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Baking Sisters

The sweets that keep you regular

This year for our general Baking Sisters theme, we decided to do vintage recipes, specifically pie. There are so many weird and wonderful recipes lurking out there that were once apparently very popular, so our goal is to make a few each month and see if they’re worth reviving.

This month we picked a couple recipes from a wonderful old cookbook a friend lent to my sister – The Household Searchlight Recipe Book, published by the Household Magazine of Topeka, Kansas, in 1937. The format of the book suggests that this is a collection of recipes sent in by a whole host of readers around the country. Each recipe itself is just a list of ingredients and a few short sentences on preparation – obviously a lot was assumed common knowledge by the cook. For example, the directions for the Apple Fluff pie we made this month said to pour the mixture into ‘a pastry-lined pie tin’, with no explanation of what type of crust to use, or how to make it, and then ‘Bake in hot oven (425 F) until crust is brown and filling is firm’, with no indication of how long that might actually entail.

But I digress. This month we decided we would make Apple Fluff Pie, Bran Candy (because the instant we saw that recipe we knew we *had* to try it), and molasses squares, because we were not holding out much hope that the bran candy was going to something we wanted to eat.

First up was making the pie crust, because that needed to chill before the pie could bake. Then we moved on to the the base for the Bran Candy, which is a caramel made from brown sugar, milk, water, a tiny amount of butter, and strangely, a tiny dab of baking powder. Both of us were a bit concerned because the caramel smelled a little burnt by the time we got it to the correct temperature, but ah well.

That needed to cool, so next we moved on to the molasses squares, which again comes together like a caramel, although in this case it’s got molasses and white sugar along with the water and butter. Once that came to the correct temperature, that was poured into a pan to cool as well. We were supposed to cut it into squares before it set completely but…oops.

Back to the bran candy. Once at room temperature we were then supposed to stir in the bran (it didn’t specify what form of bran, so I used bran cereal flakes because that’s what Richard found at the store), and then whip that until it reached a kneadable consistency. However, it was immediately obvious that I had cooked my caramel a little too long, as I had to pretty much chisel it out of the pan with a bench scraper, and it nearly glued my kitchen aid attachment to the bowl. I ended up stretching it by hand, more like a taffy, which did eventually allow me to incorporate all the bran cereal.

Trust me when I say that you do not want to see what this looked like *before* I did my taffy pull technique.

This was then cut into chunks, which were rolled in powdered sugar to keep them from sticking together.

Don’t those look appetizing!

Once the bran candy was done, then it was finally time to make the Apple Fluff Pie. This pie intrigued us because the ingredients are applesauce, lemon juice, cornstarch, and eggs, and it just sounded…very odd.

The eggs are separated, then all other ingredients plus the yolks are cooked together over a hot water bath ‘until smooth and thickened’. Neither of us could figure out exactly what was meant by ‘thickened’ since the mixture never got any thicker no matter how long we stirred.

Then you beat the egg whites, and fold in the egg whites, and then that goes into the oven to bake. It took all our willpower but we both resisted adding anything else, like actual flavor (cinnamon, for example) to the pie. That gets popped into the oven and then it’s baked ‘until set’. That took quite a while.

So how did all these weird and wacky recipes taste?

The bran candy has an underlying ‘cereal’ taste – I’m not sure how else to describe it except that if you have ever eaten a flaked breakfast cereal you probably can picture exactly what I am talking about. Otherwise I doubt you’d know that there’s actual bran in there. The cereal adds a bit of texture to the candy, but that’s about it. Otherwise it was better than we were anticipating, which isn’t saying much since we weren’t anticipating it to be any good at all! Fun to make, but not worth the effort of repeating.

I had expected the molasses squares to be more like a molasses caramel but they’re instead a hard molasses candy. We both thought they were pretty tasty.

And finally, the apple fluff pie.

I was hoping this would be reminiscent of an apple pie but….it’s basically like eating applesauce. Applesauce in a crust. I sprinkled my slice with a little cinnamon after the first bite, which did improve the overall experience, but then it was just cinnamon applesauce in a pie crust.

So…final verdict: a resounding ‘don’t bother’ for all three of them. They were super fun to make, even if I am going to have to clean out my pans with a chisel due to the hardness of the caramel, but let’s just say that if these were considered tasty treats back when this book was published, I’m super glad I’m not a 1930s housewife.

