Wednesday, March 31

Nineteen - {Lemon Chiffon Cake}

It's just after 8, and I'm failing to drift back to sleep. Sheltered from the morning chill outside, it's warm under my blankets. My pajamas comfortably enslave my limbs, but my mind aches to break free from the confines of my comforter. Under the sun's warm and welcoming glow through my window, I struggle to coerce my eyes back into a state of unconscious repose.

But I fail.

It's been like this for awhile

On my feet, I take all of three steps to the bathroom. Undoing the lock - quietly - I step inside with the clothing I had laid out on the dresser the night before grasped tightly to my chest. Placing the pile on the thin bathroom shelf is like piecing together a puzzle, but once methodically deposited, I catch a quick glimpse of myself in the mirror.


Remnants of the previous night are written on my face. My hazy eyes are encircled by smudged eyeliner and ornamented by trails sweeping over my temples. It's exactly what I was expecting; when I returned to my room after watching a basketball game at S's apartment, I had only enough energy to brush my teeth, slip in my retainer, shimmy into my pajamas and happily drift under the covers. My phone, lying dead on the dresser, is but another testament to the previous night's exhaustion. I remember thinking to plug it in before drifting off, but I simply couldn't be bothered to stand and fit the cable to the phone as I lay contentedly between my sheets and covers.

Just under two years ago, this never happened. Sure, I stayed up late, but I wasn't out having fun with friends into the early hours of the morning and I seriously doubt I was wearing eyeliner or makeup. I don't think I even owned either until the tail end of my senior year. I can't even remember why I started wearing it.

I strip my face of the memories and brush my teeth, staring absentmindedly at the lower-right corner of the mirror. It needs to be cleaned.


I'll get to it later.

I've changed a lot in the past year, I think as I zip my hoodie and step into the hall. The door protests loudly as it swings shut, and I reprimand it with a swift turn of a key.

In recent years, I haven't considered my own birthday very significant or at all monumental. I did in the past, of course, when I was much younger and wide-eyed over the thought of parties and cake and friends and gifts, but I feel like I grew out of that phase quickly. As I aged, I craved less and less attention. I realized, as one is apt to do, that a birthday is just another day. I understood that I wasn't going to magically feel different. I knew that I wouldn't suddenly transform into an older version of myself. I was ok with it.

The years are just another thing to tirelessly remember.

But this birthday seems different. I do actually feel older. Not at this instant, mind you, but in comparison; I know where I was at this point in my life one year ago, and I know that I've grown since then. A lot. I was happy then, but I'm happier now. I can see the new places and faces in my life, the ups and downs, the new experiences and the old indulgences. It's the first time that I've really felt this way in my life.

This is the first birthday that I've actually felt older for.

Today I am nineteen.


Today I am happy.

Lemon Chiffon Cake
This cake is very light, perfectly lemony and just the right thing for welcoming spring. It was the only thing I wanted for my birthday!
Printable Recipe

Lemon Cream via Fanny of FoodBeam
This is the most delicious stuff I have ever tasted. This is one of the few recipes that I make over and over and over again. It's amazing, and so is Fanny!

1/2 c (100 g) sugar
1 1/2 lemons, zest of
2 large eggs
1/4 c (65 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 4-5 lemons)
10 1/2 Tbls (150 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into big chunks

First thing: fill the sink with 3-4cm of cold water (I use a large bowl). You will be placing the hot pan of lemon cream in it, so make sure whatever you're using is large enough!

Put the sugar and zest in a large heatproof bowl (I use the bowl of my Kitchenaid stand mixer) that can be set over a pan of simmering water. Off the heat, rub the sugar and zest together between your fingers until the sugar is moist, grainy and very aromatic. Whisk in the eggs, followed by the lemon juice.

Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water, and start stirring with a wooden spoon. Cook the lemon cream until it reaches 185F, stirring constantly – be prepared, as it can take quite a lot of time.
As soon as it reaches 185F, remove the cream from the heat and place the bowl into the sink and allow to cool down to 140F. Gradually incorporate the butter, whisking after each addition (at this point, I like to use my Kitchenaid fitted with the whisk, hence the use of the Kitchenaid bowl).

When all the butter as been used, blend the cream with a hand-held blender for 8 minutes. It might sound long, but will ensure a too-smooth-to-be-true lemon cream.
Pour the cream into a container, press a piece of cling film against the surface to create an airtight seal and refrigerate overnight.

Chiffon Cake via Alton Brown
It's official; I'm addicted to chiffon.

1/2 c (62 g) cake flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 egg whites, at room temp
2 egg yolks, at room temp
1/3 c + 1 Tbls (85 g) sugar, divided
1/8 c (31 ml) water
1/8 c (31 ml) vegetable oil
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 325F (160C) and prepare two 6" round baking dishes by oiling them, lining the bottom with parchment, and oiling again.

In a medium mixing bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Place the egg yolks and 2 1/2 ounces of the sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk on high for 2 minutes or until the mixture becomes pale yellow and 'ribbons' when lifted. Add the water, vegetable oil and vanilla and whisk to combine. Add the dry ingredients and whisk just to combine. Transfer the batter to a mixing bowl while you whisk the egg whites.

Place the egg whites and cream of tartar into a clean bowl and whisk on high using the whisk attachment, until it becomes foamy. Decrease the speed to low and gradually add the remaining sugar. Increase speed to high and continue whisking until stiff peaks form, approximately 2 minutes.

Transfer 1/3 of the egg whites to the batter and whisk until well combined. Add the remaining egg whites and fold in gently. Transfer batter into prepared pans. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean or the top springs back when lightly pressed. Remove from the oven to a cooling rack, and cool in pans 10 minutes. Cut around the perimeter and invert onto cooling rack to cook completely.

Italian Meringue Buttercream For step-by-step directions for making Italian Meringue Buttercream, please click here!

1/4 c (63 ml) water
1 c (210 g) sugar
5 egg whites
1/4 c (53 g) sugar
1 c (237 g) butter, softened, cut into small pieces
1 tsp vanilla, more if desired

Place the egg whites in the bowl of a standing mixer.

Heat the 1 c sugar and water on the stove to 245F stirring occasionally only after the sugar has been dissolved. When it is within the range of 230F to 235F, begin whipping the egg whites. When they get to soft peaks, begin adding the remaining 1/4 c sugar and continue whipping to medium peaks, being careful not to overbeat. When the syrup is the correct temperature, slowly pour it into the eggs with the mixer on high. After fully incorporated, beat the frosting 7-10 minutes until the outside of the bowl is room temp (I usually go a little longer than this; often times the bowl is not room temp when I begin adding butter. If the mix seems to soupy, put it in the fridge for a few moments or try briefly chilling some of the butter in the freezer before adding). Begin adding the butter, tablespoon by tablespoon, beating until fully incorporated. The frosting will deflate a little, but it's ok. Keep whipping until the frosting comes together, add the vanilla and continue whipping until it's light and fluffy.

