Tuesday, August 31

Make - {Raspberry Ice Cream}

Although storage is not necessarily an issue thus far, traces of the move still linger in the apartment. Homeless objects are scattered here and there, longing for purpose and dignification but residing, for now, in impractical places. Printers are not often found at the foot of a bed, under a microwave and next to an old fashioned heater, but hey – it fits.

Headbands. A passport. Packs of gum. An address book. Lotions. The list grows longer each day as I inventory the deep box at the foot of my bed. Most of these things used to be kept in or on a desk, but here, as I lack one, they seem destined only for my underwear drawer.

But of course, that bothers me. A bit, at least, because I like to be organized and for everything to have a logical place around me. However, considering the fact that I don’t exactly want to invest money in a desk (don’t worry, Mom and Dad, I have other places to do homework!), nor do I know for a fact that I want one that badly, I’m going to live with it.

Thus, the box will be emptied and the drawers will be filled.

It’s bizarre to see the boxes and imagine them as nothing more than projects and obligations; a sign that I have yet to settle myself completely into my new home and a constant reminder that I’ll have to clear the room of them in some way. In the dark they trip my feet, in the day they are shoved into corners and for over a week they’ve contained the frustrated, lost and purposeless things that I probably didn’t need to bring.

In a word, these boxes are annoying.

But I hate to think in this way because it makes me feel - if you’ll forgive me - old.

It wasn’t that long ago that I would have wanted nothing more than to have these boxes in my life and that organization was just a thing for “grown ups.” It wasn’t that long ago that I would have swiftly dumped the boxes of their contents and run crayons and markers over their surfaces, taped on construction paper and asked for help to cut windows and doors. It really wasn’t that long ago that these boxes would be houses and restaurants, ships and airplanes…

Or was it?

The concept of play has, obviously, changed for me. Although it would probably be pretty awesome to start a blog about things to make with cardboard boxes (I wouldn’t doubt that one probably exists), that’s not what I did because, well, I probably wouldn’t be very good at it. The generic toys of childhood have disappeared from my interests and I’ve turned, instead, to other forms of entertainment, leaving them only to memory.

What made them so amazing to me as a kid was the fact that they could be and do anything you wanted them to. I realize that this sounds really corny and silly, but honestly - they sparked my imagination, and I loved it.

Unfortunately, I can’t appreciate boxes for what they are anymore.

But you know what? I can deal with that too because I have other “boxes” in my life. I’m still inspired by simple things, and I haven’t – and won’t – give up my imagination. I’ll continue to pack and unpack my life, using these memories to hold it together, and enjoy myself regardless of the age I keep.

That’s just how it should be.

Raspberry Ice Cream from Butter, Sugar, Flour with slight changes
Printable Recipe

1 1/2 c (355 ml) half and half
1 c (200 g) sugar, divided
1/2 tsp salt
7 egg yolks
1 1/2 c (355 ml) heavy cream
1 1/2 c (355 ml) strained raspberry puree
1 Tbls lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla

Place the half and half, 1/2 c of the sugar and the salt in a medium saucepan. Put over medium heat and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, in another bowl, beat the remaining 1/2 c sugar with the egg yolks to the ribbon stage, until lightened in color and texture.
When the half and half has come to a boil, immediately pour about 1/2 c into the egg yolks, whisking the entire time to ensure that you do not curdle the yolks. Continue adding the half and half in small amounts until about half of it has been whisked into the eggs, then pour the egg mixture into the pan with the remaining half and half and cook until thickened, whisking constantly.

Pour the hot custard through a strainer, if desired, into a large bowl. Add the cream, raspberry puree, lemon juice and vanilla. Whisk to combine, then press plastic wrap to the surface of the custard and refrigerate until very cold. I refrigerated it overnight, but this recipe suggests that you freeze it within 4 hours of making the custard to preserve the fresh taste of the berries. It is up to your discretion! After the custard has cooled thoroughly, freeze it in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions.

Thursday, August 26

Space - {Fried Egg on Toast}

It’s bizarre to stand in a kitchen and call it my own.

Particularly when said kitchen has just under one and a half square feet of counter space and an oven that I think will take some serious getting used to.

There rooms here are sparse, in the new apartment, almost as if it’s unoccupied. No frames or mirrors decorate the walls, but S’s assortment of mismatched magnets on the fridge do indicate some amount of life within. Personal belongings are hidden - somewhere – organized in closets or boxed in the shadow of my bed; all out of sight. The open windows breathe coldness into the near-empty room on this chilly fall-like morning, pouring light and sharing sounds all at once. Outside and below are cars, bikes and people; punctuated by the occasional unseen skateboarder’s characteristic clack clack over the cracked sidewalk and the tap tap of a runner’s shoes.

Would you believe that I got this couch for free on the side of the road?!? I have never loved a piece of furniture so much!

Passersby share their emotions through these sounds. In the music drifting from rolled-down windows is every degree of each feeling known, and in the horns are frustration and fear. The runners carry determination; the skateboarders: relaxation; the common cars: escape. A collective symphony of life and memories finds its way through the open windows at all hours.

I like it.

These noises might sound awful to some, but the noises remind me that I’m back on campus. There is life in the streets here – all kinds – and so many people just looking for a memorable experience. Their sounds are the proof; we’re here, and things are about to get interesting.

I did live in a dorm last year (and I loved it!), but this is my first time living in an apartment. So far I like it here; our bedroom, bathroom, and dining/kitchen/living room all have large windows, and even though we don’t have much furniture for now, it’s a pretty welcoming space. Unlike the sterile all-white apartments I’ve visited previously, ours has an appreciated character that has been denied to the others. The newer apartments are nice, of course, but ours has just a little extra something that makes it more homey and comfortable. The kitchen isn’t… Well, it isn’t much of a kitchen, but we’re going to make it work. You’ll see.

