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. 

13 November 2009

squeeee! Australian linens by Dandi (shameless plug)


So today I'm sitting in my office, in my jammies, eating Frosted Flakes and thinking about work, when my mail carrier bangs on the door to deliver a package.  In it was a stash of goodies that quite possibly made my year, certainly my week--my table linens and apron from the lovely ladies at Dandi!

Clockwise from left: rick-rack table runner, rick-rack placemats, 8-seater tablecloth, halter pini apron, paper napkins.

Dandi is an Australian homewares company that mostly does kitchen and dining linens and other pretty decorative things.  They are probably (I think?) best known for their adorable halter pini, of which I am now a proud owner (I already had a skirt pini).  It's run by four fabulous-sounding young women, who respond to emails and orders personally, and who even personally pack your order:

A handwritten thank-you note, complimentary pretty paper napkins AND a guide on creative ways to fold them AND a recipe for sugar plums!  What else can a girl ask for?

I love their things because in addition to being high quality, they are just straight up pretty, no chaser, no gimmicks, no trying to be "like" anything else, not trying to be retro or anything.  (For instance, I love both Sex and the City and Mad Men, and I love to look at the pretty clothes and styling in each show, but a QUICK way to turn me off of your product and ensure my money stays in my pocket is to advertise it to me as being "so very Mad Men!!!"  That's just CRASS.)  They are made of good quality cotton that feels good and is sturdy--a friend spilled red wine on my white and blue tablecloth last week, and after much soaking and washing in hot water, the stain is completely gone and the cloth is just as good as new.  They have a great blog full of fun ideas and inspirations, and sometimes you can catch products on sale at 1/2 off. 

I am not at all a "house stuff" enthusiast, but Dandi linens are my one big indulgence, and they provide such superb and friendly customer service I can't help but want to support them as much as I can.  Yeah, they're a bit pricey, and shipping to the States is no joke, but you should try them.  You WON'T be sorry, and hey!  you also won't have the same Crate and Barrel/Williams Sonoma/Pottery Barn set of linens all your buddies have.

Whew!  I can't WAIT to have people over again so I can break out my pretty new table things!  Thanks Dandi ladies for making my day.  The rest of you, what are you waiting for?  Get over there NOW!

10 November 2009

TWD: Cran-Apple Crisp

So, um, I guess Tuesdays with Dorie became Thursdays With Dorie for me this week.  Sorry people!  Normally I do my TWD baking over the weekend, but this weekend an old friend and I went on a spur of the moment trip north of the border to Toronto!

 the CN tower, our one concession to tourist shenanigans

It was the first visit for both of us and we had a lot of fun shopping, eating, walking, and even going salsa dancing.  It was nice to be back in a city again.  I don't think I realized how much I needed a trip until after I got back from this one. 

I twisted my ankle on the way back, so I've been off my feet and haven't been able to bake until today, but this week's recipe, chosen by Em, is crazy easy to put together.  Flour, sugar, oats, coconut, butter.  Blitz.  Craisins, cranberries, apples, sugar. Stir and dump. Crumble topping.  Throw in oven and forget for a while.  The most time-consuming bit was peeling and chopping the apples.  I made a 1/2 recipe and still had too much for my ramekins, so I baked the whole thing in a souffle dish.

I took it out at 50 minutes, thinking it looked done, and let it cool before cutting into it.

Now here, dear reader, is where I take a moment to wax philosophical about the awesomeness of this TWD project.  It forces me to try things I would not otherwise.  You see, I have never eaten, much less baked, a "Crisp" before.  I have heard of them. No one I knew ever made them (down south we bake cobblers) and they never looked particularly appealing, as I really don't even like fruit desserts.  Also, I've never baked with cranberries.  This is not a recipe I would have ever chosen on my own, but I can tell you it's very yummy.  The topping is nice and crunchy like granola, and the fruit is sweet (almost a tad too sweet;  I may cut the sugar to 1/4 cup next time).  It's a keeper.  Fast, unfussy, inexpensive, tasty, and you can even pretend that it's healthy!  What's not to like? 

Next week we have COOKIES! I am too excited.  I LOVE cookies!   OMGsies!  Can. not. wait.  I might make these over the weekend!

