29 December 2009

TWD: Low and Lush Chocolate Cheesecake

I was really looking forward to this week's TWD;  so much so that even though I was going to be away from home all weekend and I still had pecan pie left, I rushed to make this cheesecake, chosen by The Tea Lady, for Christmas.

I took it upon myself to use my very favorite cheesecake crust ingredient here: Chocolate Teddy Grahams.  They went perfectly with the cinnamon in the crust, and the whole thing came together perfectly.

The batter took a little more ingenuity.  The directions called for mixing in a food processor.  I had to use the KitchenAid.  I used the directions for a couple of Dorie's other cheesecakes for mixing guidelines.

The batter was very thick.  I've only made "water bath" cheesecake before, so I figured that was normal.  Baked as directed, cooled, popped in fridge overnight.  It looked GREAT!

Thus I was really disappointed when unmolding the cake to discover that it was crumbly.

I had a really hard time getting it out of the pan and cut into a slice.  There were chunks of cake falling unappetizingly everywhere. 

No bueno!

The taste is...meh.  Not bad, not very memorable either.  It's a light chocolate, so I am glad I made the chocolate crust.  (The crust is fab.)  It's kinda dry.  I am wondering if I did something wrong;  besides making up the mixing procedure, I used the reduced fat cream cheese for 2 of the 3 sticks, so I wonder if that affected the texture.  I don't think I'll make another to find out, though.

22 December 2009

TWD: My Favorite Pecan Pie

I thought for a long time about passing on this TWD assignment.

1) I am not a pie enthusiast.  Though I think my tastes may be shifting a bit in my not-yet-middle-age (or maybe because I am learning to make them myself instead of trying them when out, so they are just plain better), I have not ever been a fan of fruit desserts and fruit pie is like OMG THE MOST BORING DESSERT EVER.  It's like punishment dessert.  Puddingy pies are OK, but I always liked them with graham cracker crusts and FOR PETE'S SAKE NO MERINGUE.  Bleah.

I love tarts though.  Yeah, I dunno either.

2) I have never understood pecan pie.  I mean, I loves me some pecans (pronounced "pa-CAHNS", thank you) but pecan pie is just like pecans in congealed syrup, right?  It's one of those things that I would really like a detailed history of.  Surely it was some kitchen experiment gone wrong?  I mean, who thought that was cool?

3) I don't know how to make a pie.  I can bake cookies, cakes, tarts, breads, tarts of all descriptions with the greatest of ease  but pie?  yeah. no.  Making pie crust terrifies me, mostly because I don't have a good sense of what a good pie crust should be like, or how to bake it just so so it will all be evenly cooked and browned instead of raw at the bottom and burned on the edges.  Dorie's recipe doesn't even tell you how thin a rolled-out crust should be (*mean mug*).  Also, all the recipes I have from cookbooks I trust--including Dorie's-- cheerfully insist you use a food processor to mix the dough. Um, I don't have a processor, so I gotta go by hand, and I could be wrong, but I am pretty sure people have been making pie crust for ages without the Cuisinart, though I don't doubt that it makes the work easier and more foolproof.

I also don't really have a good gauge for the consistency of the filling and how to cook it.  I can look at a cake batter and tell if the cake will be high or flat, fluffy or dense, whether it will need careful watching or I can just let it go a while.  I can look at a cake in the oven and go, "ehh..that's gonna need 'bout 5.293 more minutes"  and be correct.  Pie?  #kanyeshrug

But since I dug in my heels about the Cafe Volcano Cookies last week, and I am here alone for Christmas week with a TON of work to do and freaking out about various and sundry other things, I am baking a pecan pie.  This effort is helped along by a friend serving a pecan pie for Thanksgiving that also had chunks of chocolate baked in, and I made myself try it with this upcoming recipe in mind, and I liked it.  Amazing.