It will take some time, but soon this bare space will fill with things, both tangible and intangible. It will become home, and it will – hopefully - serve as the backdrop to another exciting year.

I’m ready – are you?

Fried Egg on Toast
I do hope that you won’t find this recipe insulting, as it’s not much of a recipe at all! I just don’t have much to share with you for the moment, and I don’t want to leave you hanging.
I’m not the kind of person that skips breakfast. Ever. I usually just eat cereal (Man, I love cereal!), but pancakes or eggs and toast make fine substitutes any day of the week. What do you like to eat/make for breakfast?

Butter or oil, for the pan
Slices of bread, whichever kind and however many you’d like. I like to go with 2 slices of whole wheat
Eggs, however many you’d like
Salt, coarse favorite

If you have a toaster, start toasting your bread while the egg is cooking. If you don’t have the counter space for a toaster, butter up your pan (or your bread if the butter is soft) and toast it in a skillet. Fumble around for a minute until you find an open space and set toast aside.

In a greased pan over medium-low heat, crack the egg on one side and try to keep it in a contained and small shape. Make sure you throw the shells into the right side of the cabinet under the sink. You know, the one that actually has a garbage can in it. Sprinkle the egg with salt and pepper, then cover the pan and let sit for a few minutes, checking the egg after 2 or 3 minutes. Cook to your preferred doneness (I like a just-set white and a runny yolk) and slide onto, or next to, your toast. Enjoy your simple breakfast next to an open window (with a cup of coffee if you didn’t forget to buy coffee beans from the grocery store the last time you went even though you went down that isle at least three times), then have a wonderful day!

Tuesday, August 24

How to Make Italian Meringue Buttercream

When choosing between Swiss and Italian Meringue Buttercreams, the latter is definitely the one I prefer. Although it contains the same ingredients, Italian Meringue Buttercream is more airy and light than Swiss, which is the way I like a frosting to be.

Unfortunately, I think a lot of people are afraid of this recipe because it involves cooking sugar syrup. But you shouldn't be! It's not that hard, and as long as you have a candy thermometer and keep an eye on things, you shouldn't have any trouble!

So, on with the buttercream!

How to Make Italian Meringue Buttercream
A step-by-step guide penned by Kaitlin and photographed by P.

The first thing you should do when starting any recipe is to gather your ingredients and hardware. Measure out everything before you start to be sure that you have enough and also to expedite the process. This is called mise en place, which is just a fancy French way to say, roughly, "everything in its place," and it is very, very important.

This recipe uses the same ingredients as the Swiss Meringue Buttercream:

However, before I start to explain things, I will make note of two exceptions. One is that the water is an ingredient in this recipe, and not hardware. It isn’t necessary and does slow the whole process down a bit, but because it helps the sugar dissolve more easily and evenly, I would not suggest leaving it out! The other is that there is an additional 1/4 c sugar in this recipe, but if you would like to leave it out and simply whip the eggs with a portion of the 1 c you will turn into syrup, that's fine too!
5 egg whites at room temp
You must be sure that you are using LARGE eggs or the proportions will be off. Your frosting will not set correctly if you use larger or smaller eggs (unless you compensate for the difference, but most people, myself included, are too lazy to bother). Also, it is important that the egg whites are room temperature for this recipe because room temp eggs have a more relaxed protein structure than cold eggs, which allows them to whip to a higher volume.
1 1/4 c (250 g) sugar, divided
This is granulated sugar. Do not use powdered sugar! You will be cooking 1 c and whipping the eggs with 1/4 c.
2 sticks (226 g) butter
This butter is room temperature and should be chopped into tablespoon-sized slices before continuing. You must allow your butter to set on the counter for at least 30 minutes before using or it will not incorporate correctly. If, however, you would like a shortcut, simply slice your butter into tablespoon-sized pieces and arrange them in one layer on a plate. Microwave for 5 seconds, flip over each slice, and microwave for 5 seconds longer if needed.
1 tsp vanilla extract
Well, this is more than a teaspoon's worth, isn't it? No matter; just know that you can use almost any kind of flavoring you like for buttercream. I will touch on this point later in the post...
1/2 c water
The hardware here is quite similar as well:

A rubber spatula
A stand mixer (with the whip attachment) or handheld mixer
A pot to cook the syrup in
Heavy bottomed is ideal, but I've never had a problem with any pans I've used. You want it to be fairly small so the sugar syrup comes up high enough to register on the...
Candy Thermometer
I really don’t think you should make this frosting without a candy thermometer. Cooking the sugar syrup to 245F allows the frosting to set a specific way (the syrup will form a firm ball when a drop is introduced to an amount of chilled water) with a structure ideal for holding onto air bubbles. And air bubbles are good – they make the frosting light! You can find one these all over the internet (Amazon) and at craft stores (Joann’s, Michael’s, Hobby Lobby, etc.)
Just know that if you are using a handheld mixer, and extra bowl for whipping the egg whites will be required.

The first step is to place your candy thermometer on the edge of the small pan you’ve selected for this recipe. Pour in 1 cup of sugar first, then pour the water over the top to moisten. Resist the urge to stir; it isn’t necessary and might cause sugar crystals to get stuck on the sides of the pan. These crystals could set off a chain reaction which would cause the rest of your syrup to become grainy and… Well, not what you want. Your frosting will taste good, but it will feel like someone poured sand in it if your syrup is not cooked properly.

So, how does one cook the syrup properly? Well, for starters, keep a close eye on it. Never leave the kitchen when you are cooking sugar, and be stingy with your time spent away from the stovetop. It is very important that you watch it or it may burn.
Another thing to do is to swirl the syrup. Don’t stir it or whisk it, just gently swirl the pan by the handle to ensure that the sugar crystals are evenly distributed and dissolved.

Trust me, I know it sounds scary, but it’s not bad! Just give it a shot – you might surprise yourself!