Assembly
I screwed up and ended up mangling half of one of my layers when I sliced it. Don't do that :D

Slice each chiffon layer in half horizontally. Spread one with a thin layer of lemon cream, then a layer of buttercream. You could simply combine the two, but I didn't want to mix up more than I would need. This way I can freeze the leftover buttercream for my next baking adventure. Top with another layer of cake, and spread, again, with a thin layer of lemon cream followed by a layer of buttercream. Continue until all of the layers are filled, and top with the last piece, flat side up. Crumb coat with the lemon cream, then frost with buttercream. Decorate as desired.

Sunday, March 28

Failure - {Dobos Torte}

It will begin with a simple and innocuous request:

"Why don't you make a Dobos Torte? You know, like the one from Ruszwurm?"


You will look over the ingredient list and accept the challenge, pulling the goods, completely unfazed, from the closet and pantry. Flour, eggs, sugar, butter, chocolate and vanilla. Nothing out of the ordinary, and certainly nothing frightful.

After separating the yolks from the whites, you will drive to the store with the intent of purchasing a replacement battery for your scale. You will return without incident, battery in hand, and begin portioning the remaining ingredients into bowls. Mis en place completed, the project will begin.

Your younger brother will wander soundlessly into the kitchen, studying the Kitchen-Aid with a sudden sense of wonder. Wide-eyed, he will ask to help, gingerly grasping the handle of a nearby rubber spatula. Under your careful instruction, he will add the ribboned yolks to the whipped whites, and he will be happy. You will be happy. You will share a moment.

All will be well.

But only for that moment.

You will quickly realize that you have misplaced your second six inch pan, and you will feel a slight pain in your soul as your brother totters off with a friend. As you begin dividing the batter evenly amongst six bowls, you will also begin mentally preparing yourself for the great amount of dish washing ahead of you.

The pile of dishes in the sink will begin to grow, but so too will the pile of baked cakes cooling on the rack before you. You will be optimistic and have no idea of the troubles before you.

You will note that the authentic Ruszwurm recipe contains no instructions for the caramel coating on the cake, but you, still stupidly unfazed, will find them on the internet. The pan will be filled, and the burner turned on. But suddenly, a small child will run into the kitchen with a bleeding lip. He will be crying. He will be upset. You will console him. You will blot his lips. You will provide him with ice in a wash cloth. You will watch him scamper into the living room and you will pray that he doesn't get blood on the white couch. You will return to the stove and be pleased to discover that the caramel has not burned. However, as you cross the kitchen to wash your hands, you will sense the distinctive smell of burning sugar wafting from the pan on the range.

You will curse, and you will start again.

And you will fail again.

On the third try, the caramel will be perfect, but, you will become incredibly frustrated as you attempt to pour the caramel over the sliced cake. You will see that it doesn't work as it should. You will suffice by dipping the slices in the caramel. You will burn your fingers in the process.

You will become more frustrated.

Preparation of the frosting will begin, but you will notice immediately that something is wrong. There could be no possible way that only 5 grams of chocolate and 20 grams of butter are present in the frosting. After considering another recipe, making adjustments and whipping the butter with the chocolate, you will see that the chocolate was not melted completely. Brown flecks will dot the creamed mixture. You will advance to angry.

The thought of whisking eggs over a double boiler will do nothing to soothe you, and will only enrage you further as you stand at the stove, 45 minutes later, checking your watch and spewing profanity. Eventually, you will assure yourself, the mixture will reach the necessary temperature. Your arms will begin to fall off, but only just after the eggs achieve the appropriate temp. You will deposit them into your stand mixer and let it take over while you stick your arms back to your shoulders and fume.

But things will just get worse; after adding the butter, you will see that the frosting is soupy. You will do some research and see that this is (more or less) normal, and you will become furious. Slopping the frosting onto the layers, cats will pointlessly circle you and a dog will attempt to hide from your older brother by sitting between your feet. The layers will slide, you will swear, and the animals will remain. After frosting the cake, you will step back and watch the frosting sag down, down, down the sides. You will quickly arrange the caramel-topped slices over the top of the cake, and you will briefly contemplate throwing the entire thing into the trash as you hurriedly make your way to the fridge.

Only then will you realize that you were forgetting a decimal point in your conversions and that the original recipe was, in fact, correct. However, the adjustments you made will, strangely enough, have been for the correct amounts and will still have failed to fix anything.

Exhausted and upset, you will fall into your bed. You will deal with this in the morning. Everything will be better then.

Or so you will think. At precisely 6 AM, your brother will call your cell phone, awakening you from your slumber. You will shed your blankets and unlock the door to let him in, then fail to fall back asleep. Small children will begin to roam the house moments later for they too will have been awakened by your brother's return. You will curse your life, and you will tend to the cake.

Thankfully, your brother will have deposited a tin of chocolate sprinkles on the counter. He is much kinder to you now than he used to be, and he will have brought them home for you at your request. However, as you attempt to press them into the sides of your refrigerated cake, they will do nothing but crack the frosting and sadden you. In a streak of brilliance, you will grab the blow dryer and attempt to melt the outer layer of the cake, but you will succeed only in melting the interior and further drying the exterior. The sprinkles will fall to the floor as you try hopelessly to apply them anyway, and you will add sweeping to your growing mental "to do" list which already includes the likes of washing dishes, cleaning counters, and pulling out your hair.

As you eye the trash can once more, your mom will enter the kitchen and try to set you up with a friend of hers. You will be flattered, but dumbfounded. You will have cake on the brain. You will be furious with said cake. It will not be the time for boys.

You will then consider that you are, in fact, insane.

You will accept it.

You will build a bridge.

You will get over it.

You will slice the Dobos Torte and you will vow to never, ever, do this to yourself again.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

In all seriousness, this cake is ok. It's not great, it's not awful, it's ok. I think I must have messed it up because this is, supposedly, the Dobos Torte recipe, and it's honestly the worst (and least attractive) cake I have ever made. But I'm not mad. It was a challenge. The failure is funny. I enjoyed it. Honestly, I'll probably try it again in the future just to see if I can actually get it right.

