as a city with a storied history. To me, it is known as deliciousness. I first traveled to the “Crescent City” (yep, another nickname) in January 2011. I was a young, bright eyed girl, living in the City of Angels (Los Angeles, for those of you keeping track) and going on a “girls weekend” trip. At the time, I had no familiarity of New Orleans, let alone Louisiana. Maybe some vague recollection of learning about the Louisiana purchase in AP U.S. History…
I was working as a personal trainer at the time, and one of my clients was from Louisiana and gave me some tips on N’awlins (yes, that is ANOTHER nickname). On this trip my girlfriends and I traipsed around the Marigny (French Quarter adjacent), rode in a donkey drawn carriage, did the cemetery tour and went to Marie Laveau’s and more importantly, ATE. My young undeveloped foodie self went to Cafe Du Monde, where I had my first beignet and chicory coffee. Chomped down on muffaletta sandwiches that were the size of my head and had burgers at Port of Call with a baked potato with everything. And I mean EVERYTHING.
Even though it was an amazing trip...I was living paycheck-to-paycheck at the time...sometimes paycheck-to-overdrawn. My eating habits had to stick to a budget. Therefore, I was totally stoked when my friend from San Diego (America’s Finest City) asked if I would be her “Food Friend” on a work trip to the Paris of the South (I guess this nickname is shared with a couple of other Southern cities). I was excited to experience The Hollywood of the South as an older and wiser bright eyed girl, with an even bigger appetite.
Take a look at my younger self in 2011.
First course of business: create an eating itinerary. Yeah, I don’t FORK around (#thegoodplace). When I am asked to be a food friend, I am committed and will be the BEST FOOD FRIEND in the entire universe #professionaleater (Hit me up, if you wanna eat;)) With my friend actually working on what I consider her “food trip”, I had to maximize the few times that we would be able to eat together.
In order to create my eating itinerary, I turned to an all-around food culture champion, Anthony Bourdain. I have a reverence for Anthony Bourdain that runs deep. I am reading all the books on his recommended reading list (I mean, have you read “Belly of Paris”???) and, of course, reading the books that he penned. I generally trust any place that he has eaten or recommends- I may do some light cross-referencing with reviews and what not, but if he’s been there- I will get my belly there.
This was the basis of my eating itinerary with a couple extra places I found via the internet strewn in. I also included a couple of places that I really enjoyed when I was there during my first trip. Even though the time on this trip was limited, I had a few contingency food plans in case we barreled through the itinerary. Unfortunately, I couldn’t hit any places on the contingency list, but now I have my NEXT eating itinerary.
See eating itinerary below:
As my friend, Lindy, and I strolled around the French Quarter - my belly patiently waiting - the memories of walking around on my previous trip kept coming back to me. It made me even more excited to see what this present eating trip had in store for me. We stumbled upon The Spice and Tea Exchange. The store was a like a little hidden alcove with a treasure chest of spices, sugar, and tea. I focused on the spices and sugar- my brain went into overload thinking of all the different recipes I could bake and cook. Update: I already put some of them into good use… made a babka for the first time (see @dana.does.things on IG) and put some of the espresso sugar into the cocoa mixture of the babka filling. I am about to experiment a little more making eight self saucing puddings as I continue to bake my way through the Great British Baking Show- can you say butterscotch and mocha???? MMMMM.
So we purchased packets of sugars and spices and felt satisfied that we were going to take a part of NOLA home with us… the most important part: flavors for our kitchens. Next, we popped into the New Orleans Cooking School, to see if there were any classes I could take in between my feeding schedule. Alas, no, but it’s on my list for the next time I visit NOLA. Oh, then I grabbed a paper city map (remember, those?) because my phone imploded on itself on the flight to New Orleans --(I had to navigate the whole weekend without a mobile device like it was the 60s, but more on that later).
Antoine’s. I didn’t know about Antoine’s the last time I was here. And now it was time to discover the deliciousness that is Antoine’s. As you may have guessed, Anthony Bourdain, ate here during his No Reservations show (S4, Ep5). Full disclosure, I didn’t watch the episode before I went, but I did watch it as I typed up this food-memoir-blog (this is what it is right??). His experience was very different from mine. He went a couple of years after Katrina, when the city was rebuilding itself. The Antoine’s that he dined in had the bustle of kitchen staff and tuxedo-clad waitstaff, but the dining room was missing the patrons. Fast forward about twelve years to a time where trying to get a reservation was limited. We had to dine at 6:15pm or not at all. I took the 6:15pm reservation.
We arrived at the restaurant. I see the white table cloths. The hostess in a little black dress and the host in a suit. A smattering of early dining patrons in suits and dresses. Then, somewhere in my memory, I realize I either heard, read or inferred that there is a dress code at Antione’s. I, at least, have a collared shirt on and some trendy, high waisted pants (that my husband hates), but I can pass that I got dressed for dinner. Lindy, on the other hand…
“Oh, I think I remember that there is a dress code here.”
“Dana!” Lindy hisses at me.
“Get behind me.”
As we sidle up to the host counter, I see two dudes in shorts leaving. I say dudes, because they looked like San Diego PB bros… if you lived in SoCal, you know what I am talking about and you know the style of clothing they were wearing. Seeing the dudes that just walked out of the dining room, I felt positive that we were going to eat at Antoine’s despite the slight amount of sweat accumulated on our faces and Lindy’s legs on full display in her walking shorts with an active wear jacket wrapped around her waist in an effort to hide said bare legs... and a tank top. I was determined that shorts were not going to stop us on our eating journey.
When it was my turn to speak to the hostess, I turned on my commercial actor face and spoke with a vaguely British accent (I don’t know, it felt right in the moment) and said:
“Good evening. A 6:15 reservation under Bishop.” Lindy and her bare legs standing directly behind me.
At that moment, the suited host comes up to the hostess in her little black dress and whispers in her ear, behind the menus in his hand. Obviously, they are talking about us. The little black dress hostess replies back in a way that she hopes we won’t hear... but I heard:
“I know. But we already let other people in with shorts, so it doesn’t matter now.” Read: Thank you, dudes in shorts.
By the way, little black dress hostess, hadn’t made eye contact with me during this whole interaction. Perhaps my vague British accent scared her. In any case, we are being shown to our table. The other diners already seated, in some type of eating finery… we in our… casual finery. But we have a table and we sit down. Lindy immediately spreads her white cloth napkin as far it will go across her lap, as she scoots her dining chair as far as it will go under the table to hide her bare legs.
Eating itinerary is back on track. Now we can focus on what we are going to eat! While I do like to peruse menus beforehand if available, I am not a person that pre-chooses all the food I want to order. I check out the menu, if possible, to get a feel of the dining experience. Antoine’s, I did not get to peruse before hand… so I all I knew was to get the baked Alaska.
