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Baking Sisters

Baked in a pie

Time for Episode Six of the Great British Baking Show, which was all about pastry. The challenges were: a dozen savory chouxnuts (choux pastry fried like a donut), baklava, or a terrine pie. By this point my sister and I were feeling a little overwhelmed by all the sweets, so we opted for the savory option, the terrine. However, because of my schedule I didn’t actually get a chance to make it until after the Episode Seven pooptastic cookies.

A terrine pie, by the way, is made in layers and wrapped in a crust, so that when it’s baked, it should hold its shape, and when sliced, you should be able to see the layers. Let’s see how that went!

We both toyed with the idea of using a hot water crust pastry dough, except from previous experience, that stuff *stinks* plus it’s kind of slimy to work with and neither of us really wanted to repeat that ‘fun’. So instead my sister delved into her cookbook collection and found a recipe for a pastry-covered meat pie that used a regular butter crust, so we both adapted that for our pies. Otherwise, I pretty much just gathered up a bunch of ingredients with a vague plan in mind, and decided to see how it would go, without any sort of recipe to follow.

Because we were using a butter pastry, that meant most of the filling actually needed to be mostly cooked ahead of time. I made a little meatloaf, mashed some potatoes, and cooked up some sweet potatoes with a bit of garlic and thyme, grabbed the peas out of the freezer, and then assembled my pie in a bread pan lined with parchment paper. Technically we were supposed to make our pie decorative, but we all know how well that turns out for me, so as a nod to that, I did try to do a pattern in the top when slicing openings for the steam to escape. An hour or so in the oven later, and ta da!

Look, a free-standing terrine pie with no leaks and no breakage! Woo!

And were there layers?

Yes! Yes there were!

Overall it turned out pretty tasty. Was it worth all the effort such that I will be making this on a regular basis? Eh, probably not, but Richard and I were quite happy to consume it for lunch for the next couple days so I call that a win.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Mars has nothing to worry about

(Yes, I know these are out of order, but due to timing I didn’t get the chance to make the Episode 6 recipe until after I’d made the one for Episode 7.)

Episode 7 of the Great British Baking Show was Caramel week (yum!), and the choices were: a caramel tart, caramel biscuit bars (aka homemade Twix), or a caramel dessert topped with a sugar showpiece. We were tempted by the tart, but the lure of trying to make our own Twix was too strong, so we picked that one.

The challenge: make 10 Caramel Biscuit Bars in 90 minutes.

First, click that link to see how pretty they were *supposed* to look.

Okay, now moving on to what *actually* happened.

Let’s just say that things didn’t go quite to plan. First you make the biscuit base and cut that into the 10 require pieces. Then you make the caramel, which has to be thick enough to hold its shape, but soft enough to pipe. Oops. I ended up having to form the caramel for my cookies by hand. And finally, you melt chocolate and pour it all over the biscuits for a smooth, shiny topping.

I would just like to say, for the record, that not once, in all my years of baking, has this EVER worked for me, but yet every single time a recipe calls for it, I give it a go. I don’t know what it is I’m doing wrong. Maybe I have to spring for the fancy chocolate instead of just the stuff at the grocery store (it doesn’t matter if I use chocolate chips or slabs of baking chocolate – it’s always the same result), or maybe I’m not heating it long enough, or maybe I haven’t sacrificed enough confectionary to the pastry gods, but….well.

Here they are, ten lovely little cookies that unfortunately look a bit like what I might scoop out of the litter box. I didn’t even bother with the piped design on the top because I think we can all agree that there was no saving the appearance.

Caramel biscuit bars

It was small comfort that my sister’s turned out equally poop-adjacent. Ah well. At least they ended up super tasty, and it was fun to give the recipe a try, although if I ever in the future get a craving for a Twix I think I’ll just save the effort and buy one at the checkout line.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Oh honey

Episode 5 of the Great British Baking Show was German week (and you would have thought the German contestant Jurgen would have dominated this one, except that he pointed out that he usually doesn’t make this sort of thing, so ah well). The challenge recipes were: two dozen German biscuits (cookies), a Prinzregententorte (which is a layered chocolate torte), and a double-tiered yeasted cake. We were very torn because we actually wanted to make all three of them, except that that was a lot of time and also a lot of cake and cookies for households that only have two people. So instead we compromised and decided to make 1 dozen cookies, and a single tier of yeasted cake.

