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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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Rage

Rage

On a surprisingly sunny morning after a noisy windy night, I stopped my car to pick up the lid of a trash can. As I defied the universe’s incessant desire for chaos and placed the lid precisely back where it belongs, I contemplated how this voluntary diversion would change my position on the long country road into town on my way to the highway that takes me to work.

The universe placed me on the quiet road with no cars for less than half a mile. On a curve into a straightaway I came upon a car carefully driving the relatively new and ridiculously slow speed limit. I followed for a mile until we reached the lovely passing lane, where I decided to move along with my day.

With no other cars in sight behind or ahead, I clicked my left signal and eased across the dashed yellow line to pass, assuming the slow car driver wanted me out of his rearview as much as I wanted him shrinking in mine.

I accelerated.

And so did the other car, blocking me from passing or re-entering the lane.

I looked over and saw a very angry man screaming at me and essentially racing me. His fury almost consumed my attention. Luckily I looked up in time to see the oncoming car, hit my breaks brakes, and pulled back behind the raging-man-who-will-not-be-passed.

I followed the car for a few miles when the still angry driver suddenly stopped, rolled down his window and pointed to the left, essentially ordering me to pull over to an old lot so he could, what?–tell me off? Kill me?

I ignored his directive and waited. I took out my phone and recorded his license plate and make of the car. I videoed his driving for a minute when he finally resumed driving.

I had to follow him for miles past the only stop sign and one traffic light to the highway. When he turned to the entrance ramp and deliberately pulled over to ironically and finally let me pass, I realized he was still in a fit and I refused to drive in front of him. I turned into a parking lot and he drove away.

This man may have been visiting someone near my home, or he could be a neighbor. I may see him again. Road rage is unexplainable and anonymous. It can be triggered by any action by one driver and catalyzed by any attitude or mood by any other. But on that quiet winding road that I know by heart and where I sing along with the radio, road rage was startling.

What happened to him that morning to make him inconsolable like a toddler? My friend would write a story to explain him.

Perhaps his dog was missing, his wife in the hospital, his bladder too full, his home foreclosed, his retirement too boring, his golf game embarrassing, his socks too restricting, his political party in shambles, his hair thinning and combover failing, his worry about global warming all-consuming. Perhaps in his pre-retirement life he was the alpha boss and everyone did his bidding out of fear or admiration. And now he’s just one of the masses, waiting in line, having to ask for help and act thankful.

Those drivers on that road are all, everyone single one of them, too fast or too slow, too careful or reckless, too liberal or too afraid of new thoughts, too honest or skilled liars. It’s all in the perspective and delivery of the alterative facts.

The angry man surely recounted this ten minute story to his tribe. In his version, I was some super b!^ch (stripped of my pie-baking, tree-hugging, sun-rise-watching, grand-baby-hugging side) who was trying to get him killed and I needed to be infinitely enlightened by his knowledge. It is not unlikely that I will hear his story from a mutual friend, perhaps his sister or golf buddy. I will sigh and nod and commiserate with his frustration. Anger leads to more anger. Understanding, humility, and perspective–qualities essential to a society of adults–are traits chosen and relied upon by humans. These are the traits we should lean on in conflict. Listen and try to understand. No need to agree. But acknowledge the emotional response and the human who feels it.

But be ready to dodge incoming fists and speeding bullets.

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.

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

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Bake 1: Warm Cherry Crumble Pie

Bake 1: Warm Cherry Crumble Pie

Welcome to my next baking adventure!

In 2018, my pie series produced dozens of colorful, delicious concoctions, all based on recipes from SUGAR, BUTTER, FLOUR: THE WAITRESS PIE BOOK by Sheri Castle and Daniel Gercke.

In 2019, my attempt to blog my bread baking journey fell short at only three bakes, mostly due to all-beige pictures. It’s hard to get excited by light brown bread. Those bakes were from recipes in BEARD ON BREAD by James Beard.

For 2020, my new recipe guide is THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF by Linda Collister. As you all know I love Mary Berry. I talk (to myself) with her accent while I bake.

For Bake 1 of 2020, here is Warm Cherry Crumble Pie from page 202. The recipes measure solids by mass, the same as chemists in the lab. I considered using density to convert masses to volumes so I could use my measuring cups, but then I gave in and spent the 340 nickels for a kitchen balance.

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To make the dough, the “pulse” setting on a food processor is suggested. As I am the physical embodiment of a frugal food processor, I used two knives, a fork, a pastry cutter, and my fingers to do the work. Perhaps the pulse setting would have made a more uniform dough than my hands produced. I treated the dough like a pie dough, with heterogenous distribution of fat and solids. Next time, I’ll use my fork to mush it together better.

The dough took a rest in the fridge while I attended to Saturday life (coffee, phone calls, staring into space).

Instead of rolling, the recipe suggested “coarsely grating” the cold dough, which I took to be another job for the pulsing food processor. I tried two knives, my pastry cutter, and my hot little fingers. I pressed half into the pan, and saved the rest to distribute over the cherries. (Note to J.A.: do NOT send me a food processor.)

I used frozen cherries because it was a cold sunny WINTER day.

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This was a really easy bake. Not too sweet. Excellent served warm with hot coffee. I’m not sure it would earn me the coveted handshake from Paul, and Mary would scrunch up her nose at the slightly soggy bottom, but I sprinkled on some “icing sugar” and we scarfed it up pretty fast.

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I’m considering my options for Bake 2. So far the Apple Beehives on page 200 are the frontrunners. I’d have to tackle the Puff Pastry, though. And figure out what-the-bleep “eating apples” are. We’ll see.