The restaurant is like walking into an a time capsule, in the best way possible. The main dining room’s walls are strewn with pictures of all the prominent people that have eaten there, newspaper clippings and of NOLA history. The waitstaff in the their black tuxes make you feel extra fancy (even if you are in shorts), and the ornate light fixtures and molding add to the ambience.
While I was tempted to get a Pimm’s cup (I have never had one), I decided to stick to a classy white wine because I am a classy lady. Kind of. In some cases. A bag with an Antoine’s logo filled with warm, crusty, soft bread came out to greet our table with butter. Yes, please. I appreciate having a little nosh while I look at the menu. First up, appetizers. Big decision. It sets the tone of the meal!
I am a HUGE fan of oysters. Raw, in Chinese stew, breaded and fried. Love. Oysters. Luckily Antoine’s offered an array of oysters in a half shell. The waiter could tell I was fretting over the decisions of which one to choose, thankfully, he suggested to get the “Oysters 3 Ways” and that sounded like the best option to me. Bring on the Oysters 3 Ways!
The oysters we got were Bienville, Rockfeller (a secret recipe, kept...uh...a secret), and Thermidor. Given the chance, I would have gotten every single Hors D’Oeuvres. But it’s a marathon not a sprint. Next time I will definitely get Huitres a la Foch -- that’s what Mr. Bourdain had. The oysters were perfect to whet the palate. Warm on a bed of salt with the briny flavor under a heap of herbs and butter or that secret sauce. One of our waiters (our back waiter perhaps, I don’t know the fancy waitstaff name), gave us some insight to the “secret sauce:” Mustard greens. I don’t know the rest of the ingredients… but I can be convinced to go back and order another plate to figure it out.
As we were eating, we got some history of the place from our back waiter. And more bread. Despite not dressing for dinner, we were eating like nobility. The entrees were perfectly enjoyable, but truth be told I do remember savoring the amadine a little bit more. And the potatoes in cream. Just like it sounds: delicious cream sauce bathing potatoes under a gooey cheese blanket.
The dining room filled up during the course of our meal and I am glad that we didn’t try to get a table wearing shorts later in the evening. All patrons seemed to be enjoying their food and company while the waitstuff whisked about here and there. We told our back waiter that we had ordered the Baked Alaska. He told us that he had a couple surprises for us. We didn’t really think anything of it as we finished off our entrees and another bag of bread (no shame). But then he appeared with an Antoine’s gift bag with two Antoine’s glasses and two signed menus for us to take home. Our very own swag bag! Take that, all you people who dressed for dinner.
After the dinner plates were cleared and I restrained myself from eating more bread… our second surprise came: A Walgreen’s Special. That’s what our back waiter called it. And who were we to argue? I think on the menu it is a Meringue Glacee au Chocolat. Vanilla ice cream on a meringue shell covered in chocolate fudge sauce and topped with almonds. I asked our back waiter why he called it a Walgreen’s Special. His reply: I don’t know, but that’s what you call it. I accept that answer.
Ok, this is our first dessert of two. A surprise dessert. A surprise free dessert. Holla. This was one of our FAVORITE things of the evening. Neither of us are huge meringue girls. I have never even attempted to make it before (but I will have to soon for my bake off challenge), but I don’t feel like meringue is really embedded in the American palate besides the occasional meringue topped pie. This Walgreen’s Special had baked meringue. Beautifully baked meringue with no cracks, with just enough bite, with just enough sweetness. Topped off with the chocolate sauce, creaminess of the ice cream, and crunchiness of the almonds… it was how do you say… Perfect. Literally sighing right now at the memory of that dessert. Back waiter did us right!
Now for our second dessert. The dessert we actually ordered. The Baked Alaska or the Omelette Alaska Antoine. A pound cake filled with vanilla ice cream surrounded by meringue and chocolate sauce, flambeed to perfection. Perfect for two. Some people are intimidated when it says perfect for two, but I’m not. Since I am accustomed to eating for a two person appetite. My bake off challenge features a baked Alaska too, so I thought this was a perfect time to eat one. Yes, I have never had a baked Alaska. It’s not something that is on every menu, because I imagine that it is a pain to make.
When that Baked Alaska came out of the Antoine’s kitchen, even I was scared of the size. Literally, the size of an American football and served tableside. Holy moly baked forking Alaska. We had to laugh at our two dessert fortune and the size of our desserts. We were definitely having the best time there. The pound cake added an extra richness and the hot fudge sauce at Antonines was DEE-LI-CIOUS. This was not a two person dessert… it’s a four person dessert. Like, two Danas. We were having such a good time that another lady at different table came up to talk to us. And I insisted that they have some of our baked Alaska, which I brought over to them. They had dessert before their entree.
Even with the sheer size of the baked Alaska and the theatricality of it, I think Lindy and I preferred the Walgreen’s Special and would have gladly had another one. But now I know what I am up against when I have to make my own Baked Alaska for my Great British Bake Off challenge. I guarantee mine will be just as big as Antoine’s.
(Yes, that is me squealing in the background of the video)
After sharing our second dessert and still giggling about the whole dinner, we got another surprise. A little guided tour of the restaurant. A guided tour in our casual finery. The restaurant is a lot larger than at first glance. Different hallways leading to other dining rooms, private dining rooms, wine cellar, an underground tunnel (!), and a MYSTERY room. What was very apparent, is that Antoine’s is firmly rooted in NOLA and its history. The societies that run the celebration of Carnival have their own dining rooms here. The rooms act like a museum, completed with encased jewels and costumes. Fun fact: the underground tunnel was used as a place for drunken sailors to sleep one off before returning to the docks the next day during the time of prohibition.
Our tour complete, swag bag in our hand, and two desserts in our bellies; we ventured back out into the French Quarter feeling very satisfied with our first eating adventure. Now on to the next one! To quote Lindy regarding my eating habits: “I can’t keep up with you.” One of the best compliments I have ever received.
Despite switching up our eating itinerary, we had to still hit up the infamous Cafe Du Monde. I know it’s “touristy” but I think it’s a rite of passage for anyone visiting New Orleans for the first time. Since we had a delicious, early dinner we decided to walk off part of our two desserts before having our third. I think the eating gods were on our side because we were able to catch the last show at Preservation Jazz Hall. Another rite of passage when visiting NOLA. The first time I came, I accidentally stumbled upon the hall and was in awe of the musicians as I swayed to the music while standing in the back. So I was excited for Lindy to experience it and this time we were up close! Front row on the cushions. Right in front of the trumpet and drums. The jazz combo was complete with world class musicians and even a trombone prodigy of thirteen years of age. These guys play like 3-4 shows a night, I have no idea how they can talk or move their mouths afterwards (or their fingers/hands). There is no photography or video allowed during the show, and they won't start until EVERYONE puts their technology away (which wasn't a problem for me). The audiences only job is to enjoy the damn music.
After the show, a certain someone may have been invited to take a picture with the drummer and sit at the kit AND get to hold the sticks!! Ok, yes, that someone was me.