Anyway, the recipe I am going to provide is the one I used (I halved it though), but I would suggest this one because it's the one Marija of Palachinka recommends and that girl knows her stuff!

Dobos Torte via Ruszwurm
Makes a 9 inch cake

For the sponge cake
6 eggs, separated and brought to room temp
1 c (125 g) flour
1/2 c (120 g) sugar

Preheat the oven to 350F. Oil and line as many 9 inch pans as you have. Or, as I have recently discovered, you can line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper that you have traced 9" circles onto. Simply spread the prepared batter onto the rounds if preferred!

Beat the yolks with 1/4 c (40 g) of sugar to the ribbon stage and set aside.

Whip the whites with the remaining sugar to soft peaks, then add the ribboned yolks a little at a time. Beat until fully incorporated, then fold in the flour. Divide batter into six portions, pour into prepared pans then bake each for approximately seven minutes, until the top is no longer sticky and springs back when touched. Cool each briefly in the pan, invert onto a rack, and cover so they won't dry out. Set aside one layer on a sheet of wax paper.

For the cream filling
9 eggs, room temp
1 3/8 c (300 g) sugar
3 sticks + 1 tbls (400 g) butter, room temp
1/8 c (30 g) vanilla sugar (I just used a tsp of vanilla)
1/3 (50 g) vanilla pudding powder (kinda wasteful, but I did it anyway. For authenticity! However, I bet Jello didn't exist back when this was first made)
Scant 2/3 c (100 g) melted chocolate, cooled

Whip the butter and chocolate. Set aside.

Combine the whole eggs, sugar, vanilla pudding mix, and vanilla sugar (do not add vanilla extract at this point, if using), in a double boiler and place over heat. Continuously whisk until the mixture reaches 175F. Pour into the bowl of a stand mixer and whip 10 minutes on high speed, then add the whipped chocolate butter.

For the caramel via Cafe Chocolada

1 c (200 g) granulated sugar
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice

Caramelize the sugar over medium-high heat, keeping a close eye on the pan. When it starts browning remove from heat, stir in butter, and lemon juice. Mix well, and return to heat, whisking until thoroughly combined. Pour over the reserved cake layer, let cool briefly, then slice the cake into 16 equal wedges.

Assembly

Spread a thin layer of cream filling over a round of sponge, then top with a second layer. Continue building the cake in this fashion, then frost the top and sides. Pipe 16 equally spaced piles of cream around the perimeter of the cake, and arrange the caramel-covered slices over them. Pipe a dollop of cream in the middle. Apply chocolate sprinkles to the outside, if desired.

Monday, March 22

Reinvention - {Monkey Balls}

The winner of the cake dome is.....

Rosin - entry number 44!

I will be contacting you shortly for your mailing address! Thanks for entering, guys!

Sitting cross-legged on my bed with the spine of a new cookbook spread over my lab, I'm turning pages quickly and expectantly. Eager to see something new and unique within the tome, I devour the photos and recipes inscribed on the clean sheets. Meanwhile, two undeniable urges swell within me; the craving for an unknown taste and the desire and challenge of an unfamiliar method.

But I'm unsatisfied as I approach the final pages, left disappointed in the face of the index. Almond biscotti, banana pancakes, chocolaty delight brownies, dates-nut cake... The list is neatly-organized and plain, but littered with all of the same-old dishes that leave me in this saddened state. I often feel as if every possible flavor combination has been explored and that everything that ever will be made has already been made. Almost as if there is nothing left to do but repeat, repeat, repeat.

Needless to say, I don't like the feeling.



But still I find good in it; dwelling long enough generally leads to inspiration. Don't get me wrong - I love homey chocolate chip cookies and classic chocolate cake as much as the next girl, but sometimes I just want something new and different. Something the world has never seen before.

P recently spent a a number of days considering this thought, frustrated by his current inability to bake the majority of the sweets in his repertoire while living in India. His goal was to come up with something unlike anything dessert he had previously encountered.

The kid's always got to be "special," you know?

;)

After a week of thinking, P developed this recipe for Monkey Balls; fried balls of sweet dough filled with cinnamon and sugar. Call it an inside-out doughnut hole if you like, but I've never seen these ingredients combined in this particular way and I think it's pretty freakin' fantastic. It's an ingenious and delicious creation, developed in an environment where, to my knowledge, sweets of this nature aren't too common.

All of which is an inspiration in itself; the staples behind the dessert have been available for decades, but have only just now been united in this fashion. I've always wondered how many brand-spankin' new recipes are yet to be developed. In what new ways will mix our flour, sugar, eggs and butter in the future? There was a time when cakes, breads, cookies, custards and the like didn't exist, and there are millions of possible combinations, so what's next? It's such a cool thing to think about.

What do you think? Have you ever tried to reinvent the wheel?

Monkey Balls recipe from P
Curious about the name? It was inspired by that of monkey bread because of the obvious similarities. Also, P is just kinda immature, but it's ok; everyone likes him anyway! These sweet bites are soooo good. Well worth the time and the calories. Trust me - I know these things! Makes about 15.

Sweet Dough
1 package instant dry yeast
1/2 c (118 ml) water at 110F (44C)
1/3 c (66 g) sugar
1/2 c (118 ml) milk, warmed
1/3 c (78 g) butter, melted and cooled to room temp
1 egg, beaten and at room temp
1 tsp salt
3 1/2 to 4 c (438 to 500 g) flour

Combine the yeast, water and sugar and let set about five minutes until the yeast is activated. Mix in the milk, butter, egg and salt, and begin adding the flour in about 1/2 c (71 g) increments until it hold together. Turn out onto a well-floured surface and knead about fifteen minutes, adding more flour as needed. Place into a well-oiled bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about an hour. Make filling (below) while the dough rises.

After the dough has risen, dump it onto a lightly floured surface. Gently flatten the dough with your fingers to redistribute the air slightly. Pinch off a walnut-sized ball of dough, then flatten into a round. Fill with about a 1/2 tsp of filling (below) or sprinkle the center with cinnamon and sugar. Fold up edges into a ball shape, pinching seams to seal. Set on a lightly floured tray and cover. Repeat until all of the dough is gone, then place the formed monkey balls in the fridge overnight, or at least 8 hours.

After the dough has rested, place it in an cool oven, along with a small boiling pan of water. Wait half an hour for the dough to warm and rise slightly. Meanwhile, heat oil to 365F (185C) and prepare a cooling rack by resting it upside down on a pile of paper towels to soak up excess oil.