As for my Thingadailies challenge, well, there was lemon juice in the apple fluff pie, so I’m calling it good.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.



Shiny

To round out our unofficial Year of Rainbows for the Baking Sisters, this month my younger sister and I decided to do something with a mirror glaze. Originally we were going to do the Walnut Whip from the GBBO finale, but make it peppermint, but we also wanted to do the glaze, and so eventually that just sort of combined into one thing that had no relation to a Walnut Whip at all. Or, for that matter, a rainbow, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves too quickly.

Anyway. We started by making a chocolate ganache, because that needed time to chill in the fridge before scooping. That’s fairly simple – just heat up some cream, stir in enough chocolate to get to the right consistency, plus a little butter for creaminess, and then set aside.

Then we made white chocolate peppermint mousse, which was also super easy – heat up some cream, stir in some white chocolate and peppermint extract, then once that’s reached room temperature, fold that into some more cream that’s been whipped to stiff peaks.

Then we remembered we’re supposed to be taking pictures, so here’s both of those.

Then I scooped the mousse into my tiny little dome molds, added a little dollop of the ganache, added a little bit more mousse to the ones I hadn’t filled quite enough, and popped those into the freezer.

Next it was time to make the cookies. We decided to go with a vanilla sable cookie, into which we stirred some crushed up peppermint candies.

While those were cooling on the counter, then it was time to do the glaze.

Mirror glaze is made of white chocolate, gelatin, and weirdly, sweetened condensed milk. We both used this recipe, which seemed pretty straight forward. Since we were both doing peppermint, we figured picking red and green and white would make total sense. Right?

So, glaze made, divided into three bowls, and food coloring assembled. So far, so good.

Next the instructions said to pour the colors together into one bowl and just barely stir, before pouring. And this is when things went horribly, laughably wrong.

“I can still see some of the white,” Richard said, wandering into the kitchen.

“Yes, because that’s where I accidentally dropped the bowl and smashed them,” I replied.

I think the problem is that we were using a recipe that is meant to make a galaxy sort of swirl, where blues and silvers and blacks would all merge together and it’d be lovely. Let’s just say that red and green weren’t the best combination to use for that particular technique. They look….well, perhaps this color combination would have been an excellent choice if I was going for zombie guts. Hmm.

It was pretty amusing, however, since there was hysterical laughing from both sides of the camera. At least with mine you can tell there were supposed to be more than one color (the white just completely disappeared). My sister’s colors just merged together automatically into a muddy brown that made them look a bit like, well, see for yourself.

To top it off, she sprinkled hers with edible glitter, to make them sparkly, but which instead had the unfortunate effect of reminding me of when the cats accidentally ate some tinsel, leading to a very sparkly litter box surprise. I think we were all just about crying from laughing so hard.

Anyway, on to the tasting part of the program. I picked the prettiest one of mine to highlight. All alone, on a plate, it doesn’t look…bad. I mean, the appearance is not remotely what I was going for, but at least it’s (mostly) dome-shaped, and the glaze is definitely shiny.

Once cut open, you can see all the distinct layers, so I’m pretty pleased about that.

As for taste, while it may look a hot mess, it’s absolutely delicious. The peppermint in the mousse was the perfect amount – just enough to be cooling in the mouth, but not enough to veer into toothpaste territory. The ganache helped cut the sweetness, and the crushed peppermint in the cookie gave a little bonus texture. Yum!

So overall, this was a nice way to end our year. We’ve definitely learned some very important lessons about what not to do with mirror glaze (do not attempt to swirl red and green – learn from our fail!), and after all, it’s the taste that matters more than the presentation (no matter what Paul and Pru might say).

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.



When in doubt, loaf

(For those of you who might be new to this site, my younger sister and I both love to bake, and try new things (she’s got actual training in it; I just muddle through as an amateur). However, she lives two states away, so once a month for the past couple years, we’ve gotten together via video chat to do a bake-along. More recently, for this year’s season of Great British Bake Off, we decided to also pick one recipe per week from what the contestants had to make, and give it a try ourselves.)

This month, for our Baking Sisters video bake-along, in honor of the recent food-related holiday, my sister and I decided to make Leftover Loaf. Technically, we’re supposed to be doing rainbow-themed things this year, but it’s nearing the end of the year and we’re getting a little tired of rainbow things, so we decided layers was good enough.