03 November 2009

TWD: Chocolate Caramel Chestnut Cake

Lesson of the week 1:  I don't like chestnuts.
Lesson of the week 2:  This cake is so good, it doesn't even matter.  Chestnut schmesnut!
Lesson of the week 3:  E and J VS brandy is VILE stuff.

This week's TWD assignment (yes, I'm gonna try to follow the calendar) is easily the most expensive thing I've made in awhile.  In addition to a full pound of butter and then some, a jar of cinnamon sticks, a quart of cream and 20 ounces of chocolate, this little 9-inch package also required seeking out and purchasing a jar of peeled chestnuts and a can of creme de marrons, an ingredient that is apparently ubiquitous in France but hard as aych to find in the U. S.   Fellow TWD blogger Katya--the selector of this week's recipe--was kind enough to mail moi a can of the stuff from her megametropolis home, but since we had so little time between the announcement of the week's selection and the time I needed to make it, I ordered a can online to the tune of $13. I don't even wanna total up the rest.

That said, it was fun and tasty.  I wasn't sold on the creme de marrons as is, but it works in the cake. The cake is a caramel chestnut layer, soaked with brandy syrup, torted and filled with a caramel milk chocolate ganached and enrobed in chocolate glaze. The layers are supposed to be sprinkled with chopped chestnuts but I only remembered to do that on one layer. I made the ganache on Thursday night and chilled it, baked the cake Friday morning, filled and chilled and then glazed Friday night and took it out of the fridge on Saturday morning to serve at a late luncheon Saturday.  It was a big hit with my guests.

The recipe made a lot of batter.  You really do need a pan that is a full 2" high.  Even with the proper sized pan, I had to let mine bake an extra 15 minutes to cook in the middle.  The top edges got a bit dry, but the syrup later cured that.

It's MUCH easier to level and torte cold cake. After letting it cool off completely in the pan, I wrapped the cake within an inch of its life in Saran Wrap and stashed it in the fridge for the day.

Torted cake!  My cake fell a bit in the middle--a consequence of opening the oven door before it was done in the middle--so I had to do some trimming of the top layer, as you can see in the lefthand corner.

So I didn't have any brandy about the house, right--just some minibottles of cognac.  In the interest of not being pretentious, I went out and got a bottle of E&J and for some reason decided to taste test it against some Remy VSOP cognac.  Um yeah.  I don't know WTF I was thinking.  THAT STUFF WILL KILL YOU.  It was like drinking motor oil spiked with shards of glass.  No WAY I could pass that on to my guests.  A little Remy it is, then. 

Along the lines of "not thinking,"  I somehow did not have the common flipping cake sense to take the ganache out of the fridge long before I was going to use it, so there were interminable waits for it to soften up enough to spread on the cognac-soaked cake.

I had never had chestnuts before making this cake. They simply Are Not Done in the South--we are pecan and walnut enthusiasts, especially at holiday time.  So I was totally! psyched! to finally try this seasonal item that shows up in all the Christmas carols and whatnot.  And...I have to say I was thoroughly unimpressed.  Johnny Mathis, WTF?  I hated the soft, crumbly texture (nuts should be crisp, darnit!) and the taste wasn't anything to write home about either.  I had consulted a colleague, a fellow native Southerner who has been up in this part of the country for a much longer time, and his summation was "they're...alright, I guess.  I wouldn't give up my pecans for them." This is entirely accurate.
I forgot to put the chestnuts on the bottom layer, but it was just as well.

I was also less than impressed with the glaze recipe.  It took forever for it to thicken up, and then it went from "too thin" to "spread" in mere seconds.  Instead of a nice shiny glaze I got icing, icing that was too chocolately to smooth effectively and that didn't really shine.  I have a better glaze recipe that I've been using for sometime;  that's probably what I'd go with next time.  I did have fun dusting my chestnuts--at least something is shiny.

Nevertheless, my friends and I each had big hunks of cake after lunch, and they took big swaths of it home.  The cake is really fantastic.  It's fluffy and cakey, which is what I like.  Nice and simple and comforting yet sort of elegant.  I wouldn't make it all that frequently because of cost, but I definitely would look into making it again, especially for get-togethers.  Being able to do components ahead of time really helps. 



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