Sunday, February 27

500 - {Yeasted Doughnuts}

"I'm Heather," she told me while swiftly turning a chair in my direction. After I introduced myself and sat down, she fastened a black smock around my neck, turned my chair toward the mirror and directed her eyes, now brimming with polite patience, into my own from over my left shoulder. I quickly explained the cut I wanted to her, and she, understanding, nodded and lead me to another chair.

Heather instructed me to lean back and caught my hair over the basin of a black sink with thin hands. I stared silently at my salt-stained shoes for a few seconds before asking how her day had been, fervently hoping that she would be up for conversation and receptive to the prompt. (Have you ever sat through an awkwardly quiet haircut? Not fun!)

Fortunately for me, Heather was more than happy to chat. She told me that she liked her job, that she had been cutting and styling hair for six years and that she had been having hard time not cutting her own for the past few months, as she was trying to grow it out. Hanging in elegant coils around her face and down her back, her hair was perfectly styled and in far better shape than mine had ever been. She was dressed in red and intermittently singing along to the love songs on the radio - clearly 100% made-up and in the spirit of Valentine's Day - which lead me to ask a question:

"Do you have any Valentine's Day plans?" I asked, fully expecting to hear about the romantic night her boyfriend had planned for her, how many weeks she'd been looking forward to the evening and precisely how long she'd spent getting ready that morning.

Instead, to my surprise, Heather was suddenly drained of her bubbly-ness. Altogether stopping the snip, snip, snip of her scissors, her eyes dropped and her stare became lost in the distance. Crap, I thought, feeling nervous anxiousness fall all around me like locks of hair on the smock. I struggled to find a way to erase the words that had stupidly passed through my lips; hesitating to look further at her reflection. But before I could think of anything, she managed to find herself, and explained to me that she was single, and had been for two years, but still planned to go to a party with a friend that evening. She ended the sentence with a smile that seemed half genuine and half forced.

I couldn't tell how she felt anymore. Our conversation showed signs of continuation, and her upbeat nature had returned, but I sensed that that was half forced, as well.

I nodded agreeably to the next words she shared, but I was surprised at where our exchange was going. It seemed to me, based on her new focus on dieting, that Heather was unhappy with her appearance.

And I couldn't believe it.

I tried to be supportive as she told me about the drops she was taking and the 500 calories a day she was consuming. I tried to be supportive when she told me that she had lost 10 pounds in a week and that she couldn't wait to keep losing weight. But when I looked at her; a thin girl with perfect hair, a pretty face, a good sense of humor, a kind personality and loads more fashion sense than myself; I couldn't help but feel bad that she couldn't see herself for who she truly was.

Someone who didn't need to change.

I know I'm not skinny, but I'm ok with how I look and how I act, so I don't punish myself for enjoying food. I was sad to think that she didn't have the same luxury.

But what was even more bothersome was the way she was going about losing weight. Yes, I understand it's frustrating to not be able to shed pounds. I've been desperate to lose weight before too, so I know what it's like to think you've discovered a quick fix. But truthfully, there isn't one. It's not healthy to eat 500 calories a day, and I don't see how you could ever be happy in life if you continually refused yourself food - one of its simple joys. I knew Heather's plan was formulated with the intent of making her happier, and I tried to respect her thoughts, but it was hard to keep my mouth shut.

In a voice free of judgment, free of frustration and free of condescension, I did tell her that I didn't think she needed to lose any weight. She thanked me, of course, but I knew it didn't mean anything to her. What she really needs, I know, is to hear that same comment - from herself.

And believe it.

Yeasted Doughnuts adapted from Alton Brown
After getting my hair cut, I went home and ate three of these. Just saying.
Printable Recipe

1 1/2 c (355 ml) milk
1/3 c (70 g) vegetable shortening
1/3 c (78 ml) warm water (95F to 105F)
2 pkgs instant yeast
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 c (50 g) sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
4 1/2 c (640 g) flour, plus more for dusting surface
Peanut or vegetable oil, for frying (1 to 1/2 gallons, depending on fryer)

Heat milk and shortening in a small saucepan until the shortening has melted. Pour into a small bowl and set aside.

Pour the warm water into the bowl of your stand mixer, and sprinkle on the yeast. Let set for five minutes until bubbly. After 5 minutes, add the milk and shortening mixture, first making sure the milk and shortening mixture has cooled to lukewarm. Add the eggs, sugar, salt, nutmeg, and half of the flour. Combine the ingredients on low speed using the paddle attachment until flour is incorporated and then turn the speed up to medium and beat until well combined. Add the remaining flour in 1/2 cup increments, combining on low speed at first, and then increase the speed to medium and beat well. Change to the dough hook attachment of the mixer and beat on medium speed until the dough pulls away from the bowl and becomes smooth, approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a well-oiled bowl, cover, and let rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.