If you go online you can find all manner of lovely recipes for a Leftover Loaf, but I will save you the effort. Basically you are assembling a terrine, which is a layered dish packed tightly into a container, chilled, and then sliced and served so that you see all of the lovely layers.

First you pick a thing to use as the liner. My sister used stuffing, but I used mashed potatoes because I wasn’t sure the stuffing would hold. Then you just start adding in layers – I put in turkey, stuffing, and the leftovers of this amazing Roasted Vegetable Crumble that we make every year (minus the crust because it doesn’t really add anything except hassle). Finally I covered it up with the rest of the mashed potatoes, covered it with plastic wrap, and set it in the fridge to chill.

Here is the Leftover Loaf in all its wonderful glory.

Mmm, doesn’t that look appetizing.

Here’s the view of the layers.

Pretty, yes?

This was actually pretty tasty. Granted, Richard and I are both fine with having our foods mingled (and it helps that all the herbs and spices involved are quite complementary), but as weird experiments go, this one was a success.

But speaking of layers, we aren’t done yet! Friday night was the finale of the Great British Bake Off (in the US), and my sister and I couldn’t choose between either the Custard Slice or the Walnut Whirls, so we decided to do both – one this week and one the next.

Up first, Custard Slice, which is a layer of thick custard sandwiched between extremely thin slices of puff pastry. It isn’t really a thing here in the US (at least that we’ve seen). The closest might be mille feuille, which is cream and other things between flattened puff pastry, but those tend to be much fussier, whereas I get the sense that Custard Slice is more of a common sort of dessert.

We both decided to make a recipe made by one of the GBBO contestants – Dave’s Caramel Latte Slices – because we thought it looked absolutely amazing. Also we forgot to set timers so we have no idea how long it actually took for us to make, which is good, because my first two puff pastry attempts were epic fail (my homemade one crumbled to bits while rolling and then I tried with some leftover puff pastry in the freezer but that basically burnt up in the oven, and then Richard very nicely went to the store and bought me some more, and that finally did what was expected, phew).

Anyway, you make the pastry (or in my case you send your husband out to the store for the pastry, oops), and then you make the custard, which gets a little gelatin added to make sure it sets up firm. Both of us topped our Custard Slices with a little leftover caramel instead of what the recipe called for because when one has caramel in the fridge, one should use it at all moments possible.

So after a yummy dinner of Leftover Loaf, dessert was this delightful Caramel Latte custard slice.

Verdict – even more delicious than it looked on the show. The coffee flavor comes through nicely, the custard was delightfully rich and creamy, and the salted caramel added just the right amount of contrast to the sweet. I would happily make this again (and store bought puff pastry worked *just* fine!).

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.



A cautionary tale, told in pastry

Once upon a time there was an unassuming population of cream puffs*, just happily going about their business.

One day, a couple of opportunistic viruses** noticed that the cream puffs were very complacent.

So they called a bunch of their friends.

They managed to infect one of the cream puffs.

As the virus spread through the cream puffs, chou pastry scientists begged them to stay inside, and wear masks. But the cream puffs thought it wasn’t going to be that bad, so they ignored the scientists and kept going out in crowds, insisting that it was fake news, and a hoax.

The viruses spread rampant throughout the cream puff community, making them highly visible to giant monsters, who came along and gobbled them all up.

Of course, then the giant monsters also gobbled up the viruses too, but that’s a story for a different time.

*Cream puffs are made with chou pastry, filled with vanilla pastry cream, and decorated with chocolate chips

**Viruses are made from Oreos and cream cheese, coated in white chocolate. Decorations include chocolate chips and pretzel sticks.



Color splash

Flush from the success of last year’s Year of Cheese for the #BakingSisters projects (which…I realize I have been sadly lax about blogging, but hey, why should that be any different from anything else I keep forgetting to blog about), we decided to pick a theme for 2020. And thus, 2020 was designated the Year of Rainbows (or color gradients, as the case may be). I foresee the purchase of a lot of food color gel in my immediate future.

We kicked things off today with three brightly colored items: Rainbow Swirl Bread, Rainbow Challah, and Rainbow Marshmallows.

The rainbow swirl bread is basically just a regular white bread recipe, with added colors. I used the recipe linked above, but you could easily use your own favorite light-colored bread recipe in its place. You mix up the dough, then divide it into equal size balls (I did five), and mix a color into each of the balls. Note: mixing the color into the dough balls takes far longer than you might expect. Far, farrrrr longer.