After dough has risen for the final time, gently move two or three at a time to the hot oil. Fry about a minute on each side, then remove to cooling rack over towels, flipping after about 15 seconds to a clean area. Allow to cool slightly, then enjoy!

Monkey Ball Filling
It's completely fine to simply fill the balls with a dry mix of cinnamon and sugar, but I used the following combination. What can I say - I was channeling my inner Paula Dean!

1/4 c (59 g) butter, softened
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 c (36 g) brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

Beat the butter until slightly aerated and add the cinnamon and brown sugar. Beat until light, about five minutes, then add the vanilla. Whip briefly to combine, then use.

Tuesday, March 16

Myth - {Blueberry Pie}

Gingerly lacing my fingers through straps and gently grazing sleeves, my efforts allow aging hangers to slide from left to right over their track in the closet. Not without a bit of coercion however, as the winter months have not been kind to the strain placed on the metal bar. Packed to capacity - and then some - spring and summer clothing bulges this way and that, slipping from a hanger here and hiding between two garments there. All of it thoroughly eager to burst forth for the season, but strangely reluctant to come out of hiding. One article, in particular, has been evading me with a great amount of success. For hours.


As I rest from an exhausting shift of searching, savoring the first bite of this homey blueberry pie, I picture the places I've last seen the dress.

Surely, it was hanging on the rack near my room. However, tilting backwards on two chair legs, I can see the rack, and I see no dress; only its ghost, etched in my mind's eye.

If not there, then the closet? But alas - I've searched inside - twice - even carefully examining the floor beneath for crumpled but loved pieces.

Every room has been scanned twice. Each box dumped, refolded and repacked, each bag emptied, reorganized and re-stuffed, and each closet scanned and checked and gone through. So where is it?


The last bite of my slice stares upward from my berry-stained plate. Mocking me -- like the dress. I can picture it in so many places and in so many memories, but I can't connect anything with its current resting place. Perhaps folded, perhaps hanging and perhaps compacted into a forgotten lump; it's somewhere. Somewhere filled with shorts and tank tops and sleeveless shirts, all of which shielding my sight and hiding my prize.

I'm beginning to get frustrated as I rinse my plate in the sink, but decide to give the search one last try.

And, of course, the dress was hiding right under my nose in the first place I looked.


As most things seem to be.

Printable Recipe
Pie Crust via Fannie Farmer
Makes enough for 1 double-crust 9" pie.

2 c (250 g) flour
1 tsp. salt
1/3 c (78 g) shortening, chilled
1/3 c (78 g) butter, frozen
4 Tbls cold water (may need more or less)

Mix flour and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Add chilled shortening and place in freezer. On a chilled plate, grate butter with a cheese grater using the larger holes. Add to shortening and press mixture gently with fingers until it resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle water over the dough, tablespoon by tablespoon, and mix with a fork just until combined. Compress into a ball (try not to knead too much!) and flatten into two equal-sized disks. Wrap well in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours (or up to a week). Allow one half to set on a floured table for ten minutes before rolling, then roll, being sure to maintain a circular shape, and transfer to pie shell. Trim and tuck under edges, then dock bottoms and sides. Chill while you prepare the filling.

After the pie is filled, roll out the top crust and add in a few slits to allow steam to escape. Flute and bake as directed.

Blueberry Pie adapted from All Recipes

1 1/8 c (224 g) sugar
4 Tbls + 1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
3/8 tsp salt
3/4 tsp cinnamon
6 c (888 g)frozen blueberries, defrosted and drained of juices.
zest of 1 lemon
1 Tbls lemon juice
1 recipe pastry for a 9 inch double crust pie (above or your favorite)
1 1/2 Tbls butter
1 egg yolk + 1 Tbls water
Coarse/sanding sugar

Preheat oven to 425F (220C).

Mix sugar, cornstarch, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Add blueberries and top with zest and juice. Mix gently with hands to combine, then pour into prepared and chilled pie crust. Dot with butter and cover with remaining pie crust, fluting edges.

In a small bowl, combing egg yolk and water. Brush over pie and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for about 50 minutes, setting a piece of aluminum foil over the top for the first 30, until crust is golden brown and juices appear slightly thickened. Cool on rack 2 hours before slicing and serving with ice cream and fresh berries.

Saturday, March 13

Happiness - {Our Strawberry Blonde Cake}

I'm outside in a t-shirt, and I'm... Warm.

What is this?



I've spent the past few months starved of sun. True, this winter wasn't memorable weather-wise - and I must admit that I have a tendency to exaggerate the chill - but it's well-understood that the simple nature of winter leaves one cyclically under a thick covering of clouds. Blanketed, so to speak, by this unwelcome and vast palette of greys for so long, my soul has hungered for little more than a clear view of that bright orb over the horizon.

And perhaps some coffee. And a cookie. And new shoes.

But most importantly, my dear readers, that sun. And finally, after far too long, I think it's back for good. Or at least until Friday... The forecast isn't looking too good then... But in the meantime - before Friday! - I promise to make good use of my sunglasses and to free my pale shoulders! I can't wait for this week to begin because, to me, so few things are better than the feeling of the sun's warmth.

But I guess these come close... Layers of graham crackers, chiffon cake, vanilla-bean panna cotta, strawberries and caramel all work together to create my interpretation of Cold Stone's signature creation titled Our Strawberry Blonde. It was a fun project inspired by my foodie friend, Z, and definitely something I never would have thought of doing myself! I'm definitely happy that she brought it up though, because these are awesome!



But before you get to that recipe, you might be interested in something else.

Now, I don't know about you, but I have this problem with plastic wrap. I hate it. It's awful. It ruins frosting, doesn't always stick, leaves goopy spots all over everything... All of this on top of it sticking to itself and refusing to cut - do you know what I mean? Since I've never been a fan of tupperware, I stick mainly to cake domes. They're pretty, functional and I've never had one fight back!


This giveaway is closed! Thank you for all of your entries! Please check here for the winner's name!
So, on that note, how would you like to win one? Hmmm??



I was recently contacted by Jason of CSN stores and offered $60 with which to buy an item to giveaway to one lucky reader! Excited, of course, by this opportunity, I began to check out the shops, fully expecting to pick the prize that day. However, I instead found myself drooling over the selection - their inventory is nothing short of amazing! It took me days to whittle down my choices, finally selecting this lovely dome as the prize.

Seriously, go check this place out! They have everything from cribs to bird cages to barstools and everything in between; all with competitive prices, free shipping on many items, a satisfaction guarantee and a fantastic return policy. Not to mention the fact that these are obviously some great people to deal with - I mean, come on, they're giving this away to you guys. What's not to love?

