Still Life, With Cats

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Chocolate – the new fruit

Today was cold outside, and I had originally planned to be driving kittens places, except that that changed so instead I stayed home and did laundry and pet kittens and knit, and also I baked, because hello, have you met me.

I made another batch of the Alfajores because I’m apparently not rolling out my dough thin enough or else the number the recipe claims is a giant lie (there is no way it makes 42 filled cookies (two cookies per sandwich) – that would be 84 cookies from one batch and I definitely did *not* get that many cookies!). I’m not going to bore you with pictures of that though, because they’re not very exciting to look at yet – just pale brown discs that are now resting in the freezer until it’s time to assemble.

However, I also made panettone, because my sister and I decided to extend our little Great British Baking Show bake-along to include the two holiday episodes they released to Netflix (which technically were from 2020, but eh, who cares, it’s more baking!).

I’ve never been a huge fan of panettone because 1) it tends to be kind of dry, and 2) it usually includes a lot of dried fruit, which I don’t like (raisins and all their wrinkly little counterparts are Not Food). But it looked intriguing, and when compared to the other two possibilities (a mincemeat pudding – which is chock *full* of the Not Food things) or an illusion cake (neither of us was in the mood to deal with an entire full-sized cake), panettone was the natural choice. Plus, by making it myself I could replace the fruit with something far more tasty, like, say, chocolate.

Technically we were supposed to make 12 individual panettone, but I pondered trying to turn a muffin tin into a set of panettone molds, and gave up and made one big one instead.

Panettone is basically just an enriched bread dough, but you mix stuff in (dried fruit or nuts or chocolate) after the first rise. Otherwise it’s really not that much different than any other bread dough out there.

I used a large metal bowl because I wasn’t entirely sure what else would work, and it was clearly too big, so when it was finished baking, it….does not look like a panettone.

A loaf of panettone

But it tastes fine. I might have added a little more chocolate than it called for because I wanted to use up the remains of the bag of semisweet chips in the cupboard, so you definitely get chocolate in every bite, which helps because oh hey, what do you know, apparently a main characteristic of panettone, even if you bake it yourself, is that it is dry.

But now I have made panettone (and will be gifting large chunks of it to other people) so I can check that one off the list and never bother again.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Baking Sisters – the 2021 Cookie Edition

Yes, yes, I know that we’re all done now with the Great British Baking Show for another year, but there’s just one more baking-related catch-up I need to do. At least this one is more recent, as in from this past weekend.

Each year since we’ve been doing our monthly Baking Sisters video bakes, my sister and I pick some sort of general theme. But then we hit December and we’ve already got a lot of holiday-related baking to do, so December usually is just cookies – whatever kind we feel like making. This past Saturday we baked our cookies together over video chat, and had a lot of fun.

This apparently being the year of ignoring traditions, I asked Richard if there were any cookies he absolutely had to have at Christmas, and he and I agreed that it might be nice to have something ginger-flavored but otherwise no. So since I’ve got two cookie exchanges going on this year instead of the usual one, I decided I’d take this opportunity to try out a bunch of new recipes, to see if any of them might work.

Conveniently, King Arthur Baking Company recently posted a list of 14 new recipes, some of which sounded super interesting, so I picked four:

I made the chocolate molasses dough first, since that had to chill for a couple hours, and then moved on to the alfajores, which only had to chill for one hour. Next I mixed up the rye ginger dough and got those into the oven, and then moved on to the lemon shortbread…except that the recipe calls for masa harina, which I don’t have and didn’t want to have to go buy (there’s only so much room in the freezer for flours that don’t get used very often), so instead I did some quick Googling and found these Whipped Lemon Shortbread cookies and decided to try those instead.

After the rye and the lemon cookies were cooling, then I made the chocolate molasses thumbprints, filling them with a molasses and chocolate ganache after they were cooled. And finally, I rolled out the alfajores, and once they were cooled, sandwiched a couple with some of the dulce de leche I made earlier that morning.

So how did they all turn out, you ask?

Well, as tasty as chocolate and molasses might *sound*, I did not actually like those at *all*. Nor was I a fan of the Rye Ginger – there was something very off-putting about the texture of the rye in those cookies. As for the Whipped Lemon Shortbread, something was wrong with that recipe because they literally crumbled into pieces when I tried to remove them from the pan. Delicious pieces, mind you, but somehow I doubt anyone in either cookie exchange would be happy to get a bag of crumbs, no matter how tasty they might be.

The alfajores, however, were a success. The cookie is thin and has a delicate flavor of spice (interestingly the coffee didn’t come through much at all) and the dulce de leche added just the right amount of creamy texture and sweetness.

As for the rest, well luckily Richard liked them, so they’re all his.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Round and round

And now we’ve reached the end of the GBBO catch-up: the finale. Our options were: carrot cake (signature), Belgian buns (technical) and a collection of tea party treats (showstopper). We did ponder the carrot cake, as that sounded tasty, but the Belgian buns won out.

And what, you might be asking along with contestants, is a Belgian bun? It’s a layered sweet roll (think cinnamon roll) topped with a glaze and a cherry. Also they had to put raisins in theirs which my sister and I both agree would make it completely inedible.

After all the much fussier recipes over the previous nine weeks, this one felt almost anticlimactic. I’ve made cinnamon rolls a bazillion times before, although I don’t think I’ve ever filled them with lemon curd before. You make the dough, then make the lemon curd while the dough is going through its first rise, then roll out the dough and slather it with the curd and roll it up into a log, then cut those into even slices, and put them on a cookie sheet for their second proofing. Once the filled rolls have puffed up a bit, they get popped into the oven until golden brown, and then you brush them with a glaze, and ta da, you have Belgian buns.