We left Preservation Jazz Hall and explored the area some more and then, finally, made our way to Cafe Du Monde.Beignets and chicory coffee! At midnight, the place was still packed. What I love about this place is that it offers two things and people come from all over the world just for those two things. We only ordered one order (each order comes with 3 beignets), Lindy probably thought I was nuts for suggesting that we get two orders #professionaleater. I gave Lindy a pro tip to not inhale as she took her first bite, since all she would do is choke on the pound of powdered sugar that tops the fried doughnuts of goodness.
If you recall, the eating itinerary also included Bakery Bar. This has to be put on another day- we can't have four desserts in one day...well, I mean, we could...
As we sat there finishing the beignets and drinking iced cafe au laits, I knew that the next couple days were going to filled with delicious foods. I was eager to eat it all! ...After I hit the gym in the morning.
More on NOLA soon! And how I explored the city with no 2019 technology. So many eating adventures were had that I had to split it up. Until then Happy Baking, Happy Eating, Happy Repeating.
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.
Ok. I finally got my baking act together and got on the #rye train. I have been super excited for #breadweek, which I found weird, because if you had asked me 4 years ago — There would be no way that I would have said “oh, I’m excited to make bread.” Me, a breadmaker?! Yeah, right. There was NO WAY I would bake bread at home. It seemed like it was too finicky. Too time consuming. Too little reward. In fact, on my wedding registry, I asked for a bread machine and some generous person got one for us (and by that I mean me). So, I began use the machine to make bread. It was the epitome of “set it and forget it.” You press a button and walk away.
Now, I realize how young and stupid I was. Having your house smell like freshly baked bread every week is AMAZING! I am certainly no Paul Hollywood...yet. But I am working on it. It’s so great to create the dough out of a few simple ingredients then knead it and feel it come together. I am getting the feel of how different bread doughs should feel. I am geeking out, I know.
Rye is the issue at hand, however. Now, I have never made rye bread before. I started to consult my Crust and Paul Holllywood Bake bibles to figure what the heck is #ryebread. Rye is lower in gluten protein than in other types of flour (think: AP, Strong bread, Whole Wheat, etc.), which can make it tricky to work with since building up those protein strands during kneading is a very important component of baking bread. Rye seems to be always associated with caraway seeds… and I don’t know why… I tried to find out but didn’t have much luck. Just like a bread made with regular AP or strong bread flour (all the gluten), there are so many recipes out there to make delicious rye bread. I personally love rye bread to be the foundation for a pastrami or ham/cheese sandwich...but I digress. (Here's an article about RYE)
Since I had never baked Rye bread before, I had to get some new additions in my pantry. You guessed it, rye flour! I also decided to bake a couple loaves of rye as practice, in order to get a feel for the dough and to know what to expect. The diligence you need to have as a baker, I-tell-ya! I opted for a couple of recipes out of Crusts: The Ultimate Baker’s Book. First, I made a rye sour. No, it’s not a cocktail, it’s a rye bread starter. Though I do love me a rye old fashioned….mmmm, with a side of ham/cheese on rye…(again I digress)
Since I had never baked Rye bread before, I had to get some new additions in my pantry. You guessed it, rye flour! I also decided to bake a couple loaves of rye as practice, in order to get a feel for the dough and to know what to expect. The diligence you need to have as a baker, I-tell-ya! I opted for a couple of recipes out of Crusts: The Ultimate Baker’s Book. First, I made a rye sour. No, it’s not a cocktail, it’s a rye starter. Though I do love me a rye old fashioned….mmmm, with a side of ham/cheese on rye…(again I digress)
I have seen “sourdough starter” floating around for awhile - in my casual baking research and, of course, on GBBO. I didn’t feel that I bake enough bread to justify making a starter and mostly I have only heard of sourdough starters. How surprised I was was when I found out sourdough starter is not JUST sourdough bread… it’s used in a variety of different breads. *face palm*
A starter helps produce a great leaven and build up yummy, delicious flavors in your bread. And in case you didn’t know, during the proofing stage is where the bread builds up its flavors. That’s why you don’t want to skimp on the proofing time. But a starter has had time to ferment and turn into bubbly goodness and will add a lot of flavor to your dough. Different flours will require different amounts of time to “start” the starter. But then, you can keep it like a little pet in your fridge, and “feed” it when necessary to have some on hand for all your bread baking.
Now it was my turn to make a rye starter. This called for a medium white onion and caraway seeds wrapped in a cheesecloth and submerged into the mixture of flour, water, and yeast. Well, I guess you can add another episode of the "Pantry Caper" to the baking histories, because this baker did NOT have any cheesecloth in the house. But I am nothing if not a great bullshitter...*ahem*... improviser. I had a few reusable linen vegetable bags in my possession...so BADA-BING. I popped the white onion and caraway seeds in the bag and buried it in my mixture. (Side note: I now own actual cheesecloth).
I left my little yeast pet to ferment covered overnight. Then, the next day I removed my ingenious linen bag and “fed” the hungry pet. I definitely could see the bubbling of the fermentation and smell the yeast, onion, and caraway seeds all mixed together.
ONTO THE BREAD
My practice Rye loaves. Again, I turned to my new friend, Crusts: The Ultimate Baker’s Book, for the recipe: Polish Light Rye. With my minimal knowledge of baking rye bread, I decided to follow the directions as best as I could, which is unusual because you know that is not always the case with me.
To start this recipe, you activate the yeast in water with the rye flour, caraway seeds, and sugar.
Ok, time for #bakefail number one: when trying out a recipe for the first time; make sure you read it correctly. Eye roll.
After letting the yeast activate for about 25 minutes, I realized that I did not add the sugar to the mixture. At this point, I opted to the add the sugar to the mixture and let it activate for ANOTHER 20-25 minutes. Did I know that by doing this it would bring the demise of my first rye bread? No. Otherwise I wouldn’t have done it. But again, improvising.
Now, after activating all the correct ingredients together. I realized this is basically the start of a sourdough starter. The recipe had not listed an option to “use a starter, if available,” so I didn’t use my little pet since I was being a good little baker and following all directions. But, I put that in my note to self for my actual #bakeoff bake to put my starter to good use.
Let's get "ROLL"ing
Now, that I had a practice rye under my belt it was time to make my dozen rye rolls. For this I turned to the king of bread himself, Paul Hollywood. In addition to baking my way through GBBO, I want to bake every single recipe in this book too. I might as well utilize any chance I get. #overambitious
Unfortunately, I was not practicing baking rye rolls with different flavors because, well, a girl just didn’t have the time. In rewatching the Season 1 episode, I made sure to note the flavors that the bakers were using. I decided that my rolls would be walnut, apricot, and coffee. In researching rye bread recipes, I have found the addition of treacle or molasses is always an option, but not a must. So I figured this coffee syrup just sitting in the pantry that was begging to used, would be great. Mr. Hollywood’s recipe called for treacle (yummy, yummy treacle) and I felt that the coffee syrup would be a good substitute due to its dark color and the addition of some sweetness.