RainbowSwirl1

Those are left to rise for about an hour. Then you roll (or carefully press them) into 8″ x 4″ rectangles, and stack them in rainbow order.

Roll that up into a tight spiral

and plop it into a greased bread pan for its second rise.

Once baked and cooled, when you slice it, you get this gorgeous rainbow swirl effect.

I think it’s safe to say our sandwiches for the next week are going to look pretty wild.

Next up was rainbow challah. For some unknown reason I have never made challah before, so I was excited to give this a go.

It starts the same way as the first bread, in that you mix up the dough, then divide it into equal parts (six this time) and work in some food coloring.

Once that’s had its first rise, then you roll each color into a log and line them up, in rainbow order.

Then comes the fun part – braiding. The recipe link above includes a useful video for how to do this part, and all those bright colors turn into something really gorgeous once it’s all braided up.

After a second rise, it bakes. I was worried about the fact that it didn’t rise very much during either set, but once in the oven, it grew quite a bit.

And here’s an interior shot.

Finally, after all the bread, it was time to do the marshmallows. I’ve made marshmallows before (in fact during one #BakingSisters morning, we made chocolate marshmallow fluff, which was absolutely delightful), but that was always done with egg whites. The recipe I linked above didn’t use egg whites at all, and instead is made solely from gelatin and sugar syrup, whipped until smooth. Then you divide it into one bowl per color used (I did five) and add the food coloring, then stir until well mixed.

I admit by this point I was a little tired of kneading and mixing colors into things, so I went with a lighter, pastel palette.

Those get layered into a pan that’s been lined with a very thin layer of powdered sugar, and then are set aside to firm up. Did I remember to take a picture of them before I covered the top with powdered sugar? No, no I did not. Ah well. But I did carefully cut out a chunk before they completely set, so you can get an idea of what they look like.

Verdict: Well. They’re marshmallows, with rainbow blotches, and they taste like….marshmallows. Nothing much more to say than that.



Light as air

Oh that’s right, I have this here blog I keep forgetting to update. There’s been a lot going on the last several months, and I will get to it all eventually – likely as blog fodder for the annual December post blitz that is Holidailies, but for now, let’s just talk about meringues.

October’s theme for #BakingSisters was meringues, although technically it ought to have been ‘playing with egg whites’ since of two things we made, one of them wasn’t actually a meringue at all, but whatever, the point is, this month’s baking session / video chat was filled with a lot of ‘I’m going to mute because this stuff has to be whipped at top speed for a long while and we won’t be able to chat over it anyway’.

We’ve done things involving meringue before, of course – there’s oodles of ways to use them (this absolutely amazing multi-layered cake that I still can’t pronounce had a layer of soft, chewy meringue, and this one had a layer of meringue mixed with crushed peanuts), but this time we decided to make meringue the primary focus.

My sister made meringue bones, which she used to create a Graveyard Cake, but since Richard and I were going to be heading down to the in-laws’ house for a very early Thanksgiving dinner later that day, I decided to go with something a bit more suited to that, so I made chocolate-bottomed pavlovas with pumpkin chiffon.

Here’s where I note (likely again, since I’d be shocked if I hadn’t said this before at *some* point on this blog) that while I like pumpkin in things like bread or scones, and I adore the combination of the ‘pumpkin pie’ spices, I cannot stand pumpkin pie itself – the texture of the filling is just (to me) absolutely revolting. So I am always keen to find some other pumpkin-type dessert that might fulfill that pumpkin pie need, yet not gross me out.

The recipe, while time consuming, because that is the way of meringue, was actually pretty easy. First you whip up your egg whites with some sugar and a little vinegar to help stabilize them, and then you scoop them out onto a cookie sheet. The recipe said to make 8 pavlovas, but I decided to make smaller ones, so I ended up with twice that.

Then with the back of a spoon you create a little cup inside each, since you need a place for the filling to sit.

And then those go into the oven for an hour on very low heat to bake, plus after they’re done baking, you leave them in the oven and turn it off and give them another half hour to cool.

