Sunday, July 1, 2012

Baking for the Bug Man book

My book club is coming over tomorrow night to discuss Tim Downs' book, FIRST THE DEAD, a book featuring "the bug man," or a forensic entomologist.  If you're not familiar with the term, it's a man who specializes in determining how long people have been dead by the bugs found, er, on and in the body.

Enough of that.  Anyway, I always try to bake something that ties in with the book either directly or indirectly.  And, because I spent part of the afternoon at the SPCA, I didn't have a lot of time to come up with something.

So I looked in one of my cupcake books (HELLO, CUPCAKE) and found a picture of some ants,  And since to my way of thinking ants = bugs, that's what I decided to do.  Easy and cute.

Frost the cupcakes with green frosting
What I needed:
cake mix
chocolate covered almonds
vanilla frosting
food coloring
dark chocolate frosting
baking tools (piping bags and tips)

First thing:  bake some cupcakes in green cupcake liners.  Because time was of the essence, I used a mix.

Second, mix some green and yellow food coloring into canned vanilla frosting.  I also bought a can of dark chocolate frosting for decoration.

closeup of the "grass" tip
When the cupcakes had cooled, I frosted them with the green color, then used the "grass tip" to put a little "grass" around the edges.  The frosting wasn't stiff enough to really hold the points, but from a distance it looks okay.

Then I simply placed three chocolate-covered almonds on each cupcake, then I used the dark chocolate to pipe legs and eyes on each ant.  The entire effect, I think, is cute, and it wasn't difficult at all.

You could, of course, line them up on your table if you wanted to cover it in a red and white checked table cloth, but our book didn't deal with a picnic theme . . . and rather than follow our book's theme exactly, I think I'll simply present the ants on a platter.

Enjoy your baking!

Three almonds on each

Pipe a little grass around the edges 

Pipe on the legs with chocolate frosting. Don't forget the little eyes. Done! 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Trifle... for A CHANGE IN ALTITUDE

Last night was book club night, and I spent several days thinking about what kind of dessert would echo the theme of the book.  Since the book was about the decline of a marriage after a mountain-climbing incident, the task wasn't easy.

BUT--at one point in the story, a character mentioned that another character always served trifles.  Ta da! Easy.

Now--I don't know about you, but a trifle has always seemed insultingly easy.  Don't you just throw some store-bought sponge cake, vanilla pudding, and strawberries into a bowl?

So I decided to use my new cookbook--BAKING AND PASTRY, the textbook from the Culinary Institute of America, and I found that making a trifle wasn't so simple.  But oh, it was delicious.

(BTW, if you have to feed an army or a large group, this is the cookbook for you!)

Step one: red currant jelly into bowl

First, I had to make the spongecake, so I made that on Saturday night.  Actually, I made FOUR huge spongecakes, because these recipes don't come in small batches.  :-)   But I didn't mind, because I knew I could freeze the cakes for later.

Sunday night I had to make the pastry cream, and since that recipe would only keep for three days, I did make a a small, one-pound batch.

2: Bake a lovely sponge cake. (or buy one.) 
And finally, last night I had to assemble the trifle.  I began by coating the bottom of the trifle bowl with currant jam.  Yum.  Then I blended sherry with simple syrup, reserved that in a bowl.  Cubed the spongecake, then poured the sherry/syrup mixture over the cake to moisten the lot.

Then I had to whip 16 oz. of heavy cream; easy enough, and into that I blended the pound of pastry cream from the fridge.

Finally, I cut up some lovely strawberries and mixed with a package of fresh raspberries.  Then into the bowl they went--jam, cake, fruit, cream, more cake, more fruit, more cream.  Finally, I piped rosettes around the top, and made a mini-mountain in the center, to honor our book. :-)

And then--ooo la la.  It was delicious, if I do say so myself.  I have a feeling I'm going to like this new cookbook.  :-)

Cut said cake into cubes, then cover with syrup mixture. 
Hope your baking adventures are delightful!

Cover with fresh fruit of your choosing. 