This time I was sure to use my rye sour that I had made the week prior. I couldn’t just let it sit there and not use it! I decided to use 250g of the starter and then 250g of rye flour since the recipe called for 500g.
As far as flavor goes, my flavor combo works well, but I couldn’t really taste the coffee. And I love me some coffee. I could smell the coffee during the second proof, which gave me high hopes, but the flavor wasn’t there upon tasting. Just like judges in the tent always warn: if you say a flavor is in your bake, it better be IN YOUR BAKE. So next time, more coffee flavor. The texture of the walnuts (which I toasted before adding to the dough) and apricots, was really good. But, I should have chopped them just a teensy bit more… I had a couple of big chunks of both in bites, so it made it seem unbalanced.
Could I really tell that I used a “starter?” No. But then again, I am not sure what I should be looking for in terms of taste. I felt that the rye flavor was abundant and I call that a good sign. My rolls seemed a little small so I think next time making a bigger mixture, and also adjusting proofing times. Also, the steam! While I had steam in the oven… I should have the steam going BEFORE adding the rolls. Darn! Next time. Always learning. As your reward for making it to the end of the blog... please enjoy a video of me eating a roll (below).
Until then, Happy Baking. Happy Eating. Happy Repeating.
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.
Above is an accurate depiction of me. I have eaten many BISCUITS as of late. Then, I got hit with a stomach virus which put me waaaaay behind in my baking game. Apologies for the lateness of this post. But, I am back to being a baking and eating monster.
This is one is going to be pretty short and sweet (like pastry… get it?!). I wanted to show my process and progress of my way to the #showstopper to close out my first biscuit week. Truth be told, initially when I thought about this showstopper (back during Thanksgiving), I got really nervous. Then, a light bulb went off in my nerdy mind: (Ding!) HOGWARTS. I can make a Hogwarts 3D biscuit scene.
Fast forward to February 2019….
Me: FACE PALM.
What was I thinking!? I’ve never made a 3D biscuit scene. Hell, I haven’t even made true English biscuits. But since I am of a stubborn stock, once I get something in my mind… I can’t let it go.
When I was young and innocent, back during Thanksgiving 2018 (yeah, ok, I know it was only a few months ago), I gleefully googled “Hogwarts images” and sent them via email to myself. As I opened these images up this week… I was like "#accio time machine"… to take me back to when I thought making a 3D biscuit scene of Hogwarts was a good idea, so I could slap myself.
But I haven’t graduated from witchcraft and wizardry school yet, so I am stuck with my stubbornness and trying to figure out to craft Hogwarts because this badger won’t quit (#Hufflepuff, baby!).
Treacle, again, something that I have never tasted or used. But now I must use in as many recipes as I can. I remember that I ordered this from the Amazon box during the summer and it took FOR-EH-VER to get her from across the pond … I didn’t have prime option for that apparently. It was a nice little surprise that showed up on my doorstep when it got here. Anywho, the flavor is a very rich, deep syrup. A little woody and earthy...in the best way possible! Definitely an umami booster. (According to Dictionary.com - Umami: a category of taste in food (besides sweet, sour, salt, and bitter), corresponding to the flavor of glutamates, especially monosodium glutamate.) Cue brain: trying to find excuses to use treacle.
The flavor of the dough was packed full for flavor and warmth from the spices. Next time, I might try messing around with the recipe and adding fresh ginger… hmmmm.
Once again, I want to make sure that you know that I have no clue what I am doing. So I let the dough rest in the fridge. I figured I would just roll out the dough and then use a sharp knife and cut the outline of Hogwarts. And that is exactly what I did. BTW, I do not have any drawing or crafting skill. I can see how this might seem super rudimentary to some of you who may be advanced in this part of the art world.
I baked the biscuits for about 10 minutes. The larger pieces I had to throw back into the oven because I thought that they were a little soft in the middle...but the small pieces were pretty hard… and that may have changed the flavor a little bit. The flavor seemed to be muddled in the harder pieces. Which is to say less of the all around warm, spiced goodness. Since I am not really sure if these cookie/biscuits are supposed to have a “snap” or be some place in between, I will have to think about that before baking my true #showstopper.
I don’t want to be sacrificing flavor in order to have firm construction, because the 3D biscuit scene should be edible. Also, maybe don’t choose to construct Hogwarts for your first 3D BISCUIT SCENE! Sorry, slight anxiety panic.
Since I didn’t actually have time to “construct” a practice 3D scene… I will pray to the baking gods that something will turn out for the real thing. I actually have a couple of other biscuit/cookie recipes that I want to bake to see if I can incorporate for construction and flavor. I found a couple of recipes on the online wonder that is Pinterest. This particular recipe is not a ginger biscuit but at this point I am not too big a stickler on the flavor as long as it tastes yummy.
All in all, I figured out a couple of ways to get it to stand up but I have to be a little more exact on measurements of cutting and not just #wingingit - (insert: cool name pun here (sorry, I couldn’t figure one out, Lindy)). Oh! I almost forgot to tell you that I finally got some rolling pin spacers so I feel confident that these will help me in my construction… maybe the baking gods ARE on my side! I plan to use a mixture of royal icing to “glue” and cream cheese frosting...because cream cheese frosting and delicious ginger cookies - duh.
For your viewing pleasure… some cute yoga pig sugar cookies. My tribute to Lunar New Year. Just had one for breakfast. See you for the #showstopper.
Until then, Happy Baking. Happy Eating. Happy Repeating.
Florentines. Had I ever heard of florentines before watching this show? Of course... I’ve made them… LIES. I am totally messing with you. No, of course NOT. I have never heard of florentines before watching this show. I mean, let’s be real, there are many, many recipes that I have never heard of before watching this show. I can’t be the only one! But once I learned about them… it’s like I see them everywhere! It’s already happening with Babka. I just watched that episode of #seinfeld with the chocolate babka. But I digress.
We’ll talk about Babka later (Because Mr. Hollywood will make me bake it). Right now, it’s on to the technical for my very first #biscuitweek. Florentines. A Mary Berry recipe. There are definitely more than few recipes out there, but I decided to go with the one I found on BBC, titled “Mary’s Florentines Recipe.” Some of the other recipes I read through seemed to have less ingredients, but I wanted to make sure I was getting the full effect. Also, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to make my own candied citrus peel for the first time. So let’s start there.
Perusing the rest of the ingredients, those dang glacé cherries pop up in my life again! I first became acquainted with them during my #classiccherrycake bake. Exciting that I get to use them again. As an actor IRL, I like to make everything super dramatic. So I would like to give you a glimpse into my baking life. Please take your seats, for: The Glacé Cherry Caper.
Glacé Cherries! Good thing I already have some ready to go in my pantry.
(rushes to pantry and throws open doors)
Seriously, there is some in my pantry, remember?! When I made them for that cherry cake (keeps scanning pantry)
Oh. I used them ALL in that cherry cake. Hmmm.