All you have to do is visit CSN and leave a comment including one thing that makes you happy. Is it the sun? Your dog? Their fantastic barstool selection? I wanna know!

Details

  • This contest is open only to residents of the US and Canada
  • One comment per person
  • Winner will be selected using random.org
  • Winner will be contacted by email. If no response is made after 48 hours, a new winner will be selected, so be sure to leave an email address!
  • This contest will end on March 21st 11:59PM


So, did you enter yet??


Our Strawberry Blonde Cakes
I'm going to be honest with you and tell you that these are time consuming. They took quite awhile to make, but they're delicious and, I think, well worth the effort!
Printable Recipe

Caramel Sauce via Simply Recipes
1 c (199 g) sugar
6 Tbls butter
1/2 c (118 ml) cream

Measure out your ingredients ahead of time and have them ready.

Cook the sugar in a sauce pan with tall sides, stirring while it melts to make sure it cooks evenly. After it comes to a boil, refrain from stirring. Swirl the pot if necessary. After the sugar has reached a nice amber color, add the butter piece by piece and whisk to combine. It will bubble up, so be careful! Remove from heat and add cream slowly - it will bubble up again. Pour into a bowl to cool.

Chiffon Cake via Alton Brown
This is one of my favorite cake recipes!

1/2 c (63 g) cake flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 egg whites, at room temp
2 egg yolks, at room temp
1/3 c + 1 Tbls (85 g) sugar, divided
1/8 c (31 ml) water
1/8 c (31 ml) vegetable oil
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 325F (165C) and prepare a 12 1/2 x 17 1/2 pan by oiling it, lining it with parchment, and oiling again.

In a medium mixing bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Place the egg yolks and 1/3 c (71 g) of the sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk on high for 2 minutes or until the mixture becomes pale yellow and 'ribbons' when lifted. Add the water, vegetable oil and vanilla and whisk to combine. Add the dry ingredients and whisk just to combine. Transfer the batter to a mixing bowl while you whisk the egg whites.

Place the egg whites and cream of tartar into a clean bowl and whisk on high using the whisk attachment, until it becomes foamy. Decrease the speed to low and gradually add the remaining ounce of sugar. Increase speed to high and continue whisking until stiff peaks form, approximately 2 minutes.

Transfer 1/3 of the egg whites to the batter and whisk until well combined. Add the remaining egg whites and fold in gently. Transfer batter into prepared pan. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean or the cake reaches an internal temperature of 205 to 210F (96 to 99C). Remove from the oven to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely. Cut out rounds of cake with ring molds, split and store.

Graham Crackers via 101 Cookbooks

1 1/4 c plus 1 Tbls (156 g) unbleached pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 c (71 g) dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/8 tsp salt
3 1/2 Tbls (50 g) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen
1/6 c (39 ml) mild-flavored honey, such as clover
2 1/2 Tbls whole milk
1 Tbls vanilla

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Pulse or mix on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off on and off, or mix on low, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal.

In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, milk, and vanilla extract. Add to the flour mixture and pulse on and off a few times or mix on low until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours or overnight.

Sift an even layer of flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be sticky, so flour as necessary. Cut out circles with ring molds. Place the crackers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets, dock with a fork and chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes. Repeat with scraps.

Adjust the oven rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat the oven to 350F (180C).

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the tough, rotating the sheets halfway through to ensure even baking.

While cooling, trim with ring mold to retain shape after spreading.

Perfect Panna Cotta via David Lebovitz
This will make a little more than you need, but just pour it into an oiled mold and pretend it was intentional. You'll thank me for it!

2 c (473 ml) heavy cream (or half-and-half)
1/4 c (50 g) sugar
1 tsp vanilla, or 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 packet powdered gelatin
3 Tbls cold water

Heat the heavy cream and sugar in a saucepan or microwave. Once the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract (if using a vanilla bean, scrape the seeds from the bean into the cream and add the bean pod. Cover, and let infuse for 30 minutes. Remove the bean then rewarm the mixture before continuing).

Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water in a medium-sized microwave-safe bowl and let stand 5 to 10 minutes.

Pour the very warm Panna Cotta mixture over the gelatin and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.

Chill about 40 minutes, until the panna cotta is thick and holding it's shape fairly well. Whisk to eliminate lumps, then use in construction as described below.

Construction
Just as FYI, I use 3 x 3 molds.

Cover on side of two graham cracker with warmed caramel and sandwich a piece of cake. Do this seven more times, for a total of 8 sandwiches (or double however many molds you're using). Place one in the bottom of each ring mold.

Cut strawberries into desired shapes or simply dice. I trimmed the cheeks off of a few particularly large berries and cut with a small flower-shaped fondant cutter. I would advise you to simply dice the berries; the shape is hardly discernible! Arrange around edges of cylindrical mold and sprinkle in center, if desired.

Pour in prepared and chilled panna cotta, then top with remaining cake sandwiches.

Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.

To remove from molds, run a sharp knife around perimeter. Place on serving plate and drizzle with warmed caramel. Enjoy the fruits of your labors!!

Thursday, March 11

Distraction - {Cinnamon Rolls}

Rigid after a long walk and an even longer phone call, my barren and numb fingers find comfortable recluse within the deep pockets of my coat. Unable to twist the enclosed loose change between my fingertips as I so often do, I awkwardly crumple my frozen digits into a fist for warmth whilst conversing with S. After walking a few paces, not far from where I had been waiting, she gently opens a large lobby door. Unpretentious and a little worn, the room had little more to offer than two doors; one labeled "office" and the other left unannotated with a small window, through which you could see mailboxes and a staircase.

It was comfortable. Exactly what you'd expect of a college town apartment building.



S knocked twice on the office door, and was quickly welcomed in. Thirty minutes later we were signing papers; dates of birth, current addresses, social security numbers, parent's names, blah, blah, blah. The actual events of the meeting were, as one might expect, not very interesting, but what is exciting is that it resulted in me signing the lease for my first apartment! S and I are both really excited to move in this August. Despite the fact that we'll have to spend money on food, living in the apartment instead of the dorms will save the two of us a couple thousand dollars each over the next two semesters. Of course, I can't make many judgments about the place for now since I'm not living there, but I have to say that the location is fantastic; just a block north of the middle of campus.

I also noticed that the windows face west, which is perfect for taking shots after class when the sun is finishing its arc over the sky. Awesome.

