Bake 6: Queen of Sheba

Bake 6: Queen of Sheba

Drawn by the title and all the chocolate in the ingredients list, I tackled Queen of Sheba last weekend with the help of an assistant I’ll call older sibling, OS for short. My OS is only 11 months older. She is strong willed and competent, opinionated and loving, unafraid to answer tough questions at a political rally from strangers from Boston, from young men who fear billionaires in the long line, or from a foreign media interviewer with a microphone. My OS will hold up a sign and dance, all while watching the TV monitor to see whether we’ll be on the telly. Beside her, I stand mute, 11 months younger, uncomfortable and not quite thrilled to be there in the first place. All of this, yet my OS cannot separate an egg.

From my dependable sidekick persona, adults called me shy as a child. They did not whisper it to each other behind my back. They bent down and looked me right in the eye and accused me: “You’re shy.” I scoffed (on the inside) to this label. Adults were large, sometimes inebriated, seemingly confident, often ignorant.  I had a lot of opinions. I wisely chose not to share them.

As a professor, some students find me intimidating. Scary. “Stand off ish.” When I taught high school, my advanced placement chemistry students asked me to look away while they asked and I answered their questions. Apparently my direct gaze is intense. Looking out from the inside of my intelligent strong woman persona, I am empathetic to all who feel threatened by me. I am 60 inches tall. I am confident. I am not afraid. Like the stories of the Queen of Sheba. Apparently I have learned much from mirroring my OS. Except I can separate an egg.

Back to the bake: Queen of Sheba. “An exotic and mysterious woman of power” per a Google search. When declaring oneself in charge, a female may jokingly refer to herself as the Queen of Sheba. The title may strike fear in the heart of the masses. This is never my intent. But women like Elizabeth and Rachel and Kamala and Amy and Sue and Christa and Judy and Lea and Kate and Meg and Ann and Allie (and more) remind us not to apologize for our strength.

Back to the bake, Laura!

When I learned OS could not separate an egg, I felt bad for her. Sorry for her. Baffled by her. How did she come this far in life? How does she survive? I intentionally tried to avoid further offense or any appearance of shaming her lack of skills by offering to show her how to do it. I just did it. And by watching me separate three eggs in a row, now she at least knows it is a physical possibility. My new insight and embarrassment amid her defensive stance (“I am not a baker!”) led me to walk to the other room and let her have peace and privacy without pressure while she spread the melted chocolate for the decorative shards. How was I to know that she would paint the melted chocolate paper thin instead of merely spreading it? How was I to know she didn’t understand? As with my students, I am not a mind reader–if you don’t express confusion or request help, none will come. You will be considered competent until you prove otherwise.

When I indicated it was too thin, OS blamed me for not supervising.

Can. Not. Win.

Should. Not. Try.

The Queen of Sheba cake recipe is on page 278 of THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF. I melted chocolate in a double boiler.

I mixed the butter and sugar and added the egg yolks one at a time. In a separate bowl I beat the egg whites.


The melted chocolate and butter/sugar and beaten egg whites and sifted flour were folded and gently combined before they got plopped into the pan to bake.


I should have used a smaller diameter pan. QofS came out thin.

OS did a great job massing the ingredients on my kitchen balance until the chocolate chip confusion. Somehow “we” lost 75 g of chocolate chips. I asked her to weigh out 100 g and 75 g of chips and supplied bowls. OS remembers doing so (confused) and then combining them in the same bowl. (why?) She never asked for clarification. When I asked where the 75 g were she pointed to the bowl of 100 g I was melting on the stove. I grabbed handfuls of semi-melted chips to take out 75 g and there were definitely not 175 g of chocolate in there. They vaporized. I continued to make the frosting.


I left OS in charge of melting the new batch of 75 g chips for the decorative shards. I should’ve known she needed help, even when she didn’t ask for it. I should’ve known she had never before spread melted chocolate on parchment paper to solidify. I should’ve known because of all the confusion and anxiety in the kitchen, but I chose to step away and let her just do it her way. I forgot she once made butter by whipping cream by hand. I thought of the incredible spread of food she puts out at holidays. I remembered her confidence and power. I let her independently paint the 75 g of melted chocolate paper-thin over an area three times that expected. (Since volume = LxWxH and area = LxW, when area is tripled, thickness (H) suffers inversely. OS taught math for three decades. She saw the huge sheet of parchment I laid out for her and assumed L and W were fixed by it.) And I should have not reacted at all when I saw it. I should not have been surprised when she implied it was my fault for not supervising because she is “not a baker!” And I forgot to document with a picture.

Sigh. I love that woman so much.

We broke the chocolate wafers into triangles with a pizza wheel and placed them vertically in the frosting, sprinkled powdered sugar and cocoa on top, and the Queen of Sheba came out beautiful and delicious.


If you are ever brave enough to bake with me, come on over. Otherwise, maybe just look at the pictures.



Bake 5: A Perfect White Loaf

Pages 105-108 of THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF show step-by-step directions with pictures to make a pair of round white loaves, from three ingredients and water.