I was gonna punk out and buy a pie crust, as I usually do, but the purpose of this exercise is to try new stuff and learn, right?  So lesson one:  the 9-inch single-crust Dorie pie dough is just a bit too much for a tiny 2-cup cheapy chopper machine to blend.  So I ended up rubbing in the shortening and frozen butter with my hands, much like with the biscuits.  My dough had HUGE chunks of butter in it--it looked like white chunk cookie dough instead of pie crust--but the directions said big lumps were OK, plus I kept seeing in my head all this advice about needing to have lumps of butter to get a "good" crust.


So I let it ride, even after I realized I only used 8 T of butter, not 10.  Oops.

After an hour and a half of fridge time I rolled it out.  I tried to flute it but the butter pats made it impossible, so I did the old-fashioned, unimaginative fork deco.  Wrapped it in buttered foil and dumped in a buncha black beans and baked for a few.

It looked promising!  I did have to do a little patching when I took off the foil, but no ginourmous holes were left from the butter melting, and I could swear I was starting to see actual flakes in the pan.


Once it was cool, I whipped up the filling in the KA.  Fast and easy, nothing fussy about it at all.  It didn't seem like a lot of batter, but I had to be very careful at the end to get it all in.

I baked the crust a little more after the preceding photo.  Here's the filled pie.  

And into the oven it went for its first bake.

 looks good so far...

Then I turned the oven down for the second bake, and roughly added my homemade pie shield.

This is when things got dodgy.  My pie plate is glass, so I had been doing everything 25 degrees lower than the recipe called for.  For some reason adjusting to 325 was a feat my oven refused to perform, but even at 350 I had to leave the pie in for about 15 minutes longer to get to the point specified in the recipe.  I was so afraid the crust would be burned to a crisp.

It wasn't, though it was plenty brown. The pie looked pretty good, if a bit rough around the edges.  Must work on edges.

I had a piece when it was still warm and again today with it cold.  I liked it better cold;  you can taste it more that way.  The filling is surprisingly not super sweet, despite the fact that is is basically corn syrup, brown sugar, and chocolate.  It definitely has a "puddingy" consistency that took a little getting used to.  But overall, this is a definite winner--the best TWD recipe I've tried in a few weeks.  Woo hoo.  And the crust is very buttery and flaky, so I think I did pretty well with it, chunks and all.  Yay!  Now to figure out how to dispose of all this pie in the next couple of days...

Thanks to Beth for this week's selection!

16 December 2009

WWK (Wednesday with kate): Cookie Christmas Ornaments

I'm rebelling, y'all.  For the first time since joining the group, I didn't bake the TWD selection.  (Sorry MacDuff!  I loved your writeup!)  Yeah, yeah, I know it was a super easy one.  I even had everything I needed here at the house.  But...um...I had an irresistable craving for a Vanilla Buttermilk Cake, so I made that, and it was LOVELY.  It also meant I didn't need/wouldn't eat the cookies, plus they sounded like meringues and I do NOT like meringues.  I do plan to get right with Dorie this weekend and make next week's assignment, but for now...

What else did I do?  Well, in addition to the cake, and my first ever from scratch macaroni and cheese, I read and revised and decided this week not to go "home" for Christmas.  So I figured I should acquire a tree for myself.  I've done it before, and it can be an enormously time and money-consuming endeavor when you are starting with nothing.  Knowing I was only gonna have the stuff up briefly, and I'd be gone for at least 3 days, and not knowing whether I'd be reusing any of it next year, I wanted to go economical and simple.  So I got a little 4 foot, pre-lit fake tree, and I decided to reduce the number of ornaments I had to buy by making my own ornaments out of cookies. 

I am (I think) a pretty skilled sugar-cookie baker, but I've only made cookies for eating (and I think I make a kickbutt sugar cookie!)
objects are deliciouser than they appear

This would be an experiment.  The cookies to be nice and sturdy for decorating and hanging, but I don't want them to look clumsy and they don't need to taste good.  And the point is to do it on the cheap.  With the latter goals in mind, I didn't want to use my usual recipe, which is a little temperamental and calls for all kinds of expensive things to make them tasty.