So, with these tips in mind, turn the heat up to medium and start cooking – but don’t stir!

While the sugar is cooking, pour the egg whites into the bowl you plan to whip the icing in, then wait for the syrup to come to about 230F-235F.

When it is within this range, begin whipping your egg whites. Start on a slow speed until they get frothy, then increase the speed to medium-high. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar in a slow, steady stream just after the eggs begin to stiffen and continue whipping until the meringue no longer slides in the bowl. To test, simply lift and tilt your bowl. If the meringue slips, keep whipping. If you can hold the bowl over your head and the meringue doesn’t get in your hair, it’s ready.

Be very careful not to overbeat the egg whites. The dry, grainy whites will not smooth out through any amount of additional whipping and will only serve to detract from the texture of the finished buttercream.

Ideally, whipping the egg whites won’t take very long and will be done just in time for the sugar syrup to come to 245F, or the firm ball stage. If you think you will need more time, simply start whipping your eggs a little earlier. But PLEASE don’t whip them just as you start cooking the sugar syrup – they will deflate by the time the sugar has come to temp and won’t whip correctly.

Now, this is the part that scares some people: pouring the hot syrup into the whipped whites. It sounds terrifying, I know, but if you’re very careful (and perhaps have some help!) you will be fine!

Prepare yourself by turning the mixer on high speed and immediately begin to pour the syrup - at a very SLOW and STEADY speed – into the whipping egg whites. Aim for the spot just between the wall of the bowl and the edge of the whip (if using a handheld mixer, pour the syrup into just one area of the bowl and come at it from the side with the beaters. Be VERY careful not to get the syrup on your hands!). It’s ok if you get some on the side of the bowl or the whip, but it is best not to. The pieces that harden on either piece may break off and find their way into your icing, but it won’t be a disaster by any means!

Now that the sugar is added, just beat the icing for 10-15 minutes until it is sufficiently cooled.

(During this time I like to fill the pot I cooked the syrup in with water and bring it to a boil to remove the hardened sugar from the sides. Toss in the candy thermometer too, while you’re at it)

After the meringue has whipped, it will have the consistency of marshmallow fluff.

You could, if you were so inclined, stop here and simply frost your cake with this Italian Meringue. You can also pipe this out into various shapes and bake it for a few hours at a low temperature to make meringue cookies, but… That’s another post.

So start adding the softened butter, just as before, piece by piece with the mixer on medium. I like to count to 12 or 15 before adding each new piece, but just watch to make sure that each is fully incorporated before adding the next. Oh, and make sure that you scrape down the sides with the rubber spatula from time to time!

After all of the butter is added, turn the speed up to high. The whole process will take about 10-15 minutes, but you will begin to see the buttercream go through stages after all of the butter is added. First it will deflate and become soupy, then thicken, then curdle, then thicken to the final stage. If, for some reason your buttercream does not progress from the “soupy” stage (typically due to adding the butter too quickly or the butter/meringue being too warm), simply place your work bowl in the fridge for 7-10 minutes before whipping again.

After the buttercream is thick and luxurious, pour in your flavoring of choice (1 tsp of vanilla here!) and whip to combine.

And for the final step: try not to eat it all before you frost your cake!

Now, for notes (that may or may not have been copied from the Swiss Meringue Buttercream post)!

You may use any kind of extract you like in place of the vanilla. Almond, lemon, peppermint - you name it. It's all to taste, so add more or less to your preferences. Oils are an option as well, but they are much stronger in flavor so only add a drop or two at a time. Melted chocolate can be used to make chocolate buttercream, but be sure that is has cooled sufficiently before adding it or it will make your frosting melt.

I like to use jams to flavor buttercream, but be sure that they are quite thick as too much liquid will cause the buttercream to break (meaning the fats and liquids to separate). I don't know of any way to fix it when this happens, so be careful when adding jams and drop in about a tablespoon at a time.

Using jam as a flavoring will lend color to the buttercream, but that can also be done by using food coloring. Gel and liquid colors work well (I imagine that powdered food coloring would too, but I've never used it) and are best added just a bit at a time until the desired color is achieved.

Leftover buttercream may be kept in the refrigerator for a week or two or frozen, well wrapped, until needed. Just be sure to bring it to room temperature and whip well with a beater before using.


If you have any questions, comments, or criticisms, please let me know! I will do my best to make this guide as comprehensive as possible!

I would like for my next how-to post to be about frosting cakes, but that might take some time. I’ve moved recently and… Well, let’s just say that there isn’t much counter space here…

Thursday, August 19

Wrap - {Peach and Raspberry Mousse Cake}

I never know how it happens. One second I'm asleep, and the next second passes with the fluttering of lashes and the opening of my eyes. Then, quite suddenly, I'm awake.

But not half-awake. I don't mean the kind of subtle consciousness so fleeting that one may slip from it in an instant, only to become lost, once again, in their dreams and soft sheets. I'm talking about the awake that you can't ignore. The awake that you can't let slip away. The awake that passes, "get out of bed, you lazy bum, and take a shower," into unprepared ears and jars you from your sleep.

This sudden sense of being awake used to be all I knew. I never found myself in that state of wakening and reawakening in the past because the second my eyes opened, I was always ready to go.

But not lately.

On the contrary; lately I flutter my lashes and see the sun ethereally shining through the drapes, blink once, and I am out. Of course, I never realize it's happening until it's too late. My soothed soul would not protest, but I, stepping groggily from my room around 9 or 10 on some days, have entirely different thoughts on the matter. I hate getting up so late.

I miss my jarring transition into consciousness.