(Rushes to fridge and throws open doors)
I’ll use those Amarena cherries that I never used in that cherry cake. Ok, cool. I’ll make it work.
(Rereads ingredients in recipe)
“...dried cranberries OR glacé cherries.” Maybe I won’t use the Amarena cherries because... (rushes to pantry and throws open doors once again)
I know! I have dried sweet cherries!
(grabs bag of dried sweet cherries, in sweet sweet victory!)
Dried, sweet cherries seem like the best of both worlds…
(Dana pumps fist in air and smiles.)
*readers cheer relentlessly*
I am sure you already guessed it. Instead of glace cherries OR dried cranberries, I am using dried sweet cherries from my pantry. I also didn’t have any walnuts and substituted pecans. But you will have to wait for “The Walnut Caper,” another day.
It’s not that I don’t want to follow the recipe EX-ACT-LY, but listen, during the technicals on the show they have a whole team of people, behind the scenes, prepping their ingredients for them. I wish that I had that whole team too...but it’s just me driving around to different stores and/or ordering things off the Amazon box. So I am big supporter of use what you have. Which is exactly what I did.
With the candied citrus peel out of the way...I was able to jump right into chopping everything up according to the recipe. This one was interesting because essentially everything is done in a pot over the stove. I’ve never made a cookie like that. EXCUSE ME - biscuit.
But before I go on… I need to talk about golden syrup. I was not acquainted with golden syrup before GBBO. And lo and behold, golden syrup is used in this Mary Berry recipe.
I thought about just forgetting about using golden syrup because I had read that other things could be substituted… but I decided that since the Amazon box could get it to me same day (!) (Note: it did not get to my house same day… but within the 2 days), I splurged and ordered some golden syrup- the same brand as my treacle (which I do have future plans for :)). And honestly, I am glad that I decided to get actual golden syrup because I think it is So. Damn. Tasty. It’s not quite syrup you put on American pancakes or agave or even corn syrup (which I try to stay away from)... but it has this richness without being cloyingly sweet. The color is truly “GOLDEN” and it it’s like a rich, carmel-y, butterscotch-y, toffee-y, taste to it and I am thinking it would be delicious with some cornbread (another example of my fat genius).
So thumbs up for my first foray with golden syrup.
Back to spooning the melty blobs of stuff on the cookie sheet. It said to spoon out 1 teaspoon and shape for each Florentine. I thought that looked rather small and I wasn’t really sure how big these were going to be, even though I know that they will spread in the oven. So I decided to count out 18 of them and double up blobs on the cookie sheet...and cross my fingers for baker’s luck.
There was spreading in the oven. And I don’t know how they do in photos, but mine did not come out perfectly round. Well, I think ONE did. I let them firm up a little bit after taking them out of the oven since I baked on a silpat. Transferred them to a wire rack to cool and went about my business to temper some chocolate.
Now, if you read the full recipe - it does say to temper the chocolate using a candy thermometer… I don’t own a candy thermometer… since I haven’t needed one, yet. I thought that this might be great excuse to get one, but alas, I forgot to order it with the delicious golden syrup.
Instead, I just did my thing. Melted chocolate (dark) using the Bain Marie method. Using a fork to drizzle the chocolate onto the biscuits, which I thought worked surprisingly well. Then, I discovered I committed BAKE FAIL #2.5 (I really don’t think it deserves WHOLE number step up) I was supposed to chocolate the bottoms of the biscuits first, let THAT set, and THEN drizzle the tops with chocolate. Well. I didn’t.
I did discover a nice way to chocolate my biscuit bottoms though— by using a spatula and loading some melted chocolate on there and then “dipping” the biscuit bottoms to get an even coating. Since I already had drizzled chocolate on the tops of the biscuits… I had some indentations of the wire rack on the bottoms. Whoops.
All in all, I felt that these florentines were tasty. I feel like I still had a decent shine to my melted chocolate, even though I didn’t have a candy thermometer to temper it to the correct temperature. But I did melt half the chocolate, removed the bowl from heat, and then added the rest of the chocolate in order to avoid any burning.
I was pleasantly surprised how much citrus flavor came through in the biscuit...and I am excited to think of other recipes to use the candied peel in. I’m planning to revisit the Lemon Drizzle Cake and make a recipe for a vegan one, so I think the citrus peel will have a place in my oven soon.
These biscuits (cookies, if you prefer) would definitely NOT be a go-to for me. Even though I think they are tasty, I can think of many other different cookies and biscuits that I would gorge myself on. But they are simple enough to come together to whip them up quickly, with whatever candied/dried fruit and nuts you have on hand in your pantry, to take to a brunch or have with your own tea at home. I think next time I might take my husband’s suggestion and use white chocolate for the drizzle. Seems like a great flavor combo AND would look very nicely on the biscuit themselves. Thanks for the suggestion, honey.
Next up… #showstopper. Yep, that is a 3D biscuit sculpture. Still trying to wrap my mind around how I’m going to do it AND bake up some yummy things for Chinese New Year. I’m thinking Chinese sausage pastries are in my future and yoga piggies. I’ll get pics and all that good stuff up on here and on my IG @dana.does.things
Until then, Happy Baking. Happy Eating. Happy Repeating.
P.S Thanks to Lindy (#lindybakes) for taking on the endeavor of editing :)
Candied Citrus Peel:
Let’s start today’s blog post with a confession: This personal bake off challenge has been exhausting and STRESS-FUL, BUT it also has filled me with so much joy (Marie Kondo, anyone?). I get excited at the prospect of all the techniques that I will learn, the new recipes that I will have in my repertoire, and also all the things I get to taste (as if I don't eat enough things...)
I am trying to focus on all the positives of this bake off and not worry about all the behind the scenes things-- keeping up with posts, content, and the bake themselves…. But I am trying to get it down in a routine so I bring you better-than-awesome things :) With better proofreading and edits, so please excuse typos in the previous posts.
It warms my little baker’s heart when my friends reach out to help me out with this blog endeavor (here’s looking at you, #lindybakes (yes, you have been mentioned twice, super famous)). Also, I can’t wait to connect with more of you! Emails and comments are welcome, just make sure you continue to #spreadjoy...all the while baking and eating. Yummy!
Okay, I feel better after that little confession! Whew. But I do hope that this inspires you too! Whether it's to dust off that cookie sheet or start watching the show or even doing some writing of your own… I would love to hear about your own personal bake-off-of -sorts.
But the task at hand is biscuit week. If you remember from my last post - I actually didn’t exactly keep to the brief. I made some shortbread (delicious, if I do say so myself) but they weren’t savory. I promised that I would make sure that I got those savory biscuits made. Since I have a growing obsession with Paul Hollywood’s “How to Bake,” I decided to do another recipe out of the book. I mean, the shortbread turned out pretty well, so I figured “why not.” Therefore, I decided to go ahead with Gruyere Biscuits. After all, cheese is my best friend.
