Still Life, With Cats

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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.


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.

And round and round

The downside to having purchased an entire box of Bran Flakes cereal to make a weird-sounding candy is that then you have an entire box of Bran Flakes cereal in the house. I already turned some of it into cookies, but if there is bran cereal in your life, then muffins must follow (it is the natural order of things). However, plain bran muffins are kind of boring. So this morning I made Peanut Butter Bran Muffins, which had the bonus of also using up some of the applesauce from last weekend’s apple fluff pie (aka warm applesauce in a pie crust). If you, too, happen to be staring a box of bran flakes in the face and wondering what the heck to do with it, I highly recommend these muffins. They are bran muffins that do not taste like bran muffins usually taste (which is earnestly healthy in a dry and unappealing manner).

But you aren’t here for the bran recipes, you’re here for the citrus! So today’s challenge recipe – Potica – is from King Arthur Baking’s Extraordinary Breads collection.

This is a Slovenian recipe, and consists of an enriched yeast dough that is rolled out thin, then filled with a mixture of crushed nuts, egg, sugar, and spices, and also some orange zest. The resulting roll is coiled into an oval, which is then nestled into a bread pan, so as to produce its characteristic swirls.

This took a lot longer to bake than anticipated (I kept taking it out and stabbing it with my thermometer and then grumbling because it had to go back in), but I am extremely pleased with the result.

Here’s the finished loaf, all shiny and sprinkled with more crushed walnuts.

And here is an interior shot, looking exactly like it’s supposed to!

The end result is extremely delicious, although more than a bit messy due to all the nuts. This is definitely one I’ll be making again.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

Not an expert at haberdashery

First of all, in case you were wondering (and I am sure you were), my idea about eating the lemon sour cream waffles with lemon curd was an excellent one. Yum. But that meant that we used up the very last of last year’s lemon curd, so naturally I needed to make some more. I used my usual recipe, which involves lots of lemons and eggs and sugar and, cooked over a hot water bath until thickened.

Once I had made the curd, of course I had to come up with something to use it for. Since it happens to be the first day of Purim, I decided why not give hamantaschen a try – or more specifically Lemon Curd Hamantaschen.

The dough is a fairly straightforward sugar cookie dough – albeit very soft. It’s rolled out and cut into circles, into which you add the filling, and then comes the part where clearly I missed some important steps in the instructions because the end product is supposed to resemble a three-cornered hat and…well…

This is an excellent representation of the entire batch – not a single one kept its perfect little three-cornered shape. But no matter – despite being grossly misshapen, at least they taste absolutely delicious!

Plus there’s lots of extra lemon curd, which is good because there’s still more waffles. Yum.

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.


It’s Wednesday! That must mean it’s time for waffles! Lemon Sour Cream Waffles, to be exact.

My free time has shrunk drastically this past week, since now we’ve got two separate sets of foster kittens to entertain, especially since one set gets bottle-fed first thing once I’m up each morning. But waffles go together quick, and I can do other things while each waffle cooks, like tackle that mystery spot in the corner of the kitchen, or fold the pile of kitten-related laundry that was taking over the dining room table.

Anyway. Back to the waffles. The only change I made to the recipe was to use yogurt instead of sour cream, but that’s only because the yogurt needed using up first.

As far as waffles go, these are pretty tasty, with a very mild lemon flavor. I think eating them with regular maple syrup was a mistake though – a dollop of lemon curd, to help bring out the lemon flavor, would be a much better option for a topping. Hmm, guess what tomorrow’s breakfast will be!

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.

Facial plus cake

This weekend, when I went rummaging in the bottom freezer drawer, looking for the container of kitten formula I always keep in there (because I picked up a quartet of bottle babies who needed to be fed), I discovered that there was still one container of lemon curd left from last year’s batch. So I pulled it out and put it into the fridge to thaw, and this evening I made Steamed Lemon Curd Puddings. Note – these aren’t puddings like those of us in the US think of when we hear the word ‘pudding’ – these are actually steamed cakes.

These are pretty straightforward to put together, as long as you remember to Google for how to replace self-rising flour with regular all-purpose flour. I only did half the recipe, so it was good I still had an extra egg white in the fridge from making the orange curd, since it’s otherwise hard to halve an egg.

We’ve got a countertop vegetable steamer which works perfectly for things like this. I assembled the puddings (half the recipe actually ended up making four of them), plopped the covered dishes into the steamer, filled it with water, set the timer for 30 minutes, and wandered off. Half an hour later, they were done.

We added an extra dollop of lemon curd on top. Absolutely delicious!

Making a thing a day for Thingadailies.