You’ll note that I did not bother with the cherry on the top because it didn’t seem worth having to go out and buy something I’d only be picking off to throw away anyway.

I got mine done just a couple minutes over the timeline, and only because I was using the proofing setting on my oven to help them rise.

Verdict – they’re super tasty, but if I was to do these again (which I probably will, in some form, since we have that overly prolific Meyer lemon shrub in the backyard), I would use the tangzhong method from King Arthur’s Cinnamon Roll recipe so that the dough would stay softer. Regardless, lemon curd is an excellent filling for these buns and if you also happen to have a lemon tree drowning you in fruit around this time of year I highly encourage you to give these a try.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Should have been called gelatin week

Only two more weeks of catching up to go! Moving on to Episode 9, it’s time for Pâtisserie week. The challenges were: 8 patisserie layered slices (signature), a Sable Breton tart (technical). or a fancy schmancy (not its real name but close enough) entremet dessert (showstopper). By this time it was the week before Thanksgiving and all the kitchen energy was focused on that, but we decided we’d do the slices, at some point over Thanksgiving weekend, since those would be easiest to stash in the freezer for later eating.

I still had half a box of apples sitting on the counter needing to be used up, so after a bit of searching on the internets, I found a recipe for a Apple Caramel Entremet cake that sounded tasty, so decided to give that a try, by assembling it as a the full cake, but then turning it into the 8 required slices.

First you make the base, which is a basic sable breton (crumbly sort of shortbread/cake thing)

Next up is the caramel creme layer, which is basically just caramel flavored custard, but with some gelatin added to help it firm up. Here is where I point out that the recipe called for three separate batches of caramel to be made, and I ended up having to make five, because I burned two of them. Oops. That got popped into a plastic wrap lined pan to chill in the freezer until firmed up.

Step three was making the apple compote, which is just basically cooking the apples down in some butter and sugar until they’re the right consistency. Those were set aside to chill, before being pressed in an even layer into the creme caramel.

Step four was the caramel cream (this, by the way, was the second caramel I burned and had to remake). Basically you just make the caramel, add yet more gelatin, set it aside to cool, whip up a bunch of cream, then fold them all together.

The full cake is assembled by lining a cake tin with plastic wrap, then putting in a layer of the cream, then the custard and apple layer, then more cream, and finally topping it with the sable Breton base. That gets popped back into the freezer to chill for as long as possible while making the caramel mirror glaze, made from yet another batch of caramel, which I did *not*, for a change, burn and have to remake, and yet more gelatin, .

Here’s where I should have either just glazed the whole cake and then cut it later, or else doubled the mirror glaze amount, but I did not do either, so I ended up not having quite enough mirror glaze, which is actually a shame because my glaze turned out shiny and smooth and *perfect*.

Ah well. I did the best I could with the glaze I had, and ended up with my 8 slices.

They’re definitely not the prettiest things to look at, plus I also wasn’t really thinking about the fact that an 8×8 pan cut into 8 slices still ends up with 8 ginormous slices. But I got them done, just a couple minutes over the time limit, so yay!

Here’s the inside, so you can see all the layers.

For something with so much caramel involved, it is actually not too sweet. Using the granny smith apples was a wise choice since the cake definitely needs that hit of the tartness to keep it from being all one note. If I ever was to do this again I might try to incorporate a crunch layer – perhaps some nuts or honeycomb or something – to add a little texture, but otherwise, it was super tasty, and fun to make, so I’m calling that a win.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Eating the rainbow

I know, there’s two weeks left of Great British Baking Show still to catch up on, but I’m taking a quick detour to talk about Thanksgiving.

It was just Richard and I for Thanksgiving this year (his family does their big meal gathering the weekend after) so we decided to throw all the traditions out the window and do something different.

Okay, one tradition remained the same. Breakfast is, and always shall be, homemade apple butter cinnamon rolls.

Also I did end up making up a batch of potato dinner rolls, because those are handy to have in the freezer. But instead of spending a ton of time fussing over a ginormous meal for just the two of us, we decided to make a rainbow veggie tart.

This starts with a sheet of puff pastry (store bought, because life is too short to fuss with making your own). Then you take a bunch of vegetables (we used onion, carrot, zucchini, and yellow squash) and peel them into thin strips, and then spiral them into the tart. Underneath those is a layer of pesto and cheese, and the top is brushed with a little olive oil before going into the oven to bake for a very, very long time, until the veggies are all cooked through and the crust is a perfect crisply golden brown.

Originally the plan was to do the tart for lunch and do something else for dinner, but we didn’t actually get around to that, so instead we made our original dinner plan the following day: spinach and cheese ravioli.

Making pasta from scratch is actually really easy and it doesn’t take all that much time and I honestly don’t know why we don’t do this a lot more often, which is a thing I say every time we have made pasta in the past (roughly only once a year), so clearly this is not a lesson that is sticking. But anyway! The spinach gets ground up into the dough, which is then kneaded until smooth (which then distributes the green color from the spinach). The filling was just cheese and some lemon zest (from the overly prolific Meyer lemon shrub in our backyard).

We served it with a little pesto on top, and a couple of my homemade rolls on the side. Plus there’s plenty of extra ravioli stashed in the freezer now, for later dinners. Yum.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


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.