Searching online I found mostly 3 different kinds of recipes:  recipes for regular edible cookies, pleasant but a waste of good ingredients;  cinnamon cookies, simple and inedible but I have none of the ingredients on hand.  The third recipe that I kept finding was for "salt dough" cookies, which sounded promising except that everyone expects you to decorate with acrylic paint, of which I have none.  I really wanted to do my decorations in sugar, which I have plenty of!

So I turned to my cookbooks until I found a suitably simple and home ingredient-friendly recipe.  I settled on Peggy Porschen's "Basic Sugar Cookie" recipe from Beautiful Cakes.  She frequently uses cookies as hanging decorations, so I knew it was sturdy enough to work.  The absence of baking powder told me they probably wouldn't poof and get out of shape, and the ingredient list is short: butter. sugar, flour, egg, flavoring.  I left out the flavoring and subbed shortening for the butter and the cookies came out perfectly, (if tasteless)!

Decorating.  I had limited time--I do have other work going on after all--so I decided to speed things up by using fondant bases for all the cookies instead of flooding them by hand with icing.

waiting for cookies to come out of the oven

For things I won't eat, I really like to use the basic Wilton fondant you can get at the craft store.  It is not the best-tasting commercial fondant AT ALL, but it's really a dream to work with. 

rolls out nice and smooth and is easy to pick up

also, probably the best texture for modeling/detail work!

I attached them to the cookies and added dragees where necessary.  Then I let them sit overnight to harden.


The next day, I decided to paint details on some of the cookies with luster dust.  I was also going to use some royal icing and do some piping, but I accidentally dumped out too much dust, so I figured that was A Sign that I needed to keep it simple, and just stuck to painting in gold and using dragees, edible glitter, and fondant to embellish.

Next day, I beribboned and photographed.  Now they are ready for the tree!  Here's a sample:



I really like how they turned out, and they were fun to do.

Now if I can only get my hands on some unbuttered microwave popcorn, I can finish this tree...

08 December 2009

TWD: Brown Sugar-Almond Sables

I love cookies.  There is a special place in my heart for buttery shortbready cookies.  They are so simple, so versatile, and always so good.

So I was excited about today's TWD selection.  The original recipe is for plain butter sables, but Dorie suggests several variations, including a savory one with Parmesan.  I decided to do a little playing around myself, making brown sugar almond sables by subbing in brown sugar and almond meal.

As is my usual wont, I made a 1/2 recipe.  It took me all of about 15 minutes to toss together.  My dough was kind of wet and creamy, but with the help of my trusty silpat and some Saran Wrap, I got my 9-inch roll of dough in the fridge.

Took it out after a couple days, and it sliced perfectly into 1/2 inch rounds.  I didn't do the extra sugar coating because I don't really care for sugar sprinkles.  Mine got a little extra brown around the edges, but I didn't care.  They are SO YUMMY!  Crispy around the edges, tender in the middle and super buttery (but not oily).  A definite make-again.  These are competing with the spice cookies as my fave TWD assignment so far. 

Want to make some yourself?  Barbara's got the recipe.  Next week:  more cookies!

05 December 2009

Persian Butta Luv Cake

man, that's a terrible photo.  Sorry y'all.  My camera was trippin'.  That's all I got.

Hello bakers!  Sometimes I do bake things that are not Dorie-esque.  I was gonna make another Rosy Pear Tart this weekend, but a combination of my not being enthused with the amount of work nor the results, and the hostess of the party I was attending exclaiming that "I've had my heart set on one of your cakes!" made me junk that idea.  Since we were to have Indian food for dinner, I needed something that would go well with it.  I decided on the Persian Love Cake from Epicurious, a recipe I've been eyeing for a good while.

The cake as presented in the recipe is a lemon-cardamom chiffon cake, iced in saffron and rosewater-scented whipped cream and decorated with pistachios and candied rose petals.  I actually had most of the ingredients on hand, including some saffron threads I picked up at World Market long ago.   