The process was easier than my normal white loaf that requires milk and butter and sugar, and where I have to add the flour in increments. I made half the recipe and formed two long mini-loaves, instead of the rounds. I think it would work as a pizza dough, too. The bake called for a hot roast pan in the preheating oven and a splash of cold water to start the bake with steam and encourage a nice crust. I’m always learning.

Warm with butter, this bread was fantastic, and the process easy enough to make on the spot on a regular weeknight for dinner with soup or a salad.


Bake 4: Cherry Bakewell Cup Cakes

Bake 4: Cherry Bakewell Cup Cakes

Pages 26 and 27 of my copy of THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF are now sticky, forever attracted by something like a new intermolecular force called raspberry jam. Headlined as one a few elite “Best of the Bake-Off” bakes in the cookbook, these were fun to make and so, so, SO delicious. Despite my writing skills, I will fail to adequately describe the incredible taste, the exquisite intermingling of lemon and raspberry, the sweet glaze frosting and the buttery crumb of the cake, all to carry the pretty red cherry on top. I’ll just have to make another batch when you come over.

To begin the bake I itemized my deficiencies: I had no self-rising flour, nor an apple corer. I overcame. One problem was rectified by a Google search and some baking powder, the other with a tiny spoon. Onward.


I whipped up the batter with my trusty old hand-mixer.

For reasons unknown, a tiny bit of room temperature milk was needed. Too late to warm it up, I dumped it in cold although I harp on my chemistry students to always know WHY they are doing some tricky procedure step some tedious way. I documented the cold milk with a picture, but still, do not tell my students. Especially since the temperature seemed to neither affect nor have any effect on the outcome: > 100% yield accomplished. (I blame Google.)


The batter in the “cup-cake cases” rose like crazy during the bake. I think I could have made 18, instead of 12 “cup-cakes.” Excess yield. See the rise over the horizon of the edge? Excess reagent: baking powder. Problem.


The thin, but hopefully setting, frosting is supposed the flood the cup, not waterfall over the edges. I used a bread knife to hack the muffin-tops off my cup-cakes.


On to the absent apple corer. The centers of the cakes were to be replaced with jam. All that was really needed was a hole. I considered my wine cork screw but although it could drill the hole, it could not excavate it. The tiny spoon did the trick–both for excavating and for dripping in the jam.


Those muffin tops were too good to discard, so I sandwiched jam between them.


I also stirred some jam into a bowl of the cored cup-cake centers and ate it right away. Another secret. Shh.

I stirred up the frosting, and dutifully pulled the stems, rinsed, and dried the cherries for the top.

I drizzled on the thin lemony frosting and did my best to keep gravity from pulling drips over the sides. I placed a cherry on top. Here are all of my concoctions together in a family photo.


And here is the “best of the bake-off.” If you are looking for a reason to trade your dollars for this cookbook, the recipe for these cup-cakes is it. Absolutely incredible. Blue ribbon. Hairnet. Trophy. Five stars. Handshake from Mary Berry.



Bake 3: Quick Chocolate Fudge Cake

For my third bake from THE GREAT BRITISH BAKEOFF by Linda Collister, I turned back to page 40, under Cakes and found what looked to me to be a brownie recipe.

Sorry about all the beige and brown pictures.

Note the name includes the word “quick.” Don’t blink. Here we go!

I started by sifting together the flour and other dry ingredients, carefully massed on my beloved kitchen balance.


A food processor (again!) was supposed to produce a “sandy” texture. My fork and whisk and spoons failed, so I used my hand mixer.


I did not have pecans, so I used a mix of walnuts and almonds. I poured the batter over the layer of chopped nuts as directed and put her in to bake.

The chocolate topping was easy.

Once the bake cooled, I flipped it onto a plate and poured on the topping.

This was the quickest, simplest bake. Took longer to write this mini-post. We scarfed it up just as quick.


Moving on to Bake 4 today. Seems to require an apple corer (couldn’t find one at the stupid market) but no food processor (relief), and will be topped with a cherry (pretty). Stay tuned.

Bake 2: Apple Beehives

Bake 2: Apple Beehives

I appreciate people at parties who love to talk. They hold court, enjoying the lime (CaO) light, and relieve the rest of us from having to exert much effort. They entertain the masses who smile, nod, drink, laugh on cue, and ask more probing questions in the infrequent lulls. I love those people. Luckily I married one.

Small talk bores me. I can ask questions and follow a monologue just well enough to ask another related question when required, but I rarely actually hear the entire answer. I’d rather discuss something deep (like exponential growth, misinterpreted lyrics, Netflix, any book by Stephen King) or interesting (like global warming, natural selection, kinetics and mechanisms of organic reactions, impeachment), but with the crowd yelling and music playing, I can barely hear anything, and after awhile reading lips takes too much effort.

Where am I going with this? Oh yeah, invitations to parties.