I baked these little delights for a little longer than it called for in the recipe (10 minutes). I kept an eye on them and watched for the gentle brown color to appear around the edges. Now, I did notice as they were in the oven, there was a fair amount of spreading - but only SOME of the biscuits. I suspect that this was not from refrigerating again after rolling and cutting. There should be a LITTLE spreading but I wanted to make those nice, crisp edges that Mr. Hollywood and Ms. Berry are looking for.
Sprinkled with salt and fresh cracked pepper after taking them out of the oven...and they smelled SO GOOD! I love how my house smells when baking.
But, wait! There's more. (BONUS)
I decided to give myself a bonus challenge since these little biscuits don’t take a lot of time and to challenge my skills in the flavor department. My own personal twist on the English biscuit - I decided to make an “American” version- and since I recently moved to Texas (#atx)- I figured a BBQ flavor would be appropriate. And that’s how it was born…
My very own: ENGLISH AMERICAN BBQ BISCUITS.
I used the same base recipe for the Gruyere biscuits, but omitted the gruyere. I added a mixture of spices: Garlic Powder, New Mexico Chili, Cayenne, Mustard Seed, Paprika, Onion Powder, and BBQ Seasoning to the flour and sifted into a bowl. I added cubed butter per the recipe and worked through with my hands… but in order to bring together the dough I added a few splashes of milk - I debated about using mascarpone cheese in order to bind the dough and another flavor element… but decided that on my first trial that I would stick with the added spices only.
So with the splashes of milk in the bowl, I then brought the dough together and put in the fridge to rest.
I have to say, I am pretty proud of myself and my English American BBQ Biscuits. I actually feel like that I could have gone stronger/bolder with the flavors of the “BBQ”- of course the #homechef part of me didn’t measure out the spices. I mixed and tasted. Next time, I might add a couple of drops of liquid smoke and make sure that there is a little extra pop of heat in there. A little extra garlic and onion as well. Mascarpone cheese might not be a bad addition - for a little acidity.
Like Samin Nosrat says, “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat.” Of course if you have any tips or if you come up with a mixture of your own, let me know in the comments. The Superbowl is right around the corner (Go #sportsball) so maybe English American BBQ biscuits can sit right next to the seven layer dip. (In case you are wondering my sportsball is Soccer and eating).
As you can see from the pics - the 2 different kinds of the biscuits held their shapes differently, even though I used the same cutter. The different shapes and some of the extra spreading in the fridge got me to thinking that I need to try refrigerating the dough after rolling/cutting AND I think I will add a couple of minutes of light kneading to incorporate the butter a little bit more.
You may be thinking that I am crazy, but hear me out! I know that biscuits need to be “short” but I saw that there were big blobs of butter in the dough as I rolled it out. These little guys are small and I think having smaller butter blobs will definitely help with the spreading (I don’t want all the butter to seep out!) and a little bit of the uneven coloring that I noticed. I definitely won't want to take out ALL the butter blobs...because it did have a delightful flaky texture...but not necessarily that nice snap… So I guess I got an excuse to bake a few more batches to perfect it!
Up next is the technical, which consists of Florentines. One of Mary Berry recipes. My first time using Golden Syrup and making my own candied peel. Stay tuned. Until then, check out some life inspirations on my home page.
Happy Baking. Happy Eating. Happy Repeating.
Don't look at my like that Paul Hollywood... Don't JUDGE ME! Oh wait... judge me. :)
Happy NEW YEAR! As Lil' Kim says: "I've been gone for minute, now I am back at the jump off." I know that anyone that stumbles across this blog- is a HUGE Lil' Kim fan. Anyways, that's all to say that I know I have taken a short break (those 36 mini British cakes, were TIRING) and now I am BAAAAAACK.
But for reals, Christmas to the beginning of the 2019, I needed a little rest... I mean, who doesn't? That doesn't mean I stopped baking/cooking (or eating, for that matter). Fresh Posts on the IG will be up soon. But let's get back to the main event that you all came for- the first #biscuitweek.
Okay, so I had some trepidation of biscuit week because, well, I have eaten many tasty fluffy American biscuits but I don't think I have ever had a true "English Biscuit." In the past few months I have run into a couple of people from the UK... and of course, I ask them very annoying questions, such as: what is a biscuit?
But really-- what is a biscuit- what are the fundamentals of a good biscuit?
It comes down to a nice "snap" -- So a "SNAP" or that crunch when you take that bite. It should have great flavor and if you are making shortbread... it should be short (it's not always about length, yep I went there)... a nice and crumbly texture. And because the ingredients are pretty straightforward-- if you are going to put flavor in there... it better be good. Biscuits started as a no fuss way for sailors and soldiers to get calories - just flour and water. (Read a short fun article "Crunch Time..." here). And now biscuits are a food that is consumed most everyday for Brits. I love these Brits. Dedicated biscuit (cookie) time. I'll take it!
Ok, I know that challenge was to make savory biscuits. Well, I wanted to make some basic biscuits first to feel it out... and since I have taken such a long break - I will also be making savory biscuits as well. (Extra baking things, just for you.)
I decided to start with some shortbread - why not go with one of the most iconic biscuits first? Very smart of me...or very dumb.
Maybe I felt more courage since I was baking a recipe from the one and only, Mr. Paul Hollywood, himself. "How to Bake" by Paul Hollywood - I was so stoked to have purchased it right before starting this #bakeoff challenge and it is definitely coming in handy. I sat down and read the whole thing (nerd alert)... ok I didn't read every single recipe all the way through but I already know that I am going to bake EVERY SINGLE RECIPE in the book-- starting with the biscuits (scroll to the end and get a little bonus on some Cheddar Bacon loaves...told you I have been baking).
Anywho, I figured go to the man himself to get the best recipe. These are Buttery Shortbread Biscuits - I decided to leave them as is before I start adding extra flavors and all that. I have to say all and in all it was pretty easy...and definitely delicious. As I write this blog post. I have eaten two and have one more sitting right beside me. Don't believe me....look below.
The dough was very easy to come together. No extra flour or liquid needed to help it form. Simple enough to roll out. I didn't cut them into triangles or any other shapes free hand... I used a cutter. I decided to also experiment with my "Made-with-love" stamper -- still getting the hang of it. It takes a certain amount of pressure to get the design but then too much pressure splayed out the biscuit dough a little bit. I refrigerated the dough to hold the shape before using the stamp and I should have refrigerated afterwards as well. I didn't get super crisp, even, straight edges.... but I did get that nice snap AND that light, delicate, buttery, flavor. BTW- these are DELICIOUS with ice cream-- I FINALLY had Amy's ice cream since moving to #ATX 9 months ago and made my own flavor of Guinness and Coffee- basically, I am genius. A fat genius.
I think the next kitchen tool I get will be something to measure the thickness of the dough. I have read mixed reviews about the measure mats and the bands on the rolling pins alike...but if anyone has any favorites or go-tos...please let me know in the comments.