Problem #1.  I was eager to make the candied petals but...it occurred to me that I had NO idea where to find edible roses in this town.  Nor did I want to spend several days (because I totally will) running around looking for and then paying like $20 each for them.  What to do?  I remembered that I do actually know how to make full roses out of sugar dough.  So I grabbed a roll of marzipan, tinted it, and made petals out of it.

it's about to get SERIOUS!

Nice mindless drudgery while I waited for the chicken and dumplings I was making for dinner (YUM) to cook.  Problem more or less solved.  Everyone guessed immediately that they were petals.  I was worried when I put them on the cake that they wouldn't get it.  All right now!

Problem #2
The next night I set about making the cake.  I don't know that I've ever made chiffon cake, but I followed the recipe as given.  I was a little concerned when after folding in carefully whipped whites, I still had only like 3 cups of batter.

hmm.  There is entirely too much empty space here.

I usually fill pans to 1/2 or even 3/4 full, so I was afraid, but I thought "well maybe it rises a lot in the oven?  People keep talking about the cake climbing."  Um, yeah, no.

Oh NO.

These might not look so bad, but trust me, they are about a 1/2 inch thick.  Didn't rise at ALL.  By now it is very late and I have another "All-In-One Holiday Cake" to bake (don't judge;  I needed to get rid of some fruit).  I would need like four more of these to get a presentable cake. The texture, inexplicably, was nice and soft and springy, though.   I decide to sleep on it.

The next day I decide--hang it.  I used my go-to white butter cake recipe (the one that never fails me), and added lemon and cardamom in proportional amounts.  Result?


Two lovely springy two-inch layers, which taste much like the ill fated ones of the night before.

Problem #3
I made the saffron and rosewater cream, using a whole tablespoon of rosewater (which, by the way, smells DIVINE;  I want to wear it) but I blinked for a second and got a weird texture.  Instead of soft smooth cream, I got a yellow pile of stuff that looked separated.


NO WAY could I give that to anyone. The mouthfeel was perfectly fine, but it did not look good at ALL. I used it to fill and crumbcoat, so we could still get the saffron flavor.  I whipped up some rosewater whipped cream (no time to make more saffron cream) and covered the cake.   It gave me a bit of a weird texture too, as you can see in the top photo, but not as bad.

I was afraid the guests would find it weird--lemon/cardamom/saffron/rosewater/pistachio/butter cake with whipped cream?  MAD busy--but they raved over it.  I liked it pretty well too.  Definitely worth keeping in the file.  The use of the butter cake instead of chiffon inspired the title.  Still gotta figure out that whipped cream, though...

extra:  the Holiday cake

looks pretty good, no?  I was proud.

01 December 2009

TWD: Rosy Poached Pear and Pistachio Tarts; in which our heroine makes up for her tardiness by providing lots of photos.

OK, so I lied.  I can't be that slack.  The Tuesdays with Dorie assignment (selected by Lauren at I'll Eat You) this week is a tart with pistachio pastry cream and wine-poached pears.  I LOVE pears and I LOVE pistachios, (and wine is cool, too) so I couldn't resist trying this one out. In order not to feel like a little piggy, I made minitarts.

still life with excessive turnovers

I love recipes that can be made bit by fiddly bit and stored away for later.   First I poached the pears in shiraz, sugar, orange peel and lemon peel while watching a basketball game.

 Doesn't this look so Capable Homemaker-y?

I used Bosc pears, and I had to simmer mine for about 50 minutes for them to get to what I would call "tender".

 Hello fall!

They were so pretty and red!  Very festive.

Once they were done and cooling, I whipped up the pastry cream.


Annoying:  I had the worst time finding unshelled pistachios in this town.  And the ones I finally found were salted.  Bleah! I only have a little "chopper" thingie, not a real processor (um HI SANTA!), so my pistachios were not as fine as I might have liked.  I also forgot and blitzed all of the sugar with the nuts, not half.