Cover with cream, then repeat. Smooth top, pipe on decorations. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Baking and Pastry--the textbook

Somehow I stumbled across a literal textbook last week called Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft.    Yes, I know it's expensive, but they had a used copy available that was reasonable, so I ordered it.

And all I can say is--wow.  This HUGE  book is a text for the Culinary Institute of America, and it's very thorough not only in baking techniques and equipment, but also in recipes (or "formulas.")  And you know all those elegant plated deserts you can find in upscale recipes?  Yep, they're in here.  You can now make them yourself, if you've a mind to impress someone.  :- )

Tonight I made their formula for madeleines, a small batch that came out very well.  But I decided to bake a trifle for my book club Monday night (because a lady in the book made trifles), so I used their recipe, which begins with sponge cake.

Well, the problem with using a restaurant type cookbook is that you have restaurant type sizes.  The recipe made FOUR sponge cakes (I didn't mind, since I knew I could freeze them) but called for something like 755 grams of eggs and then 9 ounces of egg yolks.  I cracked over two dozen eggs and STILL didn't have enough, so I hope the cakes taste okay.

I have to say that they came out looking beautiful--tall, elegant, and golden in their eight inch pans.  So step one of my trifle was a breeze, and I can't wait to begin the rest, in which I'll have to make pastry cream, whipped cream, and some simple syrup (but I think I might have some already made in my pantry . . . will have to check.)

I've been hard at work on my next book and often work into the night, but on those days when I finish early, I love going into the kitchen and baking something.  Even if it ends up with the neighbors or in the freezer.  (I've had to get strict about calorie counting again. Oh, well. Such is life.)

I hope you are doing well.  What have you been baking lately?


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Lessons in Royal Icing . . . by Crystal Thieringer, guest blogger

Lessons in Royal Icing

I'm not sure when I decided that I needed to learn how to decorate cookies.  It may have been when I made gingerbread moose for my husband at Christmas and thought they should have eyes.  Perhaps it was when I made the sugar cookie snowflakes that my mother-in-law enjoys.  It may even have been because my friend Kay introduced me to because she thought I had nothing else to do with my time.  Based on the number of hours I have spent gawking there, perhaps I didn't! 

In any case, I bought a simple heart cookie cutter and yesterday I made Sour Cream Sugar Cookies using a recipe I have in a Better Homes and Gardens magazine from 2004. The only change I made to the recipe was to substitute Greek-style yogurt for the sour cream.    When it came to the Royal Icing, I followed a tutorial that I found while blog surfing; I used it because it had a lot of how-to pictures and some good advice. 

The cookies turned out great!  The decorating was a bit more of a challenge even though the icing was a lovely texture. 

Here are the things that I learned: 

  • Royal Icing is used for cookie decorating because it (eventually) dries into a nice hard shell.  Another name for Royal Icing is Cement That Won't Come Off Your KitchenAid. 
  • The process is simple.  Pipe the border with a fairly stiff icing. Thin the icing and use it to "flood" the cookie.  The border will stop the icing from overflowing, and the thin icing will go into all the nice scalloped edges you decided to pipe.  Of course, this is all a myth.  Flood icing can take a lot of coaxing to go into the corners.  Adding more icing will render the border completely useless, but will adhere the cookie to the countertop with no problem. 
  • There is barely enough red paste food colouring in a container to make a true 'red' icing.   This is why pink is a Valentine's Day colour. 
  • Getting Royal Icing out of your hair isn't as easy as you might think. 
  • Taking pictures of your cookies is a great idea, especially if someone that you truly love invites you to add them to her blog.  Of course, you might wish to wait until they are dry first.  The zoom mechanism on your camera will cease to work if you get Royal Icing on it.  Don't ask me how I know. 

Here is the thing that matters: 
  • My husband, who will be surprised by the cookies, will love them in spite of their failings.   Well, he might not be crazy about pink, but the rest will delight him. He loves me in exactly the same way.  All is right with the world.  

Note from Angie:  Thank you, Crystal, for this wonderful adventure . . . and lesson.   The Lovin' Oven would love to hear from more of you!  