This gave us plenty of time to do other things while waiting for the meringues to bake. I whipped up the pumpkin chiffon, which is nothing more than some pureed pumpkin with spices, folded into whipped cream, and I also made a batch of these scones to use up the rest of the pumpkin, and all the egg yolks left over from making the meringue, because one should never waste the remains of a can of perfectly good pumpkin puree, and what else was I going to do with those yolks? I added 1 cup of cinnamon chips and 1 cup of finely chopped crystallized ginger to the mix, because I crystallized a pound of ginger a while back (it’s shockingly easy to do as long as you’ve got an hour or so to babysit a pot of caramel and minced ginger root), and have been eagerly finding ways to use it up ever since.

While I was doing the scones, my sister was making the cake part of her graveyard cake. And then since we still had time on our hands while waiting for the meringues, we also made marshmallow fluff.

For these, you need a candy thermometer because, since you’re not baking the egg whites, you need some way to cook them, so you use extremely hot sugar syrup instead. You have to bring your syrup to exactly the right temperature first, without letting it burn, meanwhile whipping up a bunch of egg whites into soft peaks. Then, when the syrup reaches the right temperature you slowly pour it into the bowl while still whipping the egg whites, and then it’s just a waiting game as you keep on whipping the whole concoction until the resulting mix is smooth and glossy and looks exactly like marshmallow goo. This takes longer than you think it might, but you just have to be patient.

I was originally going to make just plain fluff, but as I was sitting there, waiting for the stuff to finish mixing, I idly glanced at the bottom of the recipe, where it had some suggestions for ways to flavor your fluff, and I thought wait, what? Flavored marshmallow fluff? This is brilliant! So right near the end of the final whipping stage, I added in half a cup of cocoa powder, and voila, chocolate marshmallow fluff was born.

It is delightful when consumed just off a spoon, but if you have ever had fluffernut sandwiches (peanut butter and marshmallow fluff together), I am here to tell you that fluffernut sandwiches made with *chocolate* marshmallow fluff are even better. And if you make them on thinly sliced homemade whole wheat bread, you can pretend that it’s almost healthy (cough cough).

But anyway, back to those meringues! After my little pavlova cups had cooled, the final step was to melt some chocolate and paint the bottom of each cup.

Then after *that* dried, then you top each with a generous dollop of the pumpkin chiffon and ta da, you have a lovely little dessert.

These turned out surprisingly delicious, and I am glad I made them half-sized, because one little cup was plenty for a dessert. You get the light flavor of the pumpkin and spice, combined with the crispy/chewy texture of the meringue, and then just a little hit from the dark chocolate at the end. This is a recipe I would definitely make again.

Here we are at the end of our #BakingSisters session, my sister with her bones, and me, looking weirdly crazed, with two little pavlova cups. Yum.



Baking Sisters – the unofficial version

A while ago I found this recipe, and I sent it to my sister in an email with the subject line that said ‘We need to make this.’

She agreed, and we did toy with the idea of trying to make it while I was up there for Operation Kitten Delivery. But then we took a closer look at the recipe and realized that it would take a lot of time, since there’s a lot of ‘make this piece and then let it sit for several hours’ steps, and also it was unseasonably warm, so instead we made a no-bake layered dessert consisting of crushed Oreos and two different layers of mousse – a cream cheese and peanut butter one and a chocolate one – and also mini peanut butter cups because why not.

(It was just as delicious as it looks)

But it was still at the back of my mind so I decided I was going to make it this weekend. And then she decided she’d make it too, so even if we weren’t doing an official #BakingSisters video chat, we’d still end up with roughly the same thing at the end.

Overall, the recipe is actually not difficult – it’s just time consuming. First you make the layers of meringue, which includes peanuts, and you let them set for a while.

Then you make a lovely peanut butter mousse, and you stash that in the fridge because that also has to set for a couple hours.

Next you make a chocolate glaze, and once that cools a bit, you glaze two of the layers of meringue and then you let them set for a while to allow the glaze to firm up.

And then, finally, you stack everything – a layer of glazed meringue, half the mousse, another layer of glazed meringue, the rest of the mousse, and then the third layer of meringue, which then gets glazed as well.

The recipe actually calls for glazing the sides as well, but I was worried that might end up being too much chocolate, and it would overwhelm the peanut butter flavors. So I skipped that step (which is why my completed dessert looks a wee bit more…uh…rustic…than it should).

After the entire thing is assembled and allowed to, you guessed it, set for a while, then you can finally cut it into pieces and consume.