Oops.  It all came out fine, though it was very thick.  I also forgot to whisk in the butter.  That's what happens when you're doing cheers and baking at the same time, my friends.

Pears and pastry cream were refrigerated overnight.

Next day, I made the tart dough, and decided at the last minute to use mini pans instead of the big pan.  I usually make Dorie's tart shell dough with nuts, but I tried the regular sweet tart dough today.  It was a little easier to work with than the nut dough. 

I baked the shells for about 22 minutes.  At 15 minutes they had puffed up, despite having been in the freezer over an hour prior.

 these are SO yummy.
I tried to press them down some with a fork.  Good thing they will be filled!

I also made caramel-coated pistachios.

 This took about 15 minutes to do.  Three ingredients.  New party snack!

Yum!  I might just start making these on GP.

Finally--Tuesday.  I put it all together and made a sauce from the poaching liquid.  My pastry cream was super thick, so I had to add a little sour cream, as instructed, to thin it out a bit.  It was still pretty sturdy, probably from the lack of butter.

filled tarts

poached pears

much fiddliness later -- but still not finished!

Verdict:  I'm a little disappointed.  It's pleasant.  But a little too much work (and too much money) for what you get.  I ended up only using 1/2 the pears I poached, and I won't need nearly the amount of sauce I have.  The pastry cream is surprisingly blah.  I definitely agree that the caramel pistachios are non-negotiable and I do think the sauce helps too.  The components themselves are nice but together they aren't giving me much.  I had planned to bring this to a dinner party this weekend, but...yeah, I don't think I'll be making this again.  I don't even think I'll eat them all.  Oh well! 

Next week:  we're back to cookies.  Those shall be on time, as they are a kind of cookie I love.

24 November 2009

TWD: All In One Holiday Bundt Cake

well, aren't you cute?

This week's bit of oven-fresh Dorie Greenspan goodness comes courtesy of Britin at The Nitty Britty (I love that).  The title isn't as adjective-happy as Dorie's recipes sometimes are, and I appreciate that.  I'm an advocate of fewer modifiers in recipe titles.  As a matter of fact, I'd like to see us go back to naming recipes after people, or named for what they look like or remind us of.  Like, you know, "Lady Baltimore" cake, or "Hummingbird" cake, or my favorite, "Better Than Sex" cake. Yeah!  Let's bring inappropriate and/or random (but memorable!) back!

Anyway.  What this is is a bundt cake, not in the "tunnel of stuff" way, but a standard cake-all-the-way-but-not-as-dense-as-pound-cake bundt cake.  The "All-in-One-Holiday" descriptor attests to its "fruitcake-xtralite" style;  it's essentially a pumpkin cake, with a little apple, a few cut-up cranberries, a few chopped up pecans.  It's easy to put together: cream butter and sugar, add wet stuff, add dry, add chunks, bake--but for some reason it took me a long time.  Probably because I didn't really bother to do any mise en place but chopped fruit and so on as I went along. 

I decided to do a half recipe, which was easy enough;  I got enough batter to completely fill four good-sized mini bundt pans.  They didn't rise much, so no overflow. 


I think I baked them for about 35 minutes in the little pans.  I kind of just checked until they seemed just done.  I let them cool for the prescribed 10 minutes before turning them out.  Several people complained that their cake stuck.  I buttered the living daylights out of my pans and only had one of mine stick a little, and I think that was primarily because it had a clump of cranberries at the top.  The other 3 came out beautifully. 

the ugly duckling tries to push itself into the picture.  Isn't that always the way?

After they cooled, I made the suggested maple glaze:  a little powdered sugar, a little maple syrup.  It was a good addition, but I think next time I'd maybe add a drop of vanilla and/or half-and-half to cut the slightly metallic confectioners' sugar taste.

The taste was...pretty good.  Inoffensive. 