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Croquembouche

Begin with filled cream puffs (make puffs the day before; fill the hour before assembling croquembouche.)
Melt and boil sugar until it turns the color of caramel, remove from heat. Using tongs, dip cream puffs into caramel, then position inside oiled angel food cake pan or any pan with a sloped side. When you've filled the pan, invert onto a serving plate. 
With the foundation firmly in place, continue building cream puff layers, sliding them toward the center to make a cone shape. 
Built as tall as you like. Now decorate--I chose to drape my cone with spun sugar, but you could dust with powdered sugar or drizzle with chocolate. 
Close-up of my spun sugar. Next time, I'll formulate a plan. I like things a little neater. 
Ready for eating.  How to serve? Hand your guests  a cake knife and just let them go at it. :-) 
The croquembouche . . . being devoured.  Yes, it is hollow in the middle.  

Croquembouche (pronounced croak-em-boosh.  I think.)  

Well, it's done. I put the croquembouche together and served it to my book club. To rave reviews.

You always learn things when you attempt something, of course. Next time I'll not have any squat cream puffs (though not many of those went into the croquembouche--I made about three times too many, so ended up delivering them to my neighbor across the street. God bless them for eating all my experiments!)

Why did some of them come out squat?  Because one batch of my pate e choux (pronounced pat-a-shoo) had too many eggs in it. Plus, I didn't let it cool enough before adding the eggs. Like I said, we live and learn.

I filled the cream puffs with a chocolate filling and a kirsch-flavored vanilla pastry cream.  I used that long Wilton nozzle and a pastry bag.

I took a cue from Julia Child and started my croquembouche in an angel food cake pan, well oiled with a tasteless salad oil. Once I had built the base structure to the top of the pan, I simply turned it onto the serving plate and kept building from there. I did run out of sugar and have to melt a new batch (caramel--boiled sugar--serves as the "glue" to hold the puffs together, so you need quite a bit of it. But you can use any left over as spun sugar decoration.)

I went a little crazy covering the finished croquembouche with spun sugar. Next time I'll make a plan for all that sparkly golden goodness.

But it was fun, simple, and not too difficult.

So here are my pictures--and it served over a dozen, with plenty for the ladies to take home, too.

Very easy to make, especially if you spread the work over a few days.  Make the puffs one day and freeze. Make the filling another day and refrigerate.  Finally, a couple of hours before serving, fill the puffs and assemble the croquembouche.  You're done!


what I am making for book club tonight!

My book club read THE WEDNESDAY WARS this month, and the book features cream puffs in a starring role. So what better to make than this delectable confection?

I'll report back later . . . I've already baked the puffs and prepared two fillings, but have yet to put it together or to spin the sugar. We'll see how that goes today!


Friday, February 3, 2012

Baking with Children

The other day I bought a young baker's set . . . and even though my granddaughter is only nine months old, I'm already dreaming of the time when I can tie an apron around her, stand her on a stool, and watch her mix batter and lick the spoon.

Do you bake with your kids?  Have they discovered the joy of turning out some lovely, delicious, preservative-free something?

King Arthur Flour is featuring a blog about baking with kids, so I thought I'd pass it on.  Enjoy!

Note:  my book club read THE WEDNESDAY WARS, a story that features . . . cream puffs.  So I've been baking them every night, because on book club night I intend to build a croque em bouche.  :-)  Photos to come!


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Nordic Ware Egg Waffle Pan--wow!

Photo: Williams Sonoma
The minute I saw this in the Williams-Sonoma catalog, I knew I had to try it.  I like waffles, but find that they're usually heavy, and this "egg waffle" didn't look heavy at all.  So I ordered it, it arrived today, and I whipped up the recipe that comes with the pan.  It contains SIX whipped egg whites, so it IS light--though not necessarily light in calories (I figure that each large waffle is about 300 calories, so it's not terrible, either.  Depends on what you put on it afterward.)

So--the pan is only available at Williams-Sonoma right now (unfortunately), and no, it's not inexpensive.  One day it will probably be more available and more inexpensive, but I've noticed that W-S often holds exclusives on items for a while before releasing them to other vendors.