German Week – Ingredients

Off to Google we went, and I chose Kardamon Plaetzchen (Cardamom cookies) dipped in chocolate (since they had to be decorated) and a Bee Sting Cake, which consists of a yeasted dough, sandwiched with a layer of pastry cream and topped with a layer of honeyed almonds.

The cookies turned out quite yummy. You can definitely taste the cardamom, which has a lovely flavor, and while I was worried the chocolate would overpower, it was a good combination.

Cardamom cookies

The bee sting cake was interesting – I’m not sure I’ve done a yeasted cake before, but aside from the rising time, it wasn’t much different than any other cake recipe out there. It’s baked in a springform pan, to allow the dough to rise, since it would otherwise overflow a regular cake pan. The honeyed almonds are spread (carefully) over the top of the cake after it’s risen, before it goes into the oven, which then gives the cake a shiny (although slightly, uh…rustic look) once baked.

Bee Sting Cake – Whole

It felt like a lot of pastry cream, but in a way, you need the cream to cut the overwhelming sweetness of that topping.

I got both of them done within the time frame required (we just used the cake time requirement because we knew the cookies could be done during the rising time of the cake batter) and they were fun to make. Not sure I’d do the cake again – it was tasty but a little sweet for me, but the cookies could definitely make a reappearance in the future.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Dainty and delicious

It’s December 1st, which means welcome, once again, to all the folks finding me through Holidailies. This is the 22nd year of Holidailies, and I’ve done it (or at least attempted) every single year, with varying levels of success.

Anyway. I figured I’d kick off the month with a little bit of catch-up from our weekly bakealong for the Great British Baking Show, since while I’ve been doing them on a timely manner, I haven’t actually been *posting* them, so that’s what you’ll be getting for the first week of posts.

First up – Dessert Week. The choices were pavlova (signature challenge), sticky toffee pudding (technical challenge), and a fancy cake with an imprinted jaconde sponge outer layer (showstopper). We’ve made pavlova before and didn’t really want to redo that, and the fancy cake sounded fun but didn’t really fit into our work weeks. No matter – it turns out my sister had never even tasted sticky toffee pudding before (which I found absolutely shocking because it is one of the most delightful desserts you can put into your mouth and when we did our trip to Ireland back in 2006 I made a point of ordering it every where I could, until I was probably composed entirely of sticky toffee pudding by the end).

Sticky toffee pudding consists of a very light sponge that’s made with pureed dates, and baked with a caramel layer at the bottom, then served with extra caramel over the top. This being the technical bake, they added a sesame brittle, and a creme anglaise for the top, just to make things more complicated.

I’ve made sticky toffee pudding before, although it’s been a while, and never in tiny little pudding molds, although I scored a set of adorable little tins off a neighbor during an estate sale and have been having fun finding ways to use them ever since, so these fit the recipe perfectly. My caramel went a little weird, and despite what Google may tell you, there is no bringing caramel back once it starts to split.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Sesame brittle is possibly the most boring brittle in the world to eat so seriously, don’t bother if you decide to make this recipe, and neither of us made the creme anglaise because unlike the British, we’re not fans of pouring warm custard all over everything. But the puddings themselves came out perfectly, with a delicate sponge, and even if the caramel was a little on the thin side, it still tasted absolutely delicious.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

48 legs

Yay, we have moved on to Bread Week with the GBBO! I was looking forward to this week. The three options were focaccia, which we’ve made a couple times before, olive and cheese ciabatta breadsticks, which frankly sounded absolutely revolting (plus breadsticks didn’t seem like any kind of challenge), or a milk bread sculpture, which seemed like an awful lot of work. We did toy with the idea of looking back at past challenges to use one of those recipes, but then we decided, well, we might as well give Milk Bread a try, and then we started throwing around ideas for what to do with it, and to sum up, we decided we’d spiders and pumpkins, out of milk bread, and even though we weren’t planning on doing an actual sculpture, well….you’ll see how that turned out.

Milk bread is a Japanese thing, I believe, and it starts with you cooking a little bit of flour and milk together in a pan before you make the dough. The cooked flour is added to the dough, and it helps keep the resulting bread softer longer.

