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Kitchen Adventures

Baking Sisters: Alabama

This year for Baking Sisters, my sister and I decided that we would try making the official (or unofficial) foods of each state. Initially we toyed with the idea of picking and choosing and skipping around, but after January’s bake, we decided to focus on one state a month. And since we’re going in alphabetical order, that meant Alabama was first.

All the ingredients used for today’s session

Not all states have an official food, but in Alabama’s case, it’s the Lane Cake. This is a four-layer vanilla sponge, filled with a mix of dried fruits and pecans soaked in bourbon and cooked into a sort of caramel, and frosted with a cream cheese and whipped cream frosting. The recipe also calls for coconut but we don’t like coconut, so both my sister and I decided to leave it out.

We didn’t want to make a ginormous cake where we were unsure about the flavor, so we decided to quarter the recipe, which made for some fun with calculator apps when trying to work out measurements. I still did four layers, but used my little 4-inch springform pans, while my sister did larger pans, but only two layers.

My four cute little cake layers

While the cakes were baking, I made the filling. I soaked chopped dried apples and dates in some bourbon, then cooked egg yolks, sugar, and butter until thickened, and mixed it all together with some toasted chopped pecans. That was put into the fridge to chill.

The final step was to make the frosting, which consists of cream cheese, powered sugar, and whipping cream, all blended together until light and fluffy. Then I assembled the cakes and frosted the whole thing. Ta da! Look, it’s a very small Lane cake!

Coffee cup included for scale.

Here it is, sliced, so you can see the layers of cake and filling.

So how did it turn out? Well, the cake itself is tasty, and the frosting is absolutely delicious. The filling is…different. It’s not a bad thing – there’s a caramel sort of feel to it, and it’s tasty enough, but the bourbon was a little overpowering, so I’m not sure it was all that necessary. Still, it was fun to make, so I’m counting that as a win.

Next up, cookies. Alabama Cookies, to be exact. And yes, this is another recipe that calls for coconut except we left it out because coconut is Not Food.

There’s a bazillion variations of this cookie recipe on the internet and I don’t think it’s necessarily unique to Alabama, although maybe it’s the pecans that makes them claim it, who knows. It’s basically a Jumble Cookie, in that it’s a standard cookie base into which a bunch of random extra things get mixed – in this case oats, chocolate chips, toasted pecans, and weirdly, Rice Krispies.

These are not the prettiest cookies in the world, clearly, but they’re certainly tasty, and super quick to throw together. Definitely worth making again.

And finally, we decided to tackle something savory – the Alabama White Chicken Sandwich, which is basically shredded chicken on a bun, with White BBQ Sauce, and topped with coleslaw and pickles. We both started with precooked chicken (Richard picked up a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store), and store bought coleslaw (since none of us are big coleslaw eaters), then stirred up the sauce (which is a new-to-both-of-us thing – we’d never actually heard of white BBQ sauce before this). It is white, by the way, because of the horseradish and the mayonnaise.

Here’s my sandwich, all assembled.

I admit I was a bit hesitant about this recipe because I am not normally a fan of horseradish, but this turned out actually super tasty (and in fact I added in a bunch more horseradish because I felt like the sauce needed a bit of an extra kick).

So overall, this month’s bake was a delicious success.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

A head of the pizza game

Today was National Pizza Day, so I suppose we could have just made pizza, which we have done oodles of times in the past. But a random Twitter thread a week or so ago had me pondering, because someone mentioned that they had made calzones in their mini skull cake pan. And I thought, hey, *I* have a mini skull cake pan. I should make calzones! Or perhaps I should call them skullzones instead.

I started with our usual pizza dough recipe, then we eyed the contents of the fridge and decided to fill them with some broccoli and some mushrooms. We debated type of sauce – whether to go with a red or a white sauce, so I instead just tossed a little butter and flour into the veggies and made a roux, then stirred in some cheese, and used that as the filling. I divided the dough into six pieces, then rolled each one out and carefully lined the skull pan molds. I filed them, did my best to crimp the tops, then tossed the pan into the oven and hoped for the best.

Ta da! Skullzones!

They aren’t perfect – I think next time (because oh yes, there *will* be a next time) I need to use less dough per skull, and perhaps parbake the cough in the molds before adding in the filling, but they were super tasty, and highly amusing, and that’s what counts.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

A loaf of comfort

Today was World Nutella Day (yes really, it’s a thing), so in order to have a vehicle on which to consume our Nutella, I made some soda bread.

There are a bazillion recipes out there for soda bread, many of which include things that are Wrong and Disgusting, like raisins and caraway seeds, but the recipe I used is pretty simple: oats, flour, baking soda, buttermilk, and salt. Yes, there’s the added step to grind up the oats first, but I find I actually prefer them that way, when used in a quick bread setting, but otherwise you just stir everything together into a shaggy dough, then dump it into a greased bread pan, and plop it into the oven to bake. And when you’re done, you have a lovely, hearty loaf of bread that is perfect for slathering with Nutella, or just some really good butter.

This recipe is just a little heavy on the salt (next time I’ll halve the amount) but otherwise is extremely delicious.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

Return of the lemon

Just to show that it is not all yarn all the time around here, today I decided to mix things up and bake something.

Okay, so the truth is I was feeling uninspired to knit, and was very much aware of the plethora of fruit that still remains on the Meyer lemon shrub in the backyard, but hey, baking a thing counts, so let’s go with it.

Anyway. I made Lemon Brownies, because it was a quick recipe that would use up a lemon.

They’re…okay. The majority of the lemon flavor comes from the glaze, while the bar itself is fairly bland. It’s possible the flavor will develop once they’ve had a chance to sit, but overall, we were both underwhelmed. Ah well.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

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.