Verdict – this is absolutely delicious and something I would definitely make again, despite how long it takes to come together. The peanuts in the meringue layers give it a nice texture, and leaving off the glaze on the sides was a good decision, since the peanut butter mousse could then shine through. Yum!



Baking Sisters – The Russian edition

Why look, it’s time for another Baking Sisters adventure! This time, inspired by the fact that one of us stumbled across this Pirozhki recipe, we decided to do a vaguely Russian theme. By which I meant I Googled ‘Russian desserts’ and looked at what came up.

We both decided to make the pirozhki because those looked super tasty (and it’s nice to do something savory once in a while), and we both decided to make Zefir, which is a marshmallow sort of thing, although she made this version, while I decided to go the more traditional route and made these, which start with (no, really, I am not kidding) pureed apples. We both decided we had to make these Shokoladnaia Kartoshka (chocolate potatoes), because how could we pass *that* up? Also, I also made Ptichye Moloko (aka Birds Milk Cake) because it looked delicious, and she made some kind of candy that starts with actual mashed potato, for which I don’t have a recipe link but from reports on the other side of the webcam, you really, *really* don’t want to know anyway.

I kicked things off by making the dough for the pirozhki because that was going to take the longest in terms of rising, etc. My sister had already made her dough so she got started setting those up while I worked on the sponge layer for the Birds Milk Cake, since that would need to cool before I could add the mousse layer. And next we moved on to our respective zefir recipes.

I only made half a recipe (which is good because it still made a LOT of them), so it started with just one egg white – an amount I discovered is too small for my Kitchen Aid to be able to recognize for beating. So I whisked it up by hand, and then dumped the foam into the bowl with the apple puree and kept on going, and shockingly, despite the fact that there was apple puree, it actually doubled in volume and turned into something light and airy, even after adding the agar agar and sugar syrup, which was itself a bit of a pain to put together.

I….clearly lack piping skills, but I did manage to pipe out some vaguely decoratively shaped lumps all over sheets of parchment paper.

My sister’s were much, much prettier, likely due to the fact that they had raspberry jello in them so they were a delicate pink color, and also she’s got actual training in pastry and knows how to pipe things that look nice, instead of like random blobs.

Next it was time to make the mousse for the Birds Milk Cake, since by then my sponge had cooled. The mousse is actually what made me want to try this recipe, since it’s made with sour cream and sweetened condensed milk. I poured that over the cake and popped it into the fridge to chill and moved on to mixing up the chocolate ‘potatoes’.

These were…interesting. They’re basically a mix of cocoa, sugar, crushed cookies and nuts, butter, and hey, look, yet more sweetened condensed milk. This all gets mixed together and then formed into roughly potato-shaped lumps, which are then rolled in powdered sugar and cocoa, so that they look vaguely like potatoes.

These are tasty, but very, very rich, and if I were to ever make them again (which I probably won’t), I’d make them at least half the size the recipe called for (or even smaller).

Once those were all chilling in the fridge, I made the ganache for the top of the Birds Milk Cake, and filled my pirozhki. Then I sat and chatted with my sister via webcam for a while, waiting for the pirozhki to rise, and didn’t even think to check on the dough, until it was too late. Clearly these are very, very overproofed.

Ah well, they were still tasty! The dough is soft, even after being baked. I had some turkey sausage that needed using up so I used that instead of ground beef for the filling, which added a nice flavor. Aside from the long rise times required, these were pretty simple to put together, so I might try making them again at some point, if only to prove to myself that I can.

As for the other two things, the zefir are…..interesting. The recipe I used said to let them sit for 24 hours, which seemed excessive, except that it turns out they really weren’t kidding. At first, they didn’t have much flavor except a light sweetneess, and they were super sticky, but after an entire day of sitting, the skin finally dried, and the apple flavor started to come through. The final step was to stick two together and then roll the assembled sweets in powdered sugar, which made them look even more ugly when one has very poor piping skills.

I ate a few – they’re sort of like a sweet, apple-flavored puff of air, which I didn’t mind, although and we brought them with us to a family gathering later in the weekend and reviews were a bit more mixed. But they were an awful lot of effort for a thing that I’m still not entirely sure I’d want to eat again. As for the version my sister made – they might have been prettier than mine, but they set a bit too firm, to the point where they were more like rubber, and were very unappealing.