I have to insert this disclaimer:  I don't get the mania for pumpkin, like at ALL.  It just tastes like the physical embodiment of "meh."  Things with pumpkin always smell so promising--but when I eat them all I taste is wasted potential and failed aspirations.  Like they should be more flavorful, but the blandness of the pumpkin just overwhelms everything with mediocrity. 

And so it was with this cake for me.  It was like 92% really good, and 8% blah, totally because of the pumpkin. (I love pecans, so that bumped up the 92% some.)  The texture was nice and fluffy and spongy, very moist. 

So overall, the jury's out on whether I would repeat this one.  It's easy, and this time of year not too expensive.  It's a cake I bet other people (those who grew up eating pumpkin) would like, but I might not find myself wanting some in the middle of the night.  If someone else brought it to a potluck, I'd eat some, I'd compliment the baker if I happened to run across him, but I wouldn't make a special effort to find out who brought it, nor would I give it a second thought.  It's an inoffensive cake.  Polite.

Next week's post will likely be late.  The recipe is a lovely tart I've been wanting to try and suspect I will LOVE, but the recipe supposedly needs to be eaten same day, and I have TWO holiday potlucks on that Saturday to attend--so though I know it's against the rules, I'm gonna throw in my Single Head Of Household card and say it's really best for me to make something like that when I can pawn it off on other people.  I hope that's ok! 

21 November 2009


I called my blog "Ornamental" Confectionery, because in addition to general baking, I also like decorating cakes and cookies.  A decorating project can be a nice distraction--a very concrete and exact thing to focus on in contrast to the very abstract and fuzzy stuff I do as my Day Job.  I think that is what I really love about baking.  I'm not even that crazy about eating stuff (which is why I don't really read many "food" blogs).  I like making things, and I gravitate towards the largely unrelenting exactitude of baking.  In baking and decorating, it has to be right.  Your measurements and temperature of ingredients have to be correct.  When decorating, your icing needs to be the proper consistency; your cakes must be balanced just so, with this consistency of filling, in order to remain stable.

That's not to say there isn't some room for improvisation--especially in decorating, you have to make things up on the fly all the time--but you have to have a really good understanding of what will work and why before you can predict what will work. 

All that is to say:  I haven't really decorated anything in a looong while!  As I am winding down the Abstract Project To End All Abstract Projects, I'm thinking I need to come up with a reason to decorate soon.  TWD is already providing me with more baked goods than I can eat or dispose of--as of right now I have a serving of Cran-Apple Crisp, about two slices of chestnut cake, half the spice cookie dough, and mini cakes from this upcoming Tuesday's recipe in my fridge.  I fully expect the upcoming cookie doughs for December will also find homes in the freezer.  And most of the recipes aren't really conducive to decorating, at least not the kind I do, with lots of piping.

That said, watch this space.  I'll come up with something.  I think.

17 November 2009

TWD: Sugar-Topped Molasses Spice Cookies

Today's TWD assignment is a very simple spice cookie recipe, which you can find at Pam's awesomely-named blog, Cookies with Boys.  There's not much to say about it--it's fast, it's easy, it's good.  The recipe called for pepper.  I used two pinches of pepper in mine but still can't really taste it--but that's ok.

The instructions said the dough would be "very soft."  That was no joke, as what I ended up with looked like brownie batter.  I let it sit in the fridge for about two hours, and had to work fast to form the cookies. 
Heeding all the warnings about spreading, I only put 6 cookies on my sheet and that was perfect.  They did indeed spread A LOT.

just before baking

just after baking.  um, wow.

The cookies are thin, sweet, and buttery, with a perfect cookie texture--crisp outside, chewy in the middle. I felt they were a little more bland than my usual gingerbread cookie recipe, so I might experiment with the spices next time, but I will definitely be making these again.  Since the dough is refrigerated, and the full recipe only makes 24 cookies, I can easily have dough in the freezer to make myself a few cookies here and there.  WIN.

Next week is another cake, a bundt cake this time.  I'm not super excited about it, but it'll probably not be so bad. 


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