Daring Baker's Challenge - August 2008

Well, here I am - a daring baker! I dared to believe that I could make Chocolate Eclairs on a humid day in August and what do you know, I sorta nailed it!

In this challenge, we were inspired not only by our hosts - Meeta K and Tony Tahhan, but by their inspiration, Pierre Hermé. A lot of linking, I know, but it goes to show you that baking on the internet is baking nonetheless.

Anyways, back to me and my attempt. I decided to forgo the chocolate filling and stick with a traditional pastry cream, which I added some dark Colombian rum to along with the vanilla. I liked the addition of the rum because it disguised the otherwise eggy flavor of the pastry cream.

My chocolate glaze was not as successful, even with the addition of light corn syrup and some solidifiers (e.g. 1/2 TBSP cornstarch). Still, after a good chill in the freezer, it thickened up enough to do the trick and I think the bitterness of the syrup (because I didn't add a lot of sugar) complements the light sweetness of the cream and the slight egginess of the pate a choux.

And here they are in their dripping glory:

I'm actually alright with them being a little fat. I guess my next batch will be skinnier. A trip to Zabar's for the proper tools will be in order!

All in all, I'm glad that I was able to participate - stay tuned for more Daring Baker's challenges conquered by yours truly!


Berry Good Time

Something about summer makes me reach for the berries - I just like to eat them fresh from the produce aisle. Well, after a good wash of course.

After perusing the aisles of my local green grocer, I found some ridiculously cheap strawberries and blueberries. So without another thought, I grabbed some and some heavy cream. I thought I was just going to make a simple berries and cream dessert (essentially washed, sugared berries with lots of fresh whipped cream on top).

Instead I made this:

I found through making a Berry Shortcake how easy it is to make a simple dessert look so pretty.

Sometimes, architectural arrangement (i.e. stacking correctly) and interesting layout (i.e. arranging the berries in circles on top of a dollop of whipped cream) leads to a very attractive presentation.

Too bad it didn't last too long for admiration. ;)


It's Cobbler Time!

Yes, I realize that the title of this post is a lame comparison to one of the Fantastic Four's member's cheesy catchphrase. I thought it was cute.

Moving away from comic books and onto cobbler - I finally just went to my local greengrocer and bought some of those in-season yellow peaches and blueberries. Very reasonably priced and incredibly well-ripened. And guess what? I made that Blueberry-Peach Cobbler recipe. I found that I didn't like the cobbler topping too much. It was too sweet and there wasn't enough rise on it. My family on the other hand was all praise, but what do you expect from your family?

I am going to make mini-cobblers and experiment with different toppings - maybe add a little less sugar, or substitute the white sugar with brown sugar. Perhaps I'll use baking soda instead of powder to get a higher rise.

Stay-tuned for more action packed, err, cobbler action?


Get it Sold!

Sounds like a title of an HGTV show, right?

Well - I made my first sale yesterday. I sold two dozen lemon bars and two dozen cardamom cookies to a brave classmate of mine. They will be part of a bridal shower (or baby shower, I forget) and I hope that there will be feedback - I welcome positive and negative!

I think I need to expand my repertoire of "ready to bake" recipes because only then can I truly start to market myself as a viable baker.


Oh, and here's some packaging I picked up at the 99 Cent store, pretty neat right?

Keep on bakin'!


I Want to Dec-o-rate You...

I was thinking about cookies yesterday and also how some cookies look so much better than others. I mean, my chocolate chip cookies taste pretty darned good, but they don’t look as gorgeous as some of the chocolate chip cookies I’ve seen. Even if they taste better (yes, I am a firm believer of my chocolate chip cookies).

Maybe some bakers (mass produced or otherwise) tend to go for looks more than actual taste? I mean, a Chips AhoyTM Cookie looks pretty tasty, but it’s not a good as one straight from the oven. And some of these bakeries have pretty cookies with ‘meh’ taste.

Since I’ve been baking, I usually care more about the content of my goodies than the final execution. When things come out looking pretty – I find that to be a bonus, and as a result am a little happier with the outcome. Not that I get to enjoy them looking pretty for long. (Can I toot my own horn any louder?)

So I was thinking, that since the weather has been really nice lately and although it’s heresy to say I’d rather be outside drinking a beer than inside baking a 3-tier cake, I’m also thinking about presentation.

One thing that would be great is to maybe take a class or two on decorating – that way I am not only outside and meeting other baking-minded people, but I’m learning to make my cookies, cakes and cream puffs cute! (The alliteration was intentional.)

I think I just might do it!

Updates of my decorating prowess will be posted in the future, so stay tuned!


Visions of Green Plums Dancing In My Head?

So I was supposed to go peach-picking this weekend, but my peachy plans fell through and instead I went to the grocery store. I happened upon these very interesting looking plums and figured I’d buy a bunch and see what I could do with them.

Plums start their season in May and keep on going till October. However, July and August seem to provide the juiciest fruit, as well as a whole array of colors. I love my green grocer because they keep a really good variety of seasonal fruit on hand and price them accordingly.

So here’s what I ended up making:

And here’s the super easy recipe so you can attempt it as well! And it’s another foolproof recipe (I’ve found) – one of those easy to assemble, easy to bake and it looks really special.

I made it for dessert yesterday, but I see it being a hit at brunch as well!

Green Plum Dessert Cake (adapted from recipe from Cooks.com)

2 cups fresh tart green plum halves
1/8 cup granulated sugar
1/8 cup dark brown sugar
Sprinkle of vanilla powder

1/2 cup butter
1/2 tsp. lemon extract or 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. fresh salt
1/2 tsp vanilla powder

2 tbsp granulated sugar mixed with ¼ tsp nutmeg and 1 tsp lemon rind

Preheat oven to 375 deg Fahrenheit.

Arrange the halved and pitted fresh plums in the bottom of a greased baking pan (7x11inches or 9 inch square). Sprinkle with white and brown sugar mixture.

In a bowl, cream together thoroughly the butter, lemon extract or juice and 1 cup granulated sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each is added. The mixture should be a light lemony color with the consistency of a good frosting. Just don’t go licking this “frosting” – raw eggs people!

Mix flour, baking powder, salt and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla powder in a separate bowl. Add to wet mixture. Stir until well blended. Spoon batter over the plums. Sprinkle the top with sugar and spice mixture (the second one)

Bake for about 45 minutes or until the cake pulls away from sides of pan. Serve warm or cool, topped with your favorite topping – I like fresh whipped cream with no sugar added. My mother likes vanilla ice-cream.