Anyway. Pumpkins and spiders. I used this recipe for my spiders. To make them look like spiders, I added a little black food coloring to the dough, and topped them with some chocolate craquelin (which is basically a cookie sort of thing – it’s usually seen on top of cream puffs, or on pan dulce).

The legs were made of the same dough, but rolled super and then draped over the sides of tin foil-lined mini bread pans.

Once they were cooled, I assembled them by stabbing small holes in the side of the bodies, and stuffing in one side of the legs. This was not always successful, but it worked for most of them, so I was pretty pleased. Then I finished them off with red gel blobs for eyes.

I honestly wasn’t sure how this would all work and was kind of making it up as I went along, but they turned out far better than I was expecting, so yay for that!

As for the pumpkin, originally I was going to do mini pumpkins, but then I decided to just do one giant pumpkin. I used this recipe, which I am not sure actually counts as milk bread, since it didn’t start with the cooked flour mixture, but I shall not quibble. This dough took a bit longer to rise than the other dough, which was actually a good thing since that meant I had plenty of time to form all the parts of the spiders.

I didn’t feel like I should do just a plain dough, so after its first proof, I rolled it out, brushed it with melted butter, and then sprinkled that with a mixture of finely chopped crystalized ginger (from my stash in the freezer – I make a pound of this every year and it’s *so* worth the work to have it available!), brown sugar, and some chopped walnuts. I figured it would be sort of like a giant cinnamon roll.

Here is my final tableau in all its glory.

The ‘top’ of the pumpkin is more of the chocolate craquelin – I tried to form a large chunk of it into some sort of stem, but it mostly sprawled in the oven, so…yeah. But overall, I’m pretty pleased with how this all turned out, especially considering that the contestants get to practice their showpiece bakes beforehand, and this was my one go at it. Total time spent: 4 hours and 9 minutes.

As for taste – the verdict is a very happy yum! The spiders are just basic bread rolls, although the chocolate in the topping does come through. As for my pumpkin, I was expecting it to look like a cinnamon roll, but when I cut off a piece, all the filling had literally melted into the dough, so you would never have guessed what I had done. But while it wasn’t visible, that crystalized ginger definitely came through in the flavor. Delicious!

Aww, snap

It was Biscuit Week on GBBO, which in America means they were making cookies. This week the three options were Jammy Dodgers, which we’ve made before, Brandy Snaps, which we haven’t made, and some sort of cookie sculpture, which was way more effort than either of us wanted to put in. The competitors had to do 24 filled brandy snaps in 2 hours, but neither of us wanted to make that many, so we agreed on 12 cookies in 1 1/2 hours.

I used this recipe, since they sounded intriguing, including the irish cream mascarpone filling. The batter is basically just a caramel with a little flour stirred in. You bake uniform globs of this until they’ve spread and started to bubble. Timing is definitely key – you want them baked enough that once they cool they’ll harden, but not so much that they are too hard. Pro tip – adding coffee extract to your cookie batter does not make this any easier.

I don’t have molds for this sort of thing so I tried to turn my cookies into little baskets using a muffin tin. This was….not entirely successful. Thankfully the batter made enough for 18 cookies, so of those I was able to get 12 that weren’t a complete disaster.

You’re supposed to pipe the filling in but apparently gremlins ran off with my box of piping bags, and I was so annoyed after tearing my kitchen apart to find them, plus burning my fingers shaping the stupid things, that I wasn’t thinking clearly and filled all 12, which…was not a good idea because even though I sort of slapped a melted chocolate seal on the bottoms, these aren’t the sort of cookie that’s meant to be assembled far in advance.

Here are my 12 cookies. They’re….well, there’s the number I was supposed to make and I did it just under the time alloted. So at least I accomplished that much. But let’s just say I wouldn’t get getting any Hollywood Handshake for these.

As for the flavor – eh. I have made Florentine cookies before, which are a similar sort of thin, lacy cookie, so I was expecting them to be like that. Nope. They’re just…extremely boring hard caramel shells. The filling was nice, at least, but that’s about all I can say about them. This is definitely not a cookie I will ever bother making again.

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.


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.