I think I'm subconsciously trying to prepare myself for the looming fall semester. Early morning classes and late nights last year left me chronically sleepy; bowing my head embarrassingly in class and nearly falling from my chair on more than one occasion. I know that I can't "catch up" or "stock up" on sleep - and I don't want to - but my subconscious definitely begs to differ. Which isn't a huge problem really, it's just that getting out of bed so late in the morning doesn't make me feel all that great. I don't feel refreshed stumbling out of bed, but bogged-down instead. I feel as if I've gotten such a late start that I can't accomplish anything, and that frustrates me.

So I'm working on fixing this little 'problem' by giving myself early morning incentives. Incentives like drinking the first cup of coffee, tiptoeing through the morning dew to get to the garden and getting to the grocery store before the crowds.

They're just a few things on a long list, but you know what?

They're working.

And I feel better already.

Peach and Raspberry Mousse Cake inspired by and adapted from Sky High
The cake in the book was frosted with an unstabilized raspberry whipped cream, which I didn't like. So, instead I made two kinds of mousses a little differently than suggested for the fillings and frosted with a more stable Italian Meringue Buttercream. I think my changes made the cake a lot more structurally sound, which, in my opinion, is very important!
Printable Recipe

Cream Cake
This cake tastes good, but I had a lot of trouble with it sinking. The top layer in the cake had almost no center, which is why it didn't slice very nicely.
1 3/4 c (248 g) cake flour
3 3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 c (235 ml) heavy cream
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 c (250 g) sugar
2 eggs
2 yolks
3 Tbls buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 350F (175C), then oil and line 2 6-inch round x 3-inch tall cake pans.

Sift together the cake flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl and set aside.

In a very cold bowl, whip the heavy cream and vanilla to soft peaks. Reduce the mixer speed to low and gradually add the sugar, but DO NOT whip to stuff peaks. As the eggs and yolks and continue mixing until the batter forms soft peaks.

Sift about 1/3 of the dry mixture over the batter and fold in by hand. Repeat 2 more times until all of the dry ingredients have been added. Finally, fold in the buttermilk.

Divide the batter among the pans and bake 15-20 minutes, or until the cake springs back when touched. Allow the cakes to cool in their pans on a rack for 10 minutes, then invert onto the cooling rack. Remove pans and parchment, then let set until completely cool.

Peach Compote
I used fresh peaches for this, but I think frozen ones might be better because they are generally more uniformly "peachy." Mine didn't taste all that great on their own, so their flavor in the finished cake was not as pronounced as I would have liked.

1/3 c (65 g) sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
1/8 c (30 ml) water
1/2 lb (225 g) peaches, peeled and pitted; fresh or thawed frozen with juices

Combine in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, then cook until the peaches are soft. Transfer to a food processor or blender and puree until smooth.

Place in a bowl and allow to chill until completely cooled.

Raspberry Sauce
This makes a little extra sauce than you will need, but it tastes great drizzled over a slice of cake.

1/3 c (65 g) sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
6 oz (170 g) raspberries, fresh or thawed frozen with juices

Combine in a saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, mashing and stirring occasionally until the berries give up their juices, about 15 minutes. Let cool, then puree in a food processor or blender to smooth. Strain through a sieve to remove the seeds, if desired, then cover and place in the fridge to chill completely.

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

1/8 c (35 ml) water
1/2 c (105 g) sugar
3 egg whites
1/8 c (25 g) sugar
1/2 c (120 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 1/2 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 1/8 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 and add the vanilla. Begin adding the juice from the jar of maraschino cherries in 2 tsp increments, whipping to combine. Stop when the frosting has achieved a nice pink hue and the flavor is noticeable. Be careful not to add too much or the frosting will break.

Cream Cake, chilled if desired
1 1/2 tsp gelatin
2 Tbls water
1 1/4 c (295 ml) heavy cream
Peach Compote
Raspberry Sauce
Italian Meringue Buttercream

Slice each cake in half horizontally and set aside.

Combine the gelatin and water in a small microwave-safe bowl and allow to set for five minutes.

In another larger bowl, beat the heavy cream to soft peaks. Microwave the bloomed gelatin for 5-10 seconds to melt, then pour into the whipping cream, while beating on high speed. Continue beating until stiff peaks form.

Place 2/3rds of the whipped cream into one bowl and 1/3 into another. Gently fold all of the peach compote to the 2/3rds and a few tablespoons of the raspberry sauce into the remaining 1/3rd.

Spread half of the peach mousse onto the bottom layer of cake, then top with a cake round. Add all of the raspberry mousse to that layer, top with another layer of cake, then add the rest of the peach mousse. Place the final cake layer on top, then crumb coat with a few tablespoons of the Italian Meringue Buttercream. Refrigerate until set, about 30 minutes, then frost with remaining buttercream.

Decorate as desired and serve at room temperature with remaining raspberry sauce.

Wednesday, August 18

How to Make Swiss Meringue Buttercream

I receive A LOT of emails and comments about buttercream. I try to respond to them as thoroughly and promptly as I can, but sometimes I just don't have the time to do so, and that makes me feel bad.

Like, really really bad.

So, what I decided to do was start a bit of a "how to" series on making different kinds of buttercream. I want to be able to address any questions that you guys may have, and be able to offer guidance with step-by-step photos just so you'll feel a little bit more confident about trying out the recipes. I know that stepping away from the classic powdered sugar and butter frosting might seem a little scary, but it's really not that difficult. European buttercreams may take a little longer to whip up and may make a little bit more of a mess, but trust me - it's worth it. Swiss and Italian Meringue buttercream are less cloyingly sweet than traditional buttercream and, in my opinion, both have a more pleasant mouth feel.

Also, when you present a cake to someone and tell them that it's frosted and filled with Swiss or Italian Meringue Buttercream, it makes you sound really fancy, and that's always good, right? Especially since they never have to know that it's not that hard to make!

So, let's jump in, shall we?

How to Make Swiss Meringue Buttercream
A step-by-step guide penned by Kaitlin and photographed by P.