I've heard that egg waffles are huge in Hong Kong--sort of like carnival fare for urban dwellers.  They roll up easily, and, if tossed with powdered sugar, would be a wonderful walk-and-eat snack.

Photo: Williams Sonoma
The pan comes in two parts and you make the waffles on the stove.  The two parts link together through a tab on the top of one pan, so making waffles is simply a matter of pouring the mix onto one pan, inserting the other into the opening, closing the pans, flipping the pans, and then flipping them back so you've allowed each side to be on the stove heat for about two-three minutes.  Then you simply open the pan, unhook them, and flip the finished waffle onto a cooling rack.

The recipe says it makes five waffles, but I got seven out of the recipe.  Maybe my egg whites beat higher than the test kitchen's did.  (After making all those macarons, I ought to be an expert at whipping egg whites.)

My verdict?  Pricy gadget, but truly wonderful waffles.  I was so delighted I almost went out on the street and called all the neighborhood kids in for a snack.  :-)   In any case, my hubby has a plate of them waiting for him tonight.

Photo: my pan 
Happy baking!

My plate of waffles--waiting for hubby. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

I made a Dutch baby! (This is not an alien brain).

The Dutch baby comes out of the oven all puffy. :-) 
So then you dust it with powdered sugar. 

And then you pour on warmed maple syrup with bits of fried bacon in it.  Um . . . delicious! 
I had never even heard of a Dutch baby until I stumbled across this recipe in William-Sonoma's catalog. Because it uses everyday pantry staples, I had to give it a try--plus, I've been looking for recipes for which I could use my cast iron skillet.  This one was perfect!

So I whipped it up and found it delicious!  Very light and fluffy--honestly, I think I could have eaten the entire skillet, but I had to share some with my hubby.

BTW, ignore the bit in the recipe about "charging" the cream to whip it. (They were obviously trying to sell a whipped cream whipper).   Just use your handy hand-held mixer and beat the stuff until it's soft peaks.  You'll be fine.  It's just whipped cream, after all.

So the next time you're looking for a quick and easy breakfast or supper, have a go at a Dutch baby!  I think you'll like it and it sure beats pancakes!


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

No time to bake . . . wah!

Alas, the holidays are over and I am back at work.  And I usually work until way past dark, so I'm not sure I'll have much time for baking . . . but that's okay.  It makes the time I DO find all the more special.

What are you baking? How do you find time for it?  Do you find yourself baking only for special occasions, or you do just find yourself drawn to the kitchen?  I'd love to hear some of your baking stores to inspire me as I try to get another book out of my head and into the computer.

I do have one small consolation -- I'm having my protagonist work in a bakery, so I can live vicariously through her, at least!  LOL!


Monday, January 9, 2012

Pecan Cheesecake recipe

Since Pamela asked for my pecan cheesecake recipe, here it is!  (And I'm trying not to be jealous of her bountiful crop of pecans!)

1.  Make your favorite crust in a springform pan.  Last weekend I used leftover crunches from my sugar baskets, and those proved unworthy of the cheesecake--too tough and too sticky.  I'd go with graham cracker crumbs or some other kind of English cracker/biscuit mixed with six tablespoons of butter and 1/4 cup granulated sugar.   After spreading the mixture in your springform pan, either bake at 350 for 10 minutes OR put it in the fridge to solidify.

2.  Cheesecake ingredients:
1 1/2 pound of softened cream cheese
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purp flour
3 large eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pralines and cream flavoring, if you have it
1/3 cup chopped pecans
about 3/4 cup pecan halves for decorating the top
about 1/4 cup maple syrup

3.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat together the cream cheese, sugar, and flour until smooth.  Add eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each.  Then add the vanilla, the praline flavoring, and finally the 1/3 cup chopped pecans.

4. Pour the mixture into the crust and bake for about 50 minutes, or until edges puff up and brown slightly. Do not open oven door during baking.  After 50 minutes, turn oven off and use a wooden spoon  to keep the oven door ajar until the cake has completely cooled.

