Still Life, With Cats

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Onward to Episode 8: Free From week, which meant that each challenge was free from a different ingredient. The Signature was dairy-free ice cream sandwiches, the Technical was vegan sausage rolls, and the Showstopper was gluten-free cakes. Neither my sister or I was in the mood to tackle a huge cake, and the sausage rolls didn’t sound appealing, so…ice cream sandwiches, it was!

My sister made up her own version because she’s talented like that but I decided to go with Guiseppe’s Ginger Orange Ice Cream Sandwiches, because the ice cream is made with tofu and sounded intriguing.

The cookies were pretty straightforward – just a slightly spiced cookie made with margarine instead of butter. The ice cream required orange juice and zest, soy milk, and silken tofu all blended together. This time I planned ahead and stuck the bucket for the ice cream maker in the freezer the day before, and shockingly the ice cream actually churned for a change, instead of just remaining a sad, cold liquid consistency like previous attempts. Hooray!

There were supposed to be candied orange peels on the top for decoration, plus melted white chocolate drizzled for a pattern, but after I assembled them I got busy doing other stuff and almost forgot about them, so ran out of time to do any sort of drizzling, plus orange peels take WAY longer to candy then the recipe says they will, so after a tentative nibble, those went directly into the trash. But at the end of the three hour time limit I had 8 completed ice cream sandwiches, even if the ice cream was a little soft during assembly so it blorped out everywhere.

Dairy-free ice cream will never be as creamy or taste as rich as real ice cream, but for what it was, these turned out pretty tasty. I wasn’t sure if the tofu would affect the taste or texture, but honestly, if you didn’t know it was there, you’d never guess. The ice cream has a pleasing orange taste, and the cookies are lightly spiced with ginger and have the consistency you’d expect from an ice cream sandwich, so overall, this was a win.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

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!


It’s the most wonderful time of year again! Yup, Great British Baking Show is back on the air and my sister and I are doing our weekly watch and bake. We started doing this last year – we’d queue up the episode on Netflix and start it at the same time (two states apart), and then choose a recipe from what they were making to replicate at home.

The first episode of this season (last Friday) was Cake Week, and the options were mini Swiss Rolls, Malt Loaf, and gravity defying cake. Since we’ve made mini Swiss Rolls before, and neither of us wanted to have to fuss with construction just to make a cake, we picked the Malt Loaf.

Malt loaf is apparently a thing that used to be more popular in Britain about 50 years ago. It’s a quick bread (in that it has no yeast) and is flavored with malt syrup, and stuffed with dried fruit which are first soaked in black tea. In the competition, the contestants had 2 hours to make it.

Malt syrup isn’t a thing I normally have in my kitchen. Thankfully I was able to find a jar at the local food co-op. It’s a thick, sweet syrup, similar to honey or molasses, with a distinctive malty smell.

Jar of malt syrup

The recipe also called for treacle but I didn’t actually notice that until my sister mentioned it and by then I didn’t want to have to run back out to find it (it’s another ingredient that’s not very common in American kitchens). So after consulting with the internets, I decided to use molasses instead. I also used dates instead of the raisins called for in the recipe, because raisins are Not Food, and I stirred in half a cup of nuts at the last minute just to add some texture.

Ingredients to make malt loaf

For a quick bread recipe, it wasn’t exactly quick. First you have to simmer all the sugars together, and steep the tea. Then you soak the fruit in the tea, and let those cool with a little bit of baking soda stirred in. Next you stir everything together, and pour it into a pan, where it bakes for nearly an hour, and then you pull it out and let it cool in the pan, after first glazing the top with more malt syrup.

I pulled my loaf out and had it glazed with five minutes to spare (of the two hour time limit). It actually took another couple hours to cool completely in the pan, and the glaze on top hardened.

Baked malt loaf

Because I used dates, they mostly melted into the dough, so mine doesn’t look as pretty inside as the original one would have. Also, I only have 8 inch or 10 inch bread pans, and it called for a 9 inch, so my loaf is a little bit flatter than it should be. But otherwise it turned out great! And it’s actually pretty tasty. The recipe says to wrap it up and let it sit for a few days to get the maximum ‘squidgy’ texture, and that word definitely fits. It’s a bit chewy on the top. where the glaze soaked in, and the bread itself is dense (probably due to the massive amount of fruit inside). I would definitely make this again.