Swiss Meringue buttercream was the first European-style buttercream I ever made. It's a little easier than Italian Meringue buttercream and it uses nearly the same exact proportions of ingredients. The taste is identical, but the difference is evident in the texture; Swiss Meringue Buttercream is a little less light than its Italian cousin, and feels a little heavier (but not oily!) on the tongue. Because it is thicker, I chose to use it for the Super Epic Rainbow Cake for structural stability.

The first thing you should do when starting any recipe is to gather your ingredients and hardware. Measure out everything before you start to be sure that you have enough and also to expedite the process. This is called mise en place, which is just a fancy French way to say, roughly, "everything in its place," and it is very, very important.

Here we have...

5 egg whites
You must be sure that you are using LARGE eggs or the proportions will be off. Your frosting will not set correctly if you use larger or smaller eggs (unless you compensate for the difference, but most people, myself included, are too lazy to bother). The egg whites do not have to be room temperature for this recipe, but it will speed things up if they are.
1 c (200 g) sugar
This is granulated sugar. Do not use powdered sugar!
2 sticks (226 g) butter
This butter is room temperature and should be chopped into tablespoon-sized slices before continuing. You must allow your butter to set on the counter for at least 30 minutes before using or it will not incorporate correctly. If, however, you would like a shortcut, simply slice your butter into tablespoon-sized pieces and arrange them in one layer on a plate. Microwave for 5 seconds, flip over each slice, and microwave for 5 seconds longer if needed.
1 tsp vanilla extract
Well, this is more than a teaspoon's worth, isn't it? No matter; just know that you can use almost any kind of flavoring you like for buttercream. I will touch on this point later in the post...
An arbitrary amount of water
This is more hardware than ingredient, so... My bad. This water will be poured into the pan of your double boiler.
Alright, now that you have your ingredients ready, let's move onto hardware.

We will be using...

A small pan and an accompanying bowl (not pictured - oops!).
If you have a double boiler, use it! I don't, so I suffice by doing it this way. Be sure that the bowl fits well on top of the pan and doesn't set too low in it.
A whisk
A rubber spatula
An electric mixer
You can use a hand-held model or a standing model. Or just a whisk if you're crazy like P.

Begin by pouring an inch or two of water into the pan of your double boiler. If you are simply using a pan and a bowl, make sure that the bottom of your bowl does not touch the water. If this happens, your eggs will scramble and you will have to start again! After an appropriate amount of water has been added, bring it to a simmer.

Meanwhile, combine the sugar and egg whites in the bowl of the double boiler with a whisk. You are not trying to whip the whites at this point, so don't worry about creating volume. Just be sure that they are evenly combined.

When the water is simmering, place the bowl over the pan. Whisking constantly, heat until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture is quite hot to the touch (160F on a candy thermometer), about five minutes. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl every once and awhile with the rubber spatula to get all of the sugar off the sides of the pan. If all of the sugar doesn't dissolve, your frosting will taste fine, but it will be grainy and won't look smooth.

Heating the eggs and sugar has a few purposes. The first of which is that it melts the sugar, resulting in a very smooth meringue. And have you ever heard that room-temperature egg white whip better than cold ones? That's because room-temp egg whites have a more relaxed protein structure in comparison to cold ones, and heating them further only loosens that structure more. This means that heating the eggs allows them to whip to a higher volume.

Also, cooking the egg whites can serve as a method of pasteurization if you have concerns about salmonella. Just use a candy thermometer to ensure that the egg whites reach 160F before continuing, and then continue as directed.

Anyway, the whole process should take about five minutes. To test if the sugar is dissolved, just dip your fingers into the mix (don't worry - it's not going to hurt you!) and rub some between your fingertips. If it's gritty, keep cooking! If not, move on (after washing your hands, of course).

Pour the mix into a larger bowl (you may use the one from the double boiler, if you like, or a stand mixer if you have one), scraping the pan with the rubber spatula to get as much out as possible.

Begin whipping the egg whites on high speed. They will foam initially...

Then thicken slightly...

Then thicken some more...

And eventually you will have a lovely, glossy, light and wonderful meringue! It's a lot like marshmallow, at this point, and quite stiff. The bottom of the bowl should be room temperature and the egg whites themselves should have cooled. The whipping will take ten to fifteen minutes.

At this point you can begin adding butter, but only after chopping it into tablespoon-sized slices (thanks, P!)

With the mixer on high speed, add the sliced butter, piece by piece, to the meringue. Be sure to add the butter SLOWLY and make sure that each pat is completely incorporated before adding the next (counting to 15 usually works for me). Don't panic when the meringue deflates. That's supposed to happen, and it's totally fine!

Sometimes the buttercream becomes soupy after all of the butter is incorporated, and I have not been able to discern if that is due to adding the butter too quickly (which we did intentionally here) or if it is due to the butter being too warm. However, the cause is not terribly important, because I will show you how to fix it!

So, if your buttercream looks like this, don't be sad, scared, angry or frustrated. It may look more like soup than frosting at this point, but it's totally fine. All you have to do is...

Put it in the fridge. Seriously. Just let it cool for 5-10 minutes before you whip it again. You might also try adding a few more tablespoons of butter.

Of course, if your buttercream is not soupy, just keep whipping it.

But after whipping a little bit, the next "problem" may rear its ugly head. I know that that looks disgusting and curdled and just... Wrong, but it's ok. Just keep your mixer and your spirits on high...

... And keep whipping! I promise that it will smooth out.

And when it does, it is time to add the flavoring of your choice. We chose 1 teaspoon of vanilla for today, just to keep things basic.

Then we whipped it in...

And wound up with a little over 2 cups of wonderful, luscious, smooth Swiss Meringue Buttercream!

Now, to address the topic of flavorings.