Of all four of the things I made for this month, the one we liked the most was the Birds Milk Cake. We had friends over later that day, so they got to be our guinea pigs for the tasting.

Look at all those pretty layers!

Aside from the one who isn’t a fan of sour cream, the rest of us all agreed it was pretty yummy, and this is definitely something I’d make again. Plus, one small slice goes a long way, so guess what we’ll be eating for dessert pretty much all the rest of this week.



Deep fried

This month, for our #BakingSisters event, my sister suggested we do a Doughnut Day. I was immediately on board, because for one thing, doughnuts (!!), and also I’ve actually never deep-fried anything before (with one minor exception), so I figured this would be fun. Over the past few weeks we’ve both been poking around, looking for interesting recipes to try (because why do boring regular donuts when there’s so many other options out there?). For the purposes of this challenge, any fried dough counts as a doughnut, and we each made three fried varieties and one baked one, although not all of them were the same.

To kick things off, Friday night we each put together the dough for beignets, since it needs to chill at least overnight. And then this morning, before we even got together online, I made Peanut Butter Doughnuts for breakfast, because I was getting hungry.

Technically I might have been cheating a bit, since I’ve made these doughnuts lots of times before – they’re one of the very few baked doughnut recipes I’ve tried that has the close texture and consistency of an real cake doughnut, instead of just being a muffin baked in a ring instead of a muffin tin, like the majority of the ‘baked doughnut’ recipes actually are. You can go through the hassle of making the chocolate glaze for these, if you really want, or you can just take the easy way out and smear them with Nutella prior to stuffing them into your face.

Once we connected via Google Hangouts, my sister immediately set to work making these Maple-Glazed Bacon Doughnuts, while I put together the dough for Koeksisters, which are a South African treat. I also got the oil started – first in my old Rival crockpot which technically could be used for frying (it even came with a fryer basket), but which never got up to temperature, so eventually I just dumped all the oil into a big pot on the oven and popped in my thermometer and hoped for the best.

Next, while my sister then put together the dough for Sopaipillas – a snack I remember my mom making back when we were kids – I rolled out my beignet dough and cut it into little 2-inch squares, and started dropping them into the oil to fry.

A quick digression. A couple years ago, for a Sisters Weekend, my sisters and I spent a couple days in an intensive baking class, where we made, among a plethora of other types of baked goods, beignets. They’re basically a brioche dough, fried and then rolled in vast quantities of powdered sugar. So technically I *have* deep-fried things before, except it was in someone else’s deep fryer gadget and i wasn’t responsible for tracking temperature of the oil and so on. Having never been to New Orleans, my memory of beignets is based solely on those, which were fluffy and soft and absolutely delightful.

These, however, weren’t quite the same. I’m not sure if it was because my oil was too hot (it was a royal pain trying to get it to stick to a consistent temperature), or if the dough was too dense, or some other factor, but while they were tasty enough, they didn’t in any way resemble the light, fluffy things we made in that class, lo those many years ago. Ah well.

Powdered sugar can cover up all *kinds* of things, like the fact that some of them were probably a little overdone.

That done, it was time to return to the Koeksisters, now that the dough had rested enough. I rolled it out, then cut it into pieces and cut those into thin strips, which were then braided together.

I took this picture after braiding them but before frying because I was worried they’d come apart in the oil.

Into the fryer they went. By this time I had gotten a better handle on maintaining the temperature, so these fried up a lovely golden brown, unlike with the beignets. Once out of the fryer, they got a quick few seconds to drain on some paper towels, before being immediately placed into a lightly spiced syrup. I actually made that earlier in the morning because it needed to cool completely prior to dropping in the hot doughnuts, and I was concerned it otherwise wouldn’t have enough time to chill.

A couple of the koeksisters fell apart in the syrup (all the better for taste-testing!), but most of them held together. I was pleased to see that braiding was still clearly visible after being fried.

These are actually quite tasty. The spices didn’t come through – it’s possible I just didn’t use enough – but the dough is crunchy on the outside, yet soft in the middle, and the syrup adds a delightful sticky sweetness to the mix. I wondered about the fiddlyness of braiding the dough beforehand, except that I suspect doing this creates more nooks and crannies for the syrup to soak.