In my youth, being invited to gatherings–being included in any fashion (even tagging along with my nice sister whose friends wished I wasn’t there but I didn’t care because my sister was there)–was some odd sign of acceptance. Decades later, finding new and innovative excuses to stay home is the hobby. (This is taking longer to reach my point than I anticipated. If I were speaking to you face to face, I’d have already misinterpreted your pained expression due to indigestion or tight shoes and abruptly cut my story short. But without such social facial clues, writing lets me ramble.) My current point: I’m trying to describe a contraption called an apple peeler-corer-slicer and the debacle said machine caused during Bake 2.

I’ll try again.

In the olden days (the 90s) there were frequent weekday evening parties hosted by women with themes of burping plastic bowls, make-up to fix our ugly faces, candles that cost a fortune, and baking supplies (cue the TA-DA music). Whenever I was invited to one of these soirees, I knew they sought my money, not my dynamic personality. Once there, we were quickly plied with wine to loosen our purse strings. (I needed two glasses. I’m cheap.) I’d smile and listen and drink my glass of box wine, munch on chips, while I searched the bottom of my bag for dimes to buy a $1 spatula, or $2 eyebrow pencil, or $28 unscented votive candle. The first time I attended a baking supply party I got out my checkbook, declined the wine, and bought everything: cookie scoop, glass bowls, a whisk, a cookie press…you name it. One of my big splurges was an apple peeler-corer-slicer. What an invention! Apple pies galore!

I’ve probably baked a hundred apple pies in my life. I anticipated using that thing so much I’d just leave it clamped to my countertop. Turned out I like peeling apples by hand. I find it a soothing challenge to peel an apple in one curl. So my apple corer-peeler-slicer has rested and rusted in the box on the top shelf since before my current students were born.

Bake 2 called the APCS contraption out of retirement. Just like Old Bear was brought down from the dusty attic in the children’s book OLD BEAR. (Never read it? You should.)

For my second bake of this new series, I chose Apple Beehives from page 202 of Linda Collister’s THE GREAT BRITISH BAKEOFF. The puff pastry recipe (page 210) includes nice pictures of how the pastry should look during processing the six “turns.”

I’ve never made puff pastry. Apparently the absent food processor could have made a smoother initial mix than the blob my hands created. I mixed, made the ball, cross cut the top and let it rest in the fridge while I pounded the butter.

I rolled the dough to a star (sort of) and placed the square of pounded butter on, folded in the corners of the star and sealed in the butter.

I rolled the square of butter in pastry to a long runway, paranoid to avoid butter leaks. I then folded it like a letter. (Daughter asked “Which letter?” Answer: the one that goes in a business envelope.) I turned the trifold 90 degrees (this is called a “turn”) and rolled it like a runway and folded it like a letter again, which prompted the next question: how many layers of butter will there be after six turns? Answer: More than 700. More than 700! MORE THAN 700! (Do you have more than 700 of anything in your life besides nickels? That’s a large number. Exponential growth, boys and girls. The power of 3.)


After repeated rests in the fridge (the dough, not me), turning and rolling and enveloping and, and, and, I used my pizza cutter and biscuit ring to cut up the pastry as directed. The apples waited patiently.


The directions called for “eating” apples, which I am happy to do every day to keep the doctor away, but which confused me when used as a descriptive adjective. Google didn’t know how to help when I entered “eating apples” as a search term. I decided “eating apples” meant Fuji, or Pink Lady, or Delicious, uhh, the kind we eat. I bought Fuji and moved on.


It was finally time to get that apple corer-slicer-peeler out of retirement and remember how to work it. I clamped it to the counter and attached the crank with the handle and long screw. I examined the sharp parts and found a crumpled paper of directions in the bottom corner of the box. (Yes, I still have the box.) Turns out the apple peeler-corer-slicer can either

  1. just peel,
  2. just core and slice, but CANNOT
  3. just peel and core.

My potential beehives required choice 3: naked hollow apples, not sliced. Foiled again. I cored the apples quite brutally with a long knife producing pentagonal hollows by pushing out the centers with my thumbs. I then happily hand-peeled the apples and set them on their pastry cups.


I prepared the buttery honey-and-nut filling and spooned some into the apple centers. The directions said to “stuff the apples.” My giant pentagonal hollows allowed the filling to plop to the bottom. Oh well.

I carefully wrapped the long strings of 700-layer pastry around the apples. This part was the most fun and satisfying. The pastry could have definitely been rolled and stretched much thinner. Next time.


The darlings got a milk wash and a sugar sprinkle before a long bake in quite a hot oven.

My first attempt at Apple Beehives tasted like pears. They were not quite sweet enough but were vastly improved by a sprinkle of powdered sugar. The puff pastry was certainly the most delicious part.


Next time I’ll use Macintosh apples, roll the pastry even thinner, make a double batch of filling, and add a drizzle of warm cream cheese frosting. Half the puff pastry is waiting in the fridge for a future bake.


Today I will tackle Bake 3, a concoction of nutty upside-down fudge-frosted brownies to accompany us to a neighborhood dinner party where I, per my type-cast role, will listen, smile, and nod.