You may use any kind of extract you like in place of the vanilla. Almond, lemon, peppermint - you name it. It's all to taste, so add more or less to your preferences. Oils are an option as well, but they are much stronger in flavor so only add a drop or two at a time. Melted chocolate can be used to make chocolate buttercream, but be sure that is has cooled sufficiently before adding it or it will make your frosting melt.

I like to use jams to flavor buttercream, but be sure that they are quite thick as too much liquid will cause the buttercream to break (meaning the fats and liquids to separate). I don't know of any way to fix it when this happens, so be careful when adding jams and drop in about a tablespoon at a time.

Using jam as a flavoring will lend color to the buttercream, but that can also be done by using food coloring. Gel and liquid colors work well (I imagine that powdered food coloring would too, but I've never used it) and are best added just a bit at a time until the desired color is achieved.

Leftover buttercream may be kept in the refrigerator for a week or two or frozen, well wrapped, until needed. Just be sure to bring it to room temperature and whip well with a beater before using.

I think I have exhausted my knowledge of this subject for the time being, so I would love to open this post up to anyone who has any questions about Swiss Meringue Buttercream. If you've want to ask something, please feel free to do so in a comment, or e-mail me if you prefer! I'll try to work the answers to your questions into the post if I'm able, or maybe I'll just add a small FAQ.

At any rate, thanks for reading! I hope I've been able to make at least someone feel a little better about this whole process. Keep an eye out for the next "how to" which will focus on Italian Meringue!

Oh, and before I go - I would like to thank P's family (Happy birthday to P's mom!) for allowing P and me the opportunity to use their kitchen for this project, and I would also like to thank P for all of his help!

Friday, August 13

Shadow - {Shakespearian Sugar Cookies}

Reduced to my normal self, I purge the bigness required of the stage from my persona and slip into a folding seat. A few rows back from the rest of the hopefuls, I try to catch my breath and still my knees while staring at my shoes. Alone and unable to decipher the whispers shared in the rows before me, I resign myself to my thoughts and begin to criticize my audition, starting with my silent walk onto the stage and ending with the fierce blush on my cheeks as I exited to the customary sound of applause and cheers.

As the director bellowed, "next," from his perch in front of the stage, I tried to decide if I even wanted a part in the play. I could certainly see myself getting used to the stage, but I couldn't imagine breaking into the collective of theater cliques. Where would I fit? I wasn't 'cool' enough to be friends with the leads, nor bubbly enough to team up with their ever-present comic relief. I thought I would fit in just fine with the 'extras,' but after my first high school show I realized that was simply not the case. I couldn't relate to anyone else on the stage because I was just not into this whole acting thing.

I told myself that I would never do it again.

So when the lights came up on the following shows, you wouldn't see me. My name appeared in the programs, but I wasn't Reno, I wasn't Maria, I wasn't the nameless steward and I certainly wasn't guard #3. All fine parts, of course, but I chose instead to stand patiently with a script in the wings or tethered to a light board in the box. Dressed in black and surrounded by people - no longer alone and isolated - I made a lot of friends there in the dark, and when the light receded, we would preform our perfectly orchestrated dance for no one but ourselves. Weaving through curtains and relaying information without words or sound, the world would clear and rebuild in a moment by our practiced hands, then spring from darkness into light at the flip of a switch.

I liked being behind the scenes for shows for many reasons. For one, I got to meet some really, really cool people that I never would have met otherwise, and those really, really cool people taught me how to do some really, really cool stuff. Also, I got to skip class on occasion and sometimes even got paid to do it - there's no beating that. I also liked being able to help out with the show in such a big way. Sure, the set probably doesn't seem like much to the casual show-goer, but without it, the show would be missing a little something, right? I loved that we were so necessary, but so absent. I loved the teamwork that went into making it all work. And I, of course, loved the satisfying crack of the hammer as we brought it all down in the end....

Just waiting to do it all again.

The character designs on these cookies are copied from a very cool shirt sold on Woot a few months ago. They were created by a user named Seeduvpain so I take no credit at all for their awesomeness! To see all of the cookies, you can click here, here and here.

All-Occasion Sugar Cookies via Dorie Greenspan, found at Brown Eyed Baker
The cookies taste AMAZING and I found the dough to be very easy to work with.

2 c (285 g) flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons (140 g) unsalted butter, room temp
1 c (200 g) sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla
Sugar or cinnamon sugar, for dusting (optional)

Whisk the flour, salt and baking powder together.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed for a minute or so, until smooth. Beat in the sugar and continue to beat for about 2 minutes, until the mixture is light and pale. Add the egg and yolk and beat for another minute or two; beat in the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and steadily add the flour mixture, mixing only until it has been incorporated – because this dough is best when worked least, you might want to stop the mixer before all the flour is thoroughly blended into the dough and finish the job with a rubber spatula. When mixed, the dough will be soft, creamy and malleable.

Turn the dough out onto a counter and divide it in half. If you want to make roll-out cookies, shape each half into a disk and wrap in plastic. If you want to make slice-and-bake cookies, shape each half into a chubby sausage (the diameter is up to you – I usually like cookies that are about 2 inches in diameter) and wrap in plastic. Whether you’re going to roll or slice the dough, it must be chilled for at least 2 hours. (Well wrapped, the dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months.)

Getting Ready to Bake: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350F (175C). Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

If you are making roll-out cookies, working with one packet of dough at a time, roll out the dough between sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper to a thickness of 1/4 inch, lifting the plastic or paper and turning the dough over often so that it rolls evenly. Lift off the top sheet of plastic or paper and cut out the cookies – I like a 2-inch round cookie cutter for these. Pull away the excess dough, saving the scraps for re-rolling, and carefully lift the rounds onto the baking sheets with a spatula, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between the cookies. (This is a soft dough and you might have trouble peeling away the excess or lifting the cutouts; if so, cover the dough, chill it for about 15 minutes and try again.) After you’ve rolled and cut the second packet of dough, you can form the scraps into a disk, then chill, roll, cut and bake.