5.   Remove the cake and "paint" the top with a coating of maple syrup (use a pastry brush). Then set pecan halves on the cake in a pretty design of your own choosing.  If you like, paint another coat of syrup over the pecans to help them shine.  Finally, if desired, drizzle melted chocolate over the top of your creation.

I actually had a bit of a baking accident after I reached this point in my cheesecake.  I had some left over cream Chantilly (whipped cream) from an earlier project, so I pulled it out of the freezer and put it in my pastry bag.  I worked the bag between my hands to defrost it, thinking that I would pipe a few whipped cream "puffs" around the edge of the pie.

Trouble was, the stuff wasn't thawing fast enough, particularly the cream that had lodged in the tip of my pastry bag.  I ran warm water over the bag, hoping to loosen it, and then I piped a beautiful rosette in the center of my cheesecake.  I gave the bag one more squeeze, then gasped as the bag pretty much vomited over my entire cheesecake . . . at least that's what it sounded like.  Melted, runny whipped cream everywhere!

Well, what can you do but keep calm and carry on?  I smoothed the whipped cream out as best I could and put the pie in the fridge so at least it would have a firm whipped cream surface.  And when I served it to my friends, I told my little story and they laughed.

You gotta love friends who love you no matter how your cheesecake turns out.  :-)

Happy Baking!


P.S.  I have officially opened a little online bakery.  I'm starting with items I know I can mail safely, so if you're ever in the mood for some treats, visit me at

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Pecan Cheesecake with drizzled chocolate . . . yum.

Cheesecake with pecans BEFORE special topping. 
We have some dear friends from our Lynchburg days coming to visit tomorrow.  I wrote my friend and said that I was "into" baking now, and was there some dessert they absolutely loved?  She wrote back and mentioned cheese cake and pecans and chocolate and key lime pie . . .

I wasn't sure how to incorporate the key lime into the mix, but I knew how to make a chocolate/pecan cheesecake!  So I got up this morning and set straight to work--made a typical cheesecake, tossed some chopped pecans into the mix, and then arranged pecans on the top and coated them with maple syrup. And then, just for fun, I drizzled some circles of chocolate on top of that.  Looks heavenly, doesn't it?  (I do hope I get to bake in eternity! I'm sure all of those desserts will be non-caloric!)

Cheesecake AFTER painting with maple syrup and drizzling chocolate. 
Anyway, can't wait to set this cake on the table tomorrow.  Who care what the entree is when you have such a divine cheesecake for afterward?  (Actually, I'm going to serve a frozen lasagna.  Quick and easy; it can bake while we're at church.)  ;-)

Happy baking!


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Financiers--oh, my!

The Fiancier pan
Before I jump into the baking project for the day, let me tell you about the project that failed.  We had friends over for dinner on New Year's Eve, and I wanted to make Julia Child's Gateau in a Cage.  (Say it with a French accent and it's more fun).  :-)

Anyway, here's the gist:  you take a small cake layer, then you build a "cage: of spun sugar around it by buttering the bottom of the cake pan, plus a bowl that fits on top of the cake pan.  Once the sugar hardens, you pop off the golden "domes" and set the cake in the base, decorate it, then cover it with the golden dome.

Pouring the batter into the pan. 
I had fun following all the directions until it came time to remove the spun sugar from the cake pan and bowl.  Here in Florida, we enjoy about 90 percent humidity nearly all the time . . . and I forgot about that.  It was a warm day, and I had a window open, so it was humid in my house.  So humid, in fact, that my sugar never hardened.  I managed to pry it off the bowl and pan, but it had no shape.  The bottom part simply sagged on the cake plate, and the top part simply disintegrated when I tried to remove it.

So no cage for this gateau.  But I cut the cake in two, filled it with cream Chantilly, strawberries, raspberry jam, and kirsch syrup, then smothered the top in more whipped cream, strawberries, jam, and kirsch.  The cake was delicious, cage or no cage.