Using up

The nice thing about focusing Thingadailies on recipes is that it used up all the orange citrus in the fridge, but unfortunately there’s still a bazillion lemons. Plus there’s a bowl of lemon curd now sitting in the fridge and needing to be used up (hey, it’s not like I can’t make a couple dozen more batches just from our own tree!).

I still had a package of puff pastry in the fridge earlier, so last night I made Lemon Curd Turnovers. I rolled it out until it was about 12 inches square, then cut that into 9 pieces. Then I mixed up some lemon curd, some cream cheese, some sugar, and the last of the lemon zest that was sitting in the fridge, and dumped a heaping tablespoonful in the middle of each square. A little egg wash, a little rest in the fridge, and then they went into the oven to bake. The final step was a drizzle of glaze (powdered sugar and cream), and poof, a lovely, flakey pastry that looks far fancier than the minimal effort involved.

In addition, yesterday I also finished a project that I’d really hoped to complete in February, but, well, life and bottle baby kittens got in the way. On the first of February, I was feeling the need to start a new knitting project and I spotted my bin of leftover sock yarn.

Rupert included for scale (and also because cat).

Sadly, this is not even all of it – as I got into the project I kept finding more balls lurking around the house.

I’ve seen various sock yarn blanket ideas, but they tend to be too chaotic in color for me. Then I stumbled across this pattern and knew immediately what I wanted to do.

I cast on on February 1st and yesterday morning I finished.

It’s nothing more than garter stitch, done in the diagonal. I held two strands together the whole time, simply adding in a new ball each time one ran out, with no worries about the colors. The fact that it’s garter stitch, and two colors at a time, means that the overall chaos that would have occurred if I’d only done one color at a time ends up being muted, with the colors fading into each other.

It’s roughly 3 foot by 5 foot, and took about 950 grams of yarn, which, alas, was probably only about half my stash of leftover sock yarn. But at least the bin is no longer overflowing, and I got a pretty new blanket out of it, so yay.

Georgia on my mind

Khachapuri has been on my list of things to try ever since I stumbled across a picture of it many years ago on someone’s baking blog. It’s the national dish of Georgia (the country, not the state) and consists of a soft, enriched bread dough, formed into a little boat, filled with a lightly spiced cheese mixture, and topped with a soft cooked egg.

So this weekend, since it’s one of King Arthur Baking Company’s Extraordinary Bread collection, I decided to give it a try.

The dough comes together easily, the whole process only took a couple hours – most of which was spent waiting for the dough to rise. I only made half a recipe because I’ve been doing a lot of baking the past month and there’s only so much room in the freezer for all the excess.

They smelled amazing while baking, and came out of the oven looking gorgeous. I sent one home with my mom (along with some leftover hamentashen and potica), and then we split the other one and had it for dinner.

Oh my goodness, I wish I had made the full recipe. I was very hesitant about the egg on the top since I am not normally a fan of a soft cooked egg (I actually had to have Richard check the egg for me because since I never cook them that way, I haven’t a clue how to tell if it was ‘done’), but in this instance, it really works. The egg just basically combines with the creaminess of the filling and it all comes together in one absolutely glorious bite.

Obviously the Georgians know what they’re talking about when it comes to delicious breakfast pastries. I will definitely be making these again, and soon. Yum!

The end of the orange

I had vague plans for other citrus recipes this month – there is a piece of ginger root sitting on the counter that was going to be turned into lemon ginger tea, for example, and I toyed briefly with a recipe for creme caramel – but for the last thing of Thingadailies, I looked in the refrigerator, found the container of orange juice and the tiny amount of zest that still remained from the massive pile of mandarins we started with, and decided to end the month with more scones.

Unlike the scones I made earlier in the month, these Orange Yogurt Scones do not include any lemon juice or lemon zest – just orange. There’s a little orange juice in the dough itself, but otherwise the bulk of the moisture is provided by yogurt. The main orange flavor comes a glaze of orange juice and powdered sugar that is drizzled on top after they come out of the oven.

The recipe itself is written to be used with a scone pan, which means the dough is a little too wet to free-form them like I’m used to. But a little additional flour kneaded in brought it together enough to form a loose ball.

They’re not the prettiest scones I’ve ever made (but then let’s face it, I rarely make pretty scones anyway), but they have a delicate crumb, and a lovely orange flavor, and they made an excellent way to end Thingadailies for another year.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.