As you can see some of my stamps didn't turn out as clear as I would have liked. I am going to keep playing around with the refrigeration time and different doughs to see how to yield the best results. The recipe calls for baking for 20 minutes... I definitely had to leave my biscuits in the oven between 23-25 minutes in order to get the browning at the edges and I did rotate trays between top and middle to get even coloring. This bake came in under 2 hours so I made the "tent time." I will be doing an extra biscuit bake this week to get those savory biscuits in--- Mr. Paul Hollywood's Gruyere Biscuits. Stay tuned.
Until then Happy Baking. Happy Eating. Happy Repeating.
(P.S. If you hear a lot of Gilmore Guys podcast in the videos... you are welcome...that's how I roll when I am baking)
225g unslated butter, plus a little extra for greasing
110g caster sugar, plus extra for dusting
225g plain flour, plus a little extra for dusing
Pinch of salt.
BONUS: CHEDDAR BACON LOAVES
This recipe is also from Paul Hollywood's: How to Bake. I found these loaves to be pretty simple. Short double rise time. Anything filled with cheese...I can't resist. I used some grass-fed sharp cheddar, no nitrate bacon, and added spinach to two of the loaves...because, well, I had it in my fridge.
The recipe does call for strong wholemeal bread flour- which I thought that I did have in my pantry... and it turns out I had whole wheat flour...which I used with the bread flour. Probably a more nutty earthy flavor than Mr. Hollywood's. But cheddar and bacon go great with any type of flour :)
400g strong white bread flour, extra for dusting
100g strong wholemeal bread flour
10g instant yeast
30g unsalted butter, softened
330 ml cool water
Olive oil for cooking and finish
8 rashers of smoked bak bacon, rind removed
150g Cheddar, grated.
DRUM ROLL, PLEASE! Anyone? Bueller?
I started this crazy journey with an announcement on Thanksgiving 2018 and the actual "baking off" began on December 1, 2018. I had a vague idea of the perils of the journey and these past few weeks have been filled with anxiety and worry. Mostly, a mantra of " I. Do. Not. Know. What. I. Am. Doing." But, despite a few #bakefails or, maybe, #bakemistakes - all has been fairly well in Bake-Land. And maybe this is how the bakers in the tent feel after they make it through week one (Please...just let me get through week one, everyone prays). Relief, mixed with a little exhaustion, mixed in with a little, "where has the rum gone?!" (which in my case would be whiskey, if anybody is asking).
Somehow I do feel a better after completing my first #showstopper and as I sit here reflecting upon my experience, while listening to GBBO soundtrack by Tom Howe (no joke), I feel little more confident. So, let me start this off by saying I did not "practice" my initial showstopper and, honestly, I don't know how many of the showstoppers I can practice-- I mean how many hundreds of mini British cakes can I store in my house ...not to mention give to people... Please, sir, eat some more cake. EAT IT!
What I DID know was WHAT I was going to bake. I figured that I have limited knowledge of British cakes, so I should go with what I know... or what I kind of know. I chose a Victoria Sandwich sponge, since my practice bake with that cake turned out well and I genuinely enjoyed the texture, flavor, etc. I rewatched Season 1, episode 1 - the Showstopper portion just to get my creative juices flowing and to see if there was any new ideas that came to my mind. I solidified my choice of baking a twist of the Victoria Sandwich cake. I debated between a 2 or 3 tiered cake but just for my own sanity as well as keeping to the brief, I decided to go with 2 tiers. Paul is a stickler about the brief.
Decoration. Ahhh. The decoration. Ok. So the 36 British cakes have to be Mini. They have to be identical and they have to look pretty and taste yummy. Well, you know by now that my achilles heel is decoration. I decided that instead of piping buttercream in between the mini tiers that I would put the buttercream on the top with an extra flourish. I flavored the buttercream with lemon. Fresh as well as extra for an extra zip. I felt that it would complement the raspberry jam and sponge well. Why stop there... bake big or go home! Wait, I am at home... never mind. I decided to add a filling of almond cream, simply, because I love almond cream and it's delicious and it's almondy and yeah. I figured that I should try to do that fancy filling in the cake thing so when you cut through it, the middle looks cool. Again, bake big or ...
So I have my flavors: Raspberry, Lemon and Almond. Now I have to figure how to make it all. Cue: flop sweat.
The sponge. I figured since the recipe worked so well last time, I would use Mary Berry's recipe again. I mean you can't go wrong, right? I decided to use my jelly roll tins in order to get some good height, but not too tall since these are mini.
Since I have 2 jelly roll tins that are different... I did get a little discrepancy on the colors of the bakes, but I did what I could in the moment. I had to double up the recipe and then double it up again. All in all, I baked 5 (!), count 'em 5 sponges. I baked 2 out of the 5 sponges together and then 3 separately... since I only have 2 jelly roll tins I had to improvise with some cooling and transferring and I focused on getting an even bake as much as possible across all 5 sponges. That probably ate up a lot of time... but when Paul Hollywood comes to my house to judge me then I will be more worried about the time. Do you hear me, Mr. Hollywood???
I baked the sponges for about 10-12 min depending. Honestly, I kind of did it by eye and feel. Good golden color, slightly pulling away from the edges, and springy to the touch, and clean "toothpick" insert. And if I am being double honest, this bakes feels like such a blur, even though it was just the other day. #bakerissues
I learned from my #swissroll bake and made my fillings first. Raspberry jam (with added lemon juice) and almond cream and then they went into the fridge to set. I will say I had a very beautiful set jam afterwards. Success! Oh wait, I still need to put these things together. *WORK*
I debated about serving square or round cakes. Round cakes or square cakes. Round or square?! Round is more "traditional," and I felt that square might add some extra aesthetic. Plus, my husband said "square," so I went with my gut. Square like that sponge-guy-pants-thing!
As you can see in the pics above, the different colors are from the bakes of the 2 different pans... but I ended flipping over the extra pale ones and the colors matched up a bit better. To keep to the brief- I made sure that these would be a good couple of bites. I used a 5"x5" square cutter and a 2"x2" cutter to core out the middle. I am not that cool as some of the bakers in the tent, who have their own "cake guillotine." If I get a couple points docked from my scoresheet because I used store bought tools... so be it. I just wanted some semblance of evenness and uniformity.
I "cored" out the middles, then slathered my beautiful raspberry jam in between the sponges and then piped almond cream into the center. I made some traditional buttercream and flavored it with lemon juice and lemon extract and mixed in a yellow food coloring to give a pop of color... And then! I used my new Russian Piping tips from K&S Artisan. (I ordered mine from the Amazon, like my whole life). And then I piped lemon buttercream flowers on 36 mini cakes. Here's what your kitchen looks like afterwards:
WHAT DID DANA LEARN?