Not to mention the fact that I'll have a kitchen. All the time. Well, not when I'm in class. Hopefully that doesn't serve as too much of a distraction... Oh! I mean the kitchen - not class.

I think.

Anyway, my thoughts are interrupted by humming static; a combination of an unsatisfiable craving for shiny new kitchen gear, a sudden interest in interior design and the prospect of breaking in said kitchen. Suddenly things like stylish garbage cans, mirror-like baking sheets, sleek flour canisters, pretty silverware and awesome barstools are incredibly captivating! I can't wait to deck out the new place with S, so long as she doesn't mind me covering every flat surface with an array of sweets, especially these cinnamon rolls. I mean, come on, what better way is there to break in a new place than fluffy and sweet cinnamon rolls?



I'll give you a clue: there isn't one.

Clone of a Cinnabon via All Recipes
I've tried a lot of cinnamon roll recipes in my day, and this is, by far, the best one I've come across!
Printable Recipe

Sweet Dough
1 c (237 ml) milk at 110F-115F (43-46C)
2 1/2 tsp yeast
1/2 c (99 g) sugar
4 1/2 c (563 g) bread flour
1 tsp salt
1/3 c (78 g) butter, melted and cooled to room temp
2 eggs, room temp

Cinnamon Sugar Filling
1 c (142 g) brown sugar, packed
2 1/2 Tbls cinnamon
1/3 c (78 g) butter, room temp

Pour the milk over the sugar and yeast in a large bowl. Let set ten minutes. If bubbles form, you can continue. If not, toss and try again!

Meanwhile, in another bowl, combine the bread flour and salt.

After yeast has been activated, add eggs and melted butter. Begin adding the flour in 1/2 to 1 c increments until it is firm enough to roll by hand. Pour onto a lightly floured counter and knead, working in remaining flour, until gluten is fully developed. About 15 minutes.

Place dough into a well oiled bowl, oil the top and cover with plastic wrap. Place in fridge overnight or at least 8 hours.

In the morning, after dough has at least doubled, roll out to about 1/4" thickness on a lightly floured surface. If the dough is too elastic, cover and let rest ten minutes before you resume rolling. The ideal dimensions are 16x21. Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl, then spread butter over the rolled dough, leaving an 1" clear on the side farthest from you. Sprinkle over and press in the filling, then roll, sealing the clean 1" by wetting it slightly with water. Cut into 12 pieces with floss (using the cinnamon flavored stuff is totally optional! :D) and set each individual piece onto a lightly floured or greased sheet pan or baking dish. Be sure there is at least an inch between each roll or the rise will be affected. Let set, covered, in a warm place until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400F (204C) and watch this while you bake. It's childish and probably inappropriate for some, but it's so inexplicably funny!

Bake risen rolls until golden brown, about 15 minutes. While rolls are baking, prepare...

Cream Cheese Frosting
3 oz (85 g) cream cheese, room temp
1/4 c (50 g) butter, room temp
1 1/2 c (234 g) confectioners' sugar (may need more or less depending on desired consistency)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp salt
2 Tbls maple syrup (optional - my addition)

Beat together cream cheese and butter until well combined. Sift in confectioners' sugar, bit by bit and add salt. Beat about 5 minutes until light and fluffy, then briefly beat in vanilla and maple syrup, if using. Spread frosting on warm rolls before serving.

Tuesday, March 9

Monster Hunting - {Cupcake Sugar Cookies}

Ten years ago, when my family moved into this house, I had to share a room with my brother, D. This was undesirable, of course, because the infuriating brat called me a butt head, made fun of me and rather enjoyed passing gas. He was extremely skillful in the art of making me cry, scream and tattle; and could do so in a way that ensured that I was the one who would get into trouble. In a jealous rage, I hated him for this. You see, in secret, I was in awe of the genius that the troublesome nine-year-old displayed. How could he possibly be capable of behaving in such a way and why in the world couldn't I do the same right back?

He's stopped, of course, but a decade has passed and I still don't understand.

But I can't say that sharing a room with him was all bad. He warned me about the witches, goblins and monsters that roamed our house in the night, after all. You know, like a good brother would. He would tell me how they crept from corner to corner, waited in the closets and shimmied under the bed. He made it clear to me that I was never to look at them - only he could - or they would devour me whole, letting nothing of my existence escape; not even a shrill cry for help. All I knew of their appearances was that, according the him, all of horrendous creatures had an odd resemblance to myself. But that was mentioned in passing and was of little importance; I was just to know that the monsters were there, they wanted to eat me, they looked like me and I was to ignore them.



I was fortunate that he taught me this concept so quickly, for I was soon relocated to a renovated office on the first floor. My new bedroom, just off the kitchen, had no creepy closets in which the monsters could hide, and I felt safe knowing they were only under my bed. I just had to be sure to jump a bit farther when I was going to or getting up from my bed and I would surely be safe. Easy.

Luckily, after years of jumping and the development of some seriously strong calves, the monsters left my brother and I in peace. I think they grew weary of living in a smelly boy like D's room, but my parents claim it had something to do with us making it up. But they're clearly wrong. I mean, D and I obviously have more experience with monsters than they do, and I have undeniable proof that they exist. Really.

They've returned, you see. Well, at least one of them. I know this because they leave evidence. Not slime or hair or severed limbs, but dishes. Lots and lots of dishes. Piles of dishes. And flour all over the counter, in addition to sugar granules and traces of rogue batter. They make a mess of the stove top and deplete my supply of butter and eggs, overfilling the garbage can at least once daily with refuse associated with the two along with empty bags of flour and sugar. They dirty my favorite spatulas and leave tracks of floured footprints all over the kitchen. They allow royal icing to harden on the side of the toaster and even hide some of my favorite ingredients!

And worst of all, they make their way into my room and retrieve cake domes and serving platters, onto which they lay random and completely unintelligible assortments of cookies and cakes and pies and tarts and --

Wait a minute... This monster sounds a lot like me... Perhaps my parents were right; maybe it was all in my head...



Nah.

Sugar Cookies secret recipe via my friend, A; given recipe via Southern Food
Ok, to be completely honest with you, I am not at liberty to post the exact recipe I used for these. You see, it was given to me by a good friend in secret, and I do believe a good portion of his family would be quite upset to know that it had been leaked. Out of respect to him and his family, I cannot share the exact recipe, but I'll give you something quite similar. They'll be almost as good, but they'll also be missing one or two secret ingredients.... Maybe you can figure out what they are?