On a well-floured surface, roll out dough to 3/8-inch thick. Cut dough using a 2 1/2-inch round cutter and a 7/8-inch ring for the center. Set on floured baking sheet, cover lightly with a tea towel, and let rise for 30 minutes until very fluffy. Re-roll scraps once, if desired.

Before frying, lay three layers of paper towel on your counter and place an inverted cooling rack over them to wick away oil.

Preheat the oil in a deep fryer or Dutch oven to 365F. Place the doughnuts into the oil, 3 to 4 at a time, and cook for 1 minute on each side, turning with tongs or chopsticks. Transfer to cooling rack, flipping after one minute to drain other side.

Allow to cool for 15 to 20 minutes before glazing.

Doughnut Glaze via Alton Brown
Printable Recipe

1/4 c (60 ml) whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 c (312 g) confectioners' sugar
Food coloring

Before making the glaze, fill a bowl large enough to hold a medium saucepan with warm water, being careful not to add so much that it will overflow when the pan is dipped in. Set aside.

Combine milk and vanilla in a medium saucepan and heat just until warm. Sift confectioners' sugar into milk and whisk very slowly, being careful not to create bubbles. When fully incorporated, add food coloring until your desired color is reaches and remove the glaze from the heat. Place saucepan in the warm water. Dip doughnuts into the glaze, 1 at a time, and set on a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Friday, February 18

Think - {Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Italian Meringue Buttercream}

Enjoying the damp, dark quiet of an unremarkable night, I'm walking alone on the sidewalk. It seems to move beneath my feet like a giant treadmill and I find myself feeling, although mobile, quite stationary. Lighted by street lamps and porch lights, the path ahead is clearly defined, empty, and normal; but somehow it seems as if my steps are being delivered at the sounding of my souls.

I imagine, briefly, the satisfying thud calling forth the next foot of Earth. Buildings drag by and cracks slip away - each sight eventually erased by a few swift steps and a blurry peripheral view. I picture the great gears associated with turning the ground and wonder how the track will be replaced after years of shoes like mine tear and fray it to shreds. I know this straight path will take me far enough to reach my house, but I wonder, then, how much farther I would have to walk until it looped around.

Just how large can this treadmill be? I ask myself. But then, more importantly:

How long, exactly, have I been doing homework?

I shake the imaginary treadmill from my consciousness and attribute its conception to the materials in my backpack. A drained laptop, a pair of worn notebooks, a scratched calculator, and a single dulled pencil; all remnants of an evening spent preparing for exams.

And now, as evening has turned to night, I'm drained. I realize that I've studied myself into a mild state of senselessness and now I'm paying for it with lucid visions of insanity.

I hold the conclusion for a moment, pitting the worth of grades against that of sanity. Not just for myself, but for everyone. From the particularly studios inhabitants of the library (in other words, not me) to the drunk porch inhabitants adding spark and zest to my walk. Grades are certainly important - I know - but there's a balance to be found.

Because you can't allow imagination - what I suddenly realized I had called senselessness - to become foreign. Otherwise it's all down hill from here.

Deep Chocolate Cake adapted from Allrecipes
This is a very dense, moist and chocolaty cake. It's my go-to, and it never EVER lets me down. The recipe below will make two 6-inch layers. Doubling it will produce, two 9" layers.
Printable Recipe

1 1/3 c (166 g) flour
3/8 c (33 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 c (118 g) butter, room temp
1 1/2 c (213 g) brown sugar, lightly packed
2 eggs, room temp
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 c (157 ml) sour cream, room temp
2/3 c (157 ml) hot coffee

Preheat oven to 350F (175C). Oil and line either two 6-inch pans. Set aside.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, soda and salt in a large bowl and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar, until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until very well incorporated. Add the vanilla. Being sure to scrape the bowl often, pour in a third of the dry ingredients, mix until just combined, then add half of the sour cream and mix until just combined. Repeat, then add the remaining dry ingredients. Gently stir in the hot coffee, and pour into prepared pans. Bake 35 to 40 minutes. Place baked cakes in pans on a cooling rack for ten minutes, then remove the cakes from the pans and allow to cool completely before continuing.

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

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

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 the syrup is fully incorporated, beat the frosting 7-10 minutes until the outside of the bowl is room temp. Lower the speed to medium-low and begin adding the butter, tablespoon by tablespoon, beating until fully incorporated before adding the next piece. The frosting will deflate a little, but
it's ok. Once all the butter has been added, return the speed to high and keep whipping until the frosting comes together. Add the vanilla and beat until incorporated.