Finally, it was time to tackle the fourth recipe: Ponchiki. There are numerous variations out there for this doughnut, depending on if you want the Hungarian version (Turofank, which I made) or the Russian version (Ponchiki, which my sister made). In all the variations, the common denominator is the inclusion of cheese – either cottage cheese (which is what we used) or ricotta, or something similar. It’s just stirred directly into the batter when you make it, which sounds really odd, except that once it’s fried, you would seriously never guess it was there to begin with.

This was a much wetter dough than any of the others, more like fritter batter than something shaped. They rolled and bounced around a bit like angry puffer fish in the oil, and occasionally spewed out little blorps of dough here and there. And when you’re done you have a pile of strangely shaped little brown puffs.

I know they don’t look like much in this picture, but, still warm from the fryer, they were delightfully light and airy, with just the faintest hint of sweetness. Alas, the version my sister made didn’t turn out as delicious for her; she said they were a bit stodgy and not at all interesting.

My sister and I with our various fried goodies.

All in all, it was a fun morning, despite the mess of oil splatters all over my counter, and I got to try some new-to-me recipes. My favorite of the three new ones were the koeksisters and I’m pondering whether I could mimic the texture by baking the braids instead of frying them, prior to dipping them in the syrup. As for the beignets, I’ll leave those to New Orleans. It was fun to make them, but they were more trouble than they were worth, and, much like the Ponchiki, they were only good when fresh and warm, and they’re not the sort of thing that tastes good when reheated.



Just don’t ask me to pronounce it

As noted earlier, for April’s #BakingSisters project, my sister and I did liege waffles, but since the bulk of the work for those was done the day before, we decided to also make Kvaefjordkake.

This is a Norwegian cake (the internets tells me it’s the Official Cake of Norway, although as I am not Norweigian, I can’t attest to that being the truth or not), and it’s comprised of layers of cake, meringue, and pastry cream. It is also a shockingly simple cake to make, for all its various components.

First you make the pastry cream. Here is where I admit that while my sister went the full from-scratch direction, I took advantage of the ‘cheater’ method espoused by King Arthur Flour (that link goes to their version of this cake) and made mine from a box of vanilla pudding and some heavy cream and the insides of a vanilla bean.

Once the pastry cream is chilling in the fridge, then you make the cake, which is nothing more than a very thin vanilla sponge. My sister made the King Arthur Flour version of this cake, so she spread hers into two round tins, while I dutifully followed the instructions in the version I was using, and spread mine out on a baking tray lined with parchment paper.

Then you make meringue, which is really nothing more than egg whites whipped until stiff, with sugar stirred in, and you spread that on top of the cake batter.

It looks a bit like it’s been topped with marshmallow fluff.

Then that gets sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and chopped almonds (or in the case of my sister, who is unfortunately allergic to nuts, feuilletine), and popped into the oven to bake until the meringue is dry and crispy on the outside.

While that cooled, we took a short kitten break (or rather, I took the laptop into the foster room and held up both kitten and momma to the camera so my sister could see them). And then finally it was time to assemble.

For the sheet pan version, that meant just cutting the thing in half. For the round version, that required a little more effort in order to extricate the cakes from the tins. Luckily the fact that the meringue is topped with cinnamon sugar and almonds means it already looks a bit rustic, so if the meringue gets a little cracked or smooshed during the process, that’s okay.

For the final step, you spread one half with the pastry cream, and then top that with the second half. My sister added berries to hers, but as I do not like berries, I kept mine plain. I also followed a suggestion I found in the comments and put the bottom layer meringue-side down, so that the pastry cream was sandwiched between the cake layers, in order to help keep the meringue crisp.

Verdict: This thing is incredibly delicious (and incredibly rich), and I can easily see why it’s earned the nickname of World’s Best Cake. The flavors of each layer are very delicate but they all work well together. The meringue provides a crisp, yet chewy texture and the almonds provide a much-needed crunch. Many yummy noises were made on both sides of the camera, from all four taste testers involved (both husbands eagerly took part in this).

My sister’s looks so pretty with the berries!

I did not actually assemble the whole thing on the day of baking, because I really didn’t want to have that much cake sitting around, tempting us. So instead I only layered two small pieces for the initial tasting, and then carefully wrapped up the remaining pieces of cake for later. The rest was fully assembled and taken to a meeting a few days later, where it was devoured with much enthusiasm. I think it’s safe to say I’ll definitely be making this one again.




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