3 1/4 c (406 g) flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c (118 g) butter, softened
1 c (199 g) sugar
1 egg, room temp
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 c (118 ml) sour cream, room temp

Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt into a small bowl. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Ass the egg and mix two to three minutes more until very well blended and lightened in color. Add vanilla and sour cream, mix well, then sift half of the dry ingredients into the dough. Beat just until combined, then sift in remaining dry ingredients. Mix lightly to fully incorporate, then divide dough in half, wrapping each in plastic wrap. Chill for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 400F (204C) and lightly flour a table. Roll dough to about 1/4-inch thick. Cut with lightly floured cookie cutters and place shapes on a baking sheet. Chill at least ten minutes before baking. After the cookies have chilled, bake on lined sheets 8-10 minutes. Allow to cool for about two minutes on the cookie sheet, then move to a cooling rack. Frost with desired frosting when cooled.

Royal Icing
I also have a super secret recipe for sugar cookie frosting, but I went with royal icing today because it gives the sleek look I wanted. If the thought of raw eggs makes you squeamish, check out this page. I suppose you don't have to decorate them with cupcakes, but even an eight-year-old knows they're more delicious that way...

3 egg whites, room temp
pinch salt
flavoring (I used vanilla. I also like a little lemon juice or extract)
1 lb (454 g) powdered sugar, more or less
food color (I used gel)
water

Beat the egg whites until foamy, then add salt and flavoring. Begin sifting in the powdered sugar, bit by bit, beating well after each addition until the desired consistency is reached. Divide into bowls and add food color, if desired. Add water to thin or more powdered sugar to thicken. This stuff is pretty forgiving. Be sure to keep bowls/tools covered with a damp cloth to ensure that it doesn't dry up before you use it!

Sunday, March 7

Doughnuts On Ice - {Doughnuts}

I spent a year filling orders in a Dairy Queen kitchen. Flipping burgers, toasting buns, dosing out condiments and tackling special orders taught me a lot about time management and organization. Immersed in a new reality, inhabited by myself and the other members of our lovable motley crew, I felt like I was really growing as a person. We were a little dysfunctional, but we worked together very well.

When I was first hired, I couldn't wait to start making ice cream cones, banana splits and blizzards; I knew that handing them over to adorably impatient little kids, wide-eyed with anticipation, would make my day! But when I was assigned to the grill team, I was terribly disappointed. I wanted to learn how to do the trademark curl, but instead, I discovered, I would be temp-probing meat patties, placing pickles, stacking cheese and investing in good face wash.



But I soon found that I enjoyed the kitchen work. I mean, it wasn't exactly glamorous, but it was practical; juggling so many food orders at once made me a much more confident cook and taught me skills that could be applied to life outside of work, unlike extruding bucket after bucket of soft serve into staling cones and too-big cups. Plus, it didn't take me long to realize that the little kids I so longed to serve weren't as adorable as I had naively envisioned them being; quite the contrary, actually. Van-fulls of little brats were carted into our little shop on a daily basis, and oftentimes their parents were even worse than they were! Don't get me wrong, we had a lot of great customers and a number of regulars (so many cute older couples go to DQ together! It always made me smile), but I always felt bad for the poor cashiers and the "chill" team because some of the behavior they had to put up with was just awful! Because of this, I began to appreciate working "behind the scenes."

Although I appreciate what I learned back then, I don't think about it often. Yesterday, however, was different. As I stood with my shoulders hunched unattractively forward over a dutch oven filled with hot oil, I thought about all the time spent in that kitchen and how comfortable it's made me around fryers. Even on a frozen lake.



Straining to read the meat thermometer rigged questionably on the lip of the dutch oven through my sunglasses, I stood with a pair of tongs in one hand, a tray of partially risen doughnuts in the other, and my feet planted firmly on the ice. Each doughnut was carefully flipped and extracted at the appropriate time, rested briefly on a cooling rack, then doused with confectioner's sugar by three of my good friends.

Following our doughnut production (and consumption!) came the frying of tortillas, potatoes and fish (all caught locally and earlier this season), carried out by my dad's friend, Mr. R, who's the best fry cook I know! Gathered for end of the season ice fishing and celebration of the brightening weather, guests at this year's Pike Party were rewarded with seriously good food and seriously full stomachs; filled not only with the aforementioned goodies, but also with homemade salsa, homemade burrito bites, homemade brownies, a keg of my dad's homebrew and an assortment of store-bought snacks.

Great friends, great conversation, great food and great memories. The party was a huge success!



Oh, an we caught some fish, too!

Doughnuts via Pioneer Woman
This recipe is fantastic and I will be making these again and again and again! Makes about 18.
Printable Recipe

1 1/8 c (266 ml) whole milk
1/4 c (50 g) sugar
2 1/4 tsp (one package) instant or active dry yeast
4 c (500 g) flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs, beaten and at room temp
10 tbls (142 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temp
Canola Oil (for frying)

Place the sugar in the bowl you plan to make the dough in. Set aside.

Heat the milk in a small saucepan or in the microwave to 110F-115F (43C-46C). Meanwhile, put the sugar in a large mixing bowl. When milk is the correct temperature, pour over sugar, stir to dissolve, then add the yeast. Let set at least five minutes until foamy.

Measure the flour and salt into a bowl, and stir to combine. Set aside.

Add beaten eggs and cooled butter to the yeast mixture and beat well (I used the paddle attachment on my stand mixer) to combine. When the mixture is thoroughly combined, begin adding the flour mixture in 1/4 to 1/2 cup increments, allowing it to mix in very well before the next addition. When the dough starts to become quite thick, pour it onto a lightly dusted counter and knead. Do not add much more flour than is called for unless absolutely necessary and dust the counter lightly if needed during the process. Knead until the gluten is well-developed and it passes the window pane test.

Form the dough into a rough ball and place in a well oiled bowl. Rub a little oil onto the top of the dough, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or at least 8 hours.

In the morning, place chilled dough on a well-floured surface and roll out to a thickness of 1/4 inch to 1/3 inch. Cut with desired size cutters (Mrs. Drummond recommends 3 inch and 1 1/2 inch), and place cut rounds onto a lightly-floured baking sheet. Repeat process with rerolled scraps. Cover with plastic wrap or a light towel, and allow to rise 1 to 1 1/2 hours in a warm place. They should appear very fluffy and quite a bit taller.

My method is to place the pans in a cool oven with a pan of water that has been brought to a boil placed on the rack beneath them.