This bake clocked in at 4 hours and 52 minutes. I would have not made it in the tent. This bake was supposed to clock in at 3.5 hours. I think about a couple of hours in I knew I wasn't going to make it at the "tent" time but I decided to enjoy the process, instead of getting even more stressed out. Thank goodness for my Wellness mat to keep me from cramping up. This is like baking olympics.
So, hmmmm, what did Dana learn? (In no particular order)
Having a plan. I generally have a plan when I bake but I can see how much more important it will be for this challenge. Especially, on these long bakes. I need to work on my preparation a little more... just a technical thing. I distinctly remember during my bake, I thought about how much this reminded me of acting and being in rehearsal for a show (apparently #actorbrain), but just having a script is like having a recipe and adjusting for whatever may come up during a live stage show is like having a bake not rise or collapse. Also, I need another damn mixing bowl for my stand up mixer... (update: ordered today).
The practice bakes did help me! Just knowing what to expect from the cake and the batter and all that goodness. So even if practice doesn't make perfect...it makes for less screw ups.
The more techniques I know or learn about, are only going to serve me as I travel through this journey. So I guess, I have keep doing food research (ie. eating). :)
I am still figuring out how my oven bakes. There seems to be a big discrepancy between the middle and bottom racks. But I feel like I am navigating it well.
I should have divided the almond cream in the pastry bags so I could have kept part of it cool in the fridge -- so when I cut into the cake, it would have help better.
Some of my bake time is cut into by capturing content and cleaning in between... Kudos to all of those PAs on the set of GBBO that help cart of dirty bowls. I mean, I wouldn't have been able to do this all in 3.5 hours, regardless but I am sure it would help to have some cleaning fairies. Also, WHERE DO THE CONTESTANTS PEE during a baking challenge???? Thoughts?
Ok until #biscuitweek (Yeah- I am not sure exactly what an English biscuit is either)-
Reach out with thoughts, opinions, or help right here. Follow me on IG for more behind the scenes things @dana.does.things -- Until then...
Happy Baking. Happy Eating. Happy Repeating.
RECIPE FOR ALMOND CREAM:
RECIPE for MARY BERRY'S VICTORIA SANDWICH:
Baking & Spices
Ok, I am going to be real with you. I have had some serious doubts about doing this WHOLE challenge this week. Part of the time, I doubt my own abilities to be good enough to do any of these bakes and the other part of the time, I am thinking...who is crazy enough to self-inflict these many man hours in their kitchen, not to mention writing and documenting this...face palm... But then I see new recipes and make like 23 pounds of different cookie dough for fun, So I guess, I am just a crazy B.
Ok so this technical. Again, I will say it I am not a Brit and I hope that I am not doing these cakes a disservice. I have taken it upon my find some Brits in the #atx area to be voluntary taste testers... or maybe I just shove baked goods down their mouth hole... either way, I want to make sure that I am doing these cakes right.
Now, this is my first technical bake and it's kind of tricky because the contestants don't know what they are baking ahead of time AND they get a stripped down version of the recipe. It's going to be the exact opposite for me. But for this I did not read through the whole recipe ahead of time and concentrated on just the ingredients and a wing and a prayer (where did that saying come from anyway???), Since this is a Mary Berry's recipe and I did find "her" recipe from bbc.com (recipe below), I decided to start off with what I know and did her infamous "all-in-one-method." Meaning, I didn't start by creaming the sugar and butter and whisk together the dry ingredients separately. Nope. I just put all that goodness together from the start.
Let's talk about those little things called glace´ cherries. Well, first off I could not find any at my local supermarkets. Cut to my aggravated to my face. Granted, I did not go to every single grocery store in the Austin area and, hopefully, I will stumble upon an awesome British goods store around here soon (fingers crossed). This is where you are asking if I know about the interwebs. Yes, I know about technology....sometimes. But I honestly didn't want to have to wait for shipping or pay extra (yes, I have Prime) for goods to be shipped across the pond. Then, through all the Google research I did... I kept running across candied cherries, which many websites listed them the same as glace´ cherries. I then found a recipe to make my own (below) which is essentially just taking maraschino cherries and simmering them in their juice cocktail with sugar for awhile. Does this make a good fake glace´ cherry? I do not know. But they looked similar to the cherries that I have seen on the show and "candied" feel to them. I stored them in an airtight container until I was ready to use them.
Ok, lady... just tell us about the bake already.
I'm getting there! All in all, I felt like it was pretty straight forward bake. Now, would I have thought this about 5 years ago, before I was consistently pre-heating my oven? I might not have. But if you make cakes... you will be able to tackle this one. And I can see why the Brits call this a classic, because when I first bit into it... I thought it tasted yummy and would be extra DELICIOUS with a good cup of tea. Cutting through my cake I felt that texture was good and springy to the touch. There was nice color due to the butter greased in my tin (a new one! I ordered just for this challenge). And... the greatest part is that my cherries were evenly disbursed (yay! #bakewin). Full disclosure, I accidentally saw that part of the directions as I was making sure I had all my ingredients: RINSE AND FLOUR THE CHERRIES... not gonna lie, I would have totally forgotten to do that and who knows what my cake would have looked like. I have a feeling I am going to get good at baking cakes with fruit in it during this #bakeoff! I will be vigilant about the size of my fruit and to make sure that it is not too wet, large, small, and properly floured to get that disbursement juuuuuuust right.
Alright, I do have one (another) confession. I forgot to buy SLICED ALMONDS! The garnish.... But I did have whole almonds...so I improvised (as one should), I rough chopped them up, toasted them for a few minutes and added them in for my garnish. Still had a great crunch. I'm glad I got that off my chest though. Whew.
The entire bake took about 1:35 to 1:40 min -- IRL, I had to leave and do adult life things while the cake was cooling but otherwise I timed the bake from start to finish (weighing the ingredients to finishing the last drizzle). You be the judge on how my technical challenge turned out, below.
If...a big IF...if there is one thing that I might change from this recipe- Don't look at me like that! I know it's a Mary Berry recipe... Stop. Looking. At. Me. Like. That.
I would add a little bit more lemon juice to the icing to give it a tad more tartness and acidity... I think it would punch it beautifully. (See, that wasn't that bad... Mary Berry still likes me.... sigh... I wish). That's it for now... I have been planning my showstopper in my brain all day. My 36 mini-cake showstopper. Yikes. If you listen very closely, you can hear my heart pounding (and maybe some nervous farting).
Until then... Happy baking. Happy eating. Happy repeating.
(yes, that's me trying to record a drizzle and hold my phone....yes, that's the Gilmore Guys podcast playing in the background...#gilmoregirls for life, baby!)
The Recipes, like I promised.
If you want to see all the recipes I am interested in...follow me on Pinterest at https://www.pinterest.com/danadoesthings/
Make your own GLACÉ CHERRY INGREDIENTS:
All you need for this is a 16 oz jar of maraschino cherries and 3/4 cup of sugar. And about 20-30 min of your time. Seriously.
CLASSIC CHERRY CAKE INGREDIENTS:
Baking & Spices
Nuts & Seeds