If you are making slice-and-bake cookies, use a sharp thin knife to slice the dough into 1/4-inch-thick rounds, and place the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between the cookies.

Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 9 to 11 minutes, rotating the sheet at the midpoint. The cookies should feel firm, but they should not color much, if at all. Remove the pan from the oven and dust the cookies with sugar or cinnamon sugar, if you’d like. Let them rest for 1 minute before carefully lifting them onto a rack to cool to room temperature.

Repeat with the remaining dough, cooling the baking sheets between batches.

Storing: The cookies will keep at room temperature in a tin for up to 1 week. Wrapped well, they can be frozen for up to 2 months.

Sunday, August 8

Assist - {S'mores Cupcakes}

I double check for traffic, holding myself flat against my car and opening the door just wide enough to make a quick and subtle exit. Calmed by the road's emptiness, I cautiously tip-toe from the vehicle and attempt a stealthy approach toward my target, but my plan is immediately thwarted. Rickety and protesting in idle, the exhaust and associated pipes make my car rumble indecently; immature and impatient like the infantile thing that it is.

Stupid car.

I'm aware of all sounds now as I traverse the gravel. The vacant train tracks behind me and the untraveled road make no sound, but I can hear the buzz of cicadas and the chirping of birds over the tall grass and dying cattails on either side of me. Filled with tiny and numerous forms of observant life, they rustle in the wind as I near my target.

In the road before me is an object that fits in quite well with its surroundings. Dark in color and only a little larger than a closed fist, it would appear to be nothing more than a rock to an inattentive driver.

Which is precisely what I'm afraid of.

As I stand before the would-be rock, my shadow swallows it up. Momentarily withdrawing from the world, the turtle ducks quickly within his shell before deciding to scramble away instead. Backwards, of course. Out of fear, the shelled being races, without fail, for the distance and obtains only exhaustion in the frantic struggle.

It takes a few seconds, a few strides and a few carefully placed fingertips, but the turtle eventually lies safely in my possession. Still in flailing, of course, flaunting long nails and a whipping tail; but safe, whether he knows it or not, in a gentle hand.

All too often the little targets begin to backtrack before being plucked from the ground, as was the case with this one. Confused and frightened, it makes sense that he would seek protection in the environment from whence he came, but is that truly the destination he would seek? Does a turtle really want the comfort of an old home and familiar surroundings, or do they thirst instead for adventure and new sights? That is where he was headed, after all, so why not grant him quick passage and a gentle shove in the right direction?

Put yourself in the turtle's shell.

What would you want?

S'more-ish Cupcakes
I find that although the seven minute frosting is an appropriate substitution for marshmallow in these, it's simply too sweet for me. However, the cake part is absolutely fantastic. Sweetened with honey and spiced with cinnamon, they taste like the best graham cracker I've ever had - but in cake form (which makes it better, right??)! I topped mine with chopped chocolate and toasted walnuts, but top yours with whatever you like. Makes 1 dozen.
Printable Recipe

Honey Graham Cupcakes adapted from Martha Stewart's One-Bowl Chocolate Cupcakes

3/4 c (105 g) flour
1/4 c (35 g) whole wheat flour
2 Tbls cornstarch
3/8 c (53 g) brown sugar
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1 egg, room temp
1/4 c (60 ml) honey
3/8 c (90 ml) warm water
3/8 c (90 ml) buttermilk
1 Tbls oil
1/2 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 325F (160C) and prepare one cupcake tin with cupcake liners. Set aside.

Combine the flours, cornstarch, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon well in a large bowl. Be sure it is mixed thoroughly or the cupcakes might not rise properly due to unintended concentration of leaveners. Make a well in the center of dry goods and add all of the remaining ingredients. Whisk until smooth.

Divide batter evenly between the 12 cups and bake 18-20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in one comes out with only a few crumbs attached. Cool, in pan, on a rack for 5 minutes, then de-pan and allow to cool completely on the rack before frosting.

Seven Minute Frosting via O Chef

2 egg whites
1 1/2 c sugar
5 Tbls water
1/4 tsp cream of tartar (can be omitted)
1 1/2 tsp light corn syrup (can be omitted)
1 tsp vanilla

Off the heat, combine the egg whites, sugar, water, cream of tartar, and corn syrup in the top of a double boiler and mix until thoroughly blended. Place the top of the double boiler over rapidly boiling water and beat with a hand mixer or energetically with a wire whisk for 7 minutes. Add the vanilla and continue beating until the icing reaches a good consistency for spreading, and spread over cooled cupcakes.

Wednesday, August 4

Maze - {Sriracha Chicken}

With one leg extended, rocking the porch swing, I'm contemplating a single question. Because reminders of it's complexity are evident everywhere, it's one that runs through my head daily, whether I want it to or not. If you fall into the latter party, you may, of course, chose to distance yourself from the issue, but you can never truly escape. Whether you care or you don't, this one question determines much of what occurs in your life.

Who is right and who is wrong?

Some people equate the issue to morals, but that's not quite what I'm talking about. Sure, there's a relation, but those who chose to bring the morals of a God into this question for persuasion are, in my opinion, wrong. By all means, use your beliefs to pick your side choose your morals - but don't let yourself be manipulated by those hashing quotes from and references to religious scripture in order to spread their influence. All too often their MO is nothing but twisting truths and they, as such, should not be fed things like the Bible, the Qur'an or the Torah to chew up and spit out, leaving them torn, broken and disheveled on the floor.

That's just sick.

So. Back to the question.

I'm talking about politics, but rest assured that I'm not going into specific issues. They are important, but not necessarily so for this matter.

There are many ways to design a nation's government, and I feel safe to say that we become quickly accustomed to the one we're born into. Then, as we age, we learn the ways of the world through the eyes of our parents and family. Sometimes we form our own opinions and sometimes we adopt the ones of those who teach us, then we apply the concepts to our surroundings. Our own experiences, influences and morals define where we fall in the political spectrum.