Ready for the oven. 
Tonight I wanted to make something simple, so I dug out the silicone financier (fin-NAHN-see-ay) pan that I bought some time ago. I opened ROSE'S HEAVENLY CAKES and found a recipe inside, then set to work.

The recipe uses browned butter, and fortunately, I'd seen Julia make it.  You brown butter (carefully--because one moment it's brown, the next moment it's burnt), then pour the brown butter into the mix without any of the black bits that are left.  The recipe called for egg whites and ground almonds, and I had plenty of both because I've been making so many macarons.

Out of the oven. 
I poured the dough into the special financier pan, baked for about 18 minutes, and out came these adorable little cakes (188 calories each).  They were delicious!  Very light--I could see them served as a dessert powdered with sugar and maybe topped with some strawberries.  But they are a fine snack cake just as they are.

ROSE'S HEAVENLY CAKES has several financier recipes, as does David Lebowitz's READY FOR DESSERT.  I can't wait to make another batch.

Happy baking to you!  What are you baking these days?


The finished snack cakes. Delicious! 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy Baking in the New Year!

Happy New Year!  I've been intending to post something, but we had folks over for New Year's Eve, so I got busy with a grand baking project (that failed) and so I  had a minute.  Even now, I have to hurry and get this out so I can get to church! 


About macarons:  there is an "expert" on macarons, French chef Pierre Herme. He has a fancy book out that details his methods, but it has only recently been made available in English (and all the measurements are in the metric system.  Not so bad if you have a digital scale that can measure in grams, but it's a pain to have to transpose all the Centigrade temperatures into Farenheit.)  Anyway--I ordered this book from a third-party Amazon dealer, and it arrived all WET.  By the time I carefully pulled the wet pages apart, quite a few of the recipes were unreadable, so I knew I was going to send the book back.  But before I did, I wanted to try Herme's method to see if the book was worth buying again.

What a beautiful lemon macaron. 
Well--his method is very different.  He wants us to begin with 220 grams of egg whites, which is about six eggs' worth (when most recipes call for three or four).  He then instructs the baker to divide those egg whites, half of which will be whipped into a meringue as usual, but the other half will be tossed onto the pile of almond flour and powdered sugar. RAW.  What?  When I first read that, I was convinced I had misunderstood him.  I came *this close* to whipping all the whites like I usually do, then finally decided to trust the book.  But just barely.

My neighbors really like this one--"light and refreshing"
Herme uses the Italian method for making meringue, which means you have to melt sugar to the liquid state and then pour it into the mixing bowl as the meringue is whipping.  This resulted in a shiny yet sort of flat meringue . . . I was dubious.   But I followed the directions and continued, folding the italian meringue into the almond flour, powdered sugar, and RAW egg whites, then piping that mixture onto the baking sheets.  I let the sheets sit for 30 minutes as instructed, then popped the first sheet into the oven.

All I can say is WOW.  Those macarons puffed up with the most beautiful feet I have ever seen--huge!  In fact, I was afraid I'd done something wrong because the caps looked as though they were going to slide right off, but they didn't.  They resulted in absolutely gorgeous macarons.

A couple of things I did change:  Herme doesn't believe in flavoring the shells; he wants all the flavor to be in the filling.  But I like flavored shells, so I added yellow food coloring and lemon emulsion to my almond flour mixture.  End result:  deliciousness.   I also sprinkled half of the yellow shells with sanding sugar before baking, so the "tops" sparkled. :-)

And if my calculations are correct, Herme wanted me to bake them in a 350 degree oven, which experience has taught me results in browned macarons.  I didn't want my yellow shells to be brown, so I baked them at 315 for a little longer--about 14 minutes.  They were still a wee bit browned, but not too much.

So--yes, this method works very well, though it is more involved, makes a bigger batch, and feels very strange at first.  But I'll definitely be trying it again.

But I'm still not sure I'll buy that book again.  It's pricey, hard to find, and I still have to convert all those centigrades to Fahrenheit . . . maybe I'll just tweak the recipes I already have.

Oh--what was the baking project that royally flopped?  Tee hee.  That's a story for another day!