When the doughnuts are ready to be fried, heat oil in a deep fryer, dutch oven or cast-iron pan to 375F (195C). Carefully add one or two doughnuts at a time, letting them cook about one minute on each side. Remove from oil with a slotted spoon, allowing excess grease to drip into pan, then place on a pile of paper towels. Flip to a clean part of the towels after five seconds and allow to cool completely. Repeat and be sure to keep a close eye on that oil temperature!

Chocolate Glaze via Alton Brown

1/2 c (118 g) unsalted butter, chopped
1/4 c (59 ml) whole milk
1 tbls light corn syrup
2 tsp vanilla
4 oz (113 g) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 c (312 g)confectioners' sugar, sifted

Combine butter, milk, corn syrup, and vanilla in medium saucepan and heat over medium heat until butter is melted. Decrease the heat to low, add the chocolate, and whisk until melted. Turn off heat, add the powdered sugar, and whisk until smooth. Place the mixture over a bowl of warm water and dip the doughnuts immediately. Place on a cooling rack and allow glaze to set for 30 torturous minutes before serving.

Tuesday, March 2

Cold Feet - {Alfajores}

On a chilly February day, I find myself venturing carefully down the sidewalks of the main drag just north of campus. Although dutifully cleared, the walkway is menacing and slick under my shoes. Charting my unsure steps over its surface proves to be quite a challenge, but I see myself through by gluing my eyes appropriately to my salt-stained toes. Carrying on in a semi-confident if not slow gait, my down-turned eyelashes protect bright irises from blinding and mysteriously heavy flakes. I'm almost proud of myself for keeping upright in the face of such an ambush, especially with my numbed right hand cupping my cellphone tightly to my equally numb ear.

After I've reached my destination, I shift my focus from balance to other inconsequential things. The call, of course, but mostly to the white fluff decorating the corner on which I stand. I anxiously brush a few plowed piles of snow aside with my heel as I laugh, and gently nudge cloudy crystals of salt from side-to-side as I listen.


I've recently received a fair amount of questions in regard to diet changes on my part. I understand that some of my recent postings may indicate otherwise, but I'm not going vegan. In fact, I don't have anywhere near enough of the self-discipline required to do so! I am however, helping P with a few baking related matters, most of which involve the finding and testing of egg-free recipes. And for what purpose? Because the lucky kid's in India, working to improve the diets of students who attend both the college and hostel by which he's employed. Naturally, these dietary alterations are largely nutritional, however he's been asked to introduce an assortment of American baked-goods to the girls, at the request of the school's principal.

Cool, right?

However, there are a few complications. Obtaining [what I would consider] common things like cake pans, cupcake liners or even a reliable oven is difficult where he's located. Certain ingredients are also difficult to procure, or are even obstacles in themselves. Eggs, for example, are a big issue because a fair percentage of Hindu people exclude them from their diets. Since P wants to make sure his desserts suit the diets of as many people as possible, most American recipes are simply out of the question. Especially since the poor kid can't buy flaxseed or cornstarch or other "common" egg replacers.

I'm doing what I can to help him find simple recipes that can tolerate a lot of guesswork because without a proper scale, thermometer, oven or even a set of American measuring cups, it's difficult to be very accurate. Despite this, he's already managed to churn out Peanut Butter No-Bakes, his brownies, my brownies, pancakes and syrup, hard candies, fudge and... P, what am I forgetting? My point is, the kid is roughing it, if you'll excuse the term, hardcore, and doing some pretty awesome stuff. He's even played around with a bread starter (appropriately named Godzilla), inspired largely by Jeffery Steingarten's The Man Who Ate Everything and a very humorous chapter in Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential (two great reads, just in case you were curious)! P's experiences have made me really learn to appreciate all the supplies I have access to in the US.

Back to that chilly February day:

At this point in our conversation, I can't feel my hand. Either of them, really, because I've been switching them on and off four over an hour to combat the effects of the wind. But that's a negligible detail; my entire consciousness is consumed by our conversation about saltwater taffy, which he made (without a thermometer and on a joke of a stove-top) one evening to entertain guests. What a ham. He really enjoyed laughing at me about it too because even though I have access to what I would consider necessary tools, I still managed to burn both of my hands and screw up the taffy in spite of it all just a few days prior.

Lame.

He continued his story, but I had to cut him off. Not because the call was getting expensive, but because I saw S rounding the corner and it was time for us to take a big step into the real world.

But I think that's another story for another day...


So, what does all of this have to do with Alfajores? Absolutely nothing. They're just delicious, and I think they got me extra credit in Spanish 201. Either that or brownie points with the teacher. Both are good when exam time rolls around, right? Haha!

So enjoy! Be sure to really cherish and appreciate your measuring cups/scale and ingredients while you make these!

Alfajores via CDKitchen
Don't be scared by the unholy amount of cornstarch in these. It's the correct amount - I promise! This produces a lovely and soft dough, but be sure to keep it well chilled while you work or it will stick and you'll be sad! These delicious gems are well worth the effort.
Printable Recipe

1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk (or Dulce de Leche if you want to speed up the process!)
1/2 c (63 g) all-purpose flour
1 1/4 c (148 g)cornstarch
1 Tbls baking powder
6 Tbls (85 g) butter, softened
1/2 c (99 g) sugar
1 Tbls lemon zest
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1/2 c (47 g) shredded unsweetened coconut

Preheat oven to 425F (220C).

Pour sweetened condensed milk into a baking dish, cover with aluminum foil and place in larger, shallow pan. Fill larger pan with hot water, being sure not to let the water spill into the dish containing the sweetened condensed milk.

Bake 1 1/2 hours or until thick and caramel-colored, checking water level after 45 minutes and adding hot water if needed.

Let cool, then cover and refrigerate until needed.

Sift together flour, cornstarch and baking powder in a medium-sized bowl and set aside.

Beat butter, sugar and lemon zest on medium speed until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Beat in whole egg, then egg yolk, scraping down the sides of the bowl from time to time.

Add half of the sifted ingredients and beat on low speed just to combine. Add the remaining half and beat just until dough comes together. Form two to three disks out of the dough, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

Place a disk of chilled dough on a well-floured surface and roll out with a floured rolling pin to an even 1/4-inch thickness. Cut out circles of dough and arrange 1 inch apart on cookie sheet.

Re-roll scraps as necessary, being careful not to overwork the dough. Refrigerate cut shapes 15 minutes, then bake for about 10 minutes, until they have just set and are slightly puffed but not at all colored. Let cool for 1 or 2 minutes, then move to a cooling rack.

Fill cooled cookies with cooled dulce de leche, then roll in coconut. Tightly wrap and refrigerate leftovers.