This is how we asses things politically, and is also a perfect example of nurture and nature creating rifts.

When I hear people speak of politics, the words "stupid," "idiotic" and "dumb" are more heavily present than I think fair. Maybe I'm just trying to play the mediator, but I truly believe that even if the beliefs of those with opposing viewpoints astound you, you shouldn't put them down over it. Honestly, I have pretty well defined beliefs and I am, occasionally, shocked by the things people want for our government, but you know what? We're all entitled to our opinions, we're meant to have disagreements and we're all just trying to do what we think is best.

So really, when it comes down to it, the question that really sets my head spinning isn't the one I shared before. The real one is more challenging, but only a little different. It has been posed many times before, but that certainly doesn't stop me from asking.

Is there a right or a wrong?

Sriracha Chicken adapted from Bon Appetit, July 2010
I like spicy food, so this was right up my alley. The original recipe called for Piri-piri sauce, which I did not have, so I made a few substitutions. Make the glaze while the chicken cooks and serve over seasoned rice, if desired.
Printable Recipe

5 chicken breasts
1/4 c chopped cilantro, fresh
1 shallot, peeled and quartered
3 garlic cloves, peeled
3 Tbls Sriracha, more or less to taste
2-3 tsps Tobasco, more or less to taste
1/4 c olive oil
1/4 c lemon juice
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

Place the chicken in a bowl or plastic bag. Set aside.

Process the cilantro, shallot and garlic in a food processor. Add remaining ingredients and process to blend. Pour the marinade over the chicken and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight, turning occasionally.

Preheat the oven to 350F. When it comes to temp, cook the chicken, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes until cooked through.

3 Tbls butter
3 Tbls cilantro, chopped fresh
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp Sriracha, more or less to taste
1 Tbls lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt

Melt the butter in a small saucepan, then add cilantro and garlic, cooking until garlic begins to brown. Add remaining ingredients, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 2 minutes. Pour over cooked chicken.

Sunday, August 1

Flop - {Noyaux Ice Cream}

It hurt to watch the spoon fall into the sink. With a harsh clatter, the empty vehicle settled into the basin after ricocheting and jumping into stillness. The utensil was disposed of without thought, as I chose instead to focus on the unpleasant lingering taste in my mouth.

Can it truly be so... Bad?, I asked myself. Can ice cream even be bad?

I was surprised. I had not known what to expect with the recipe, but I had certainly been excited over the incredible aroma wafting through the kitchen as I put the steps to action. An aroma that was definitely present in the finished ice cream, but accompanied by an indescribable and foul residual taste that I couldn't shake. I had taken two bites; one eager, one questioning.

How did that happen?

Desiring a second opinion, I hefted the ice cream back into the freezer and got to work cleaning the kitchen. I considered the process as I scrubbed the counter, eventually pinpointing my mistake while scrubbing a stubborn spot on the counter.

I let it steep too long.


After mom tasted it and we discussed the flavor (pleasant - beautiful, really - at first but painful in the end), I set it onto the counter to melt and disposed of it around dinnertime. Really, I hate to waste ingredients, but there are some mistakes that just can't be fixed. I spent a long time contemplating possibilities, but, unfortunately, nothing seemed more appropriate than a trip down the pipes.

So I cleaned the container and put it away.

But this wasn't all a waste; I've finally memorized a recipe for plain creme anglaise, and feel not only more confident about creating my own personalized variations, but also for trying this one again. Even though the taste wasn't what I wanted it to be, the texture that this ice cream had was, by far, the smoothest I'd ever been able to execute. So that's good, right?

I have a lot of flops in the kitchen. I'm always sure to read recipes through before trying them, but last minute changes and substitutions have a tendency to throw everything off track. But you know what? I like to think that these "flops" and "mistakes" and "failures" are just my way of learning. This is how I'm figuring things out.

And you know what else? Saying it like that makes me sound like less of an idiot.

And I'm quite alright with that!

Noyaux Ice Cream via Eggbeater
Don't discount this recipe just because it didn't work for me. I'm sure it's worth it, but you must be careful not to steep too long (I let it go for an hour) or it will develop an unpleasant taste. If you are concerned with the edibility of the pits, please check out this link on Ms. Lydon's blog. It's very informative and interesting, so don't be at all surprised if you find yourself digging through the archives. You're going to like what you see!

Oh, and be sure to take the time to enjoy the incredible scent of the noyaux while smashing the pits!
Printable Recipe

3 c (710 ml) whole milk
1 c (235 ml) heavy cream
3/4 c (150 g) sugar, divided
7 egg yolks
1 - 1 1/2 c (235 - 355 ml) smashed cherry pits (I used 1 1/2 c. Can be replace with pits from any stone fruit, as I understand. Oh - and one more note: I wrapped mine in cheese cloth to make the straining process easier)

Heat milk, cream, pits and 1/4 c (50 g) sugar in a medium saucepan over low to medium heat. When hot to the touch, remove from heat, whisk and let steep 1-2 hours, tasting every 30 minutes.

When the infusion tastes as strong as you'd like it (remembering that it will taste stronger in flavor and sweetness when it's hot), bring liquid to boil and pass through a fine meshed sieve, pressing on the solids to press out as much of the liquid as you can.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the yolks and remaining 1/2 c (100 g) sugar until lightened in color. Set aside.

Bring the infused cream back to a boil, then temper into the eggs. Return the egg and dairy mixture to the stove and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened (a good test is to dip a spoon in and trace your finger from the top to the bottom. If the line stays defined and the liquid doesn't run, you can stop cooking). Strain into a bowl, press clingfilm directly onto the surface and refrigerate overnight or at least 8 hours.

When thoroughly chilled, freeze according to the manufacturer's directions for your ice cream maker.