Chill the cakes for at least two hours, then split them. Fill with Italian Meringue Buttercream and crumb coat. Frost and serve at room temp.

How to stack and crumb coat.
How to frost a cake.

Sunday, February 13

How to Frost a Cake

There are many, many, many ways to frost a cake. Ultimately, the technique you choose to use will be based on what makes you comfortable, but I'm hoping that this guide will give you a place to start!

How to Frost a Cake
A step-by-step guide penned by Kaitlin and photographed by P

Offset Spatula(s)
Spoons or knives may cut it when it comes to frosting cupcakes, but these are the way to go when it comes to frosting cakes. They're available in a variety of sizes and shapes, but I think the best two to have in your arsenal are the 8" model and the 13" one.
Bench Scraper
In my opinion, this is the secret to getting a smooth layer of frosting. With a little practice, this will become one of your favorite tools.
Dishers/Portioners/Ice cream scoops
If you don't have one of these, a large spoon will get the job done, but since I have a few (they're good for portioning cookies), I'm using a #24 (1 1/3 oz) scoop today.
I always use a turntable to frost cakes. It's an unnecessary investment if you don't frost cakes with any regularity, but if you do, you'll be so happy if you buy one. Look for them at small cake supply stores - they usually sell them there cheaper than you can find them at craft stores. If you really, really don't want to buy one, rig one up yourself like Alton Brown did in Season 6 Episode 15 of Good Eats.
Non-Slip Pad
Slip one of these under your cake on the turntable and you will thank me, I promise.
Rubber Spatula
I never leave the house without one!
Additional Bowl
You will use this for collecting crumby frosting.
A filled and stacked cake on a stand or cardboard round
Yeah, yeah - I know this and the next point are obvious, but I'm just covering my bases. You've got to frost something, right? (P.S. I got this cake stand at Home Goods)
Use whichever kind you like - this technique is universal. Feel free to head over to my tutorials for Swiss Meringue and Italian Meringue, if you'd like some help with those, too!

I don't have a photo for the first step, but it's important, so listen up! Before you begin, you'll want to "deflate" your frosting a little to remove what may become obnoxious air bubbles. To do this, beat you frosting on the lowest speed possible of your stand/hand mixer for about five minutes, then proceed.

Starting with a stacked cake, drop on a small amount of frosting for your crumb coat. I used 2 scoops from a 1 1/3 oz disher. You don't need too much; this first layer of frosting will be very thin because it just there to hold in crumbs and prevent them from getting in the final coat.

Press the mound of frosting down and out with your offset spatula, spreading from the center to the edge. You can drag the offset along the top of the cake, but don't scrape it so hard that it tears.

This whole task is easiest to do if you use a swiveling motion with your wrist; tilting it gently left and right as you spread to more easily maneuver the frosting. This technique might not make much sense when you read it, but I think it's a natural movement. Truthfully though, the most important thing is to make sure that you're comfortable. Do what works for you!

Continue spreading the frosting outward from the top so that it hangs over like this. This is how you will crumb coat the sides.

Using the same swiveling motion, begin spreading the frosting around the sides of the cake. Don't be alarmed if working at this angle feels awkward - it always feels kind of strange. Also, don't worry if dabs of frosting fall off the cake. Just scoop any stray bits up and keep working with them. However, whatever you do, DO NOT use your offset spatula, which is surely covered in crumbs, to scoop additional frosting out of its container. If you need more frosting for your crumb coat, use the disher/spoon to put more on top. Once you get crumbs in your frosting, they can be very difficult to get out, so be careful.

Also, if you'd like to scrape the built-up frosting on the back of the spatula off, don't be tempted to do so on the cake's corners (the 90 degree angle consisting of the top and the side). Scrape the spatula on a separate empty bowl, then scoop up the residual frosting to add back to the crumb coat, if needed.

Continue working the frosting around the sides of the cake until every inch - from the top to the bottom - is covered.

Now it's time to thin the frosting, which helps really seal in the crumbs. Start with the top, using your offset to pull frosting from the edge of the cake, over the center and sweep the excess off. Run the underside of your spatula over the edge of a separate bowl (mentioned in step 4), then sweep across the top repeatedly until most of the frosting has been removed.

Use your bench scraper, held at about a 45 degree angle to the cake, to scrape off additional frosting by spinning the turntable toward it. Don't press too hard, which could cut the cake, but press firmly enough that it scrapes some frosting off. Transfer frosting to your designated bowl and set aside.

Congratulations - you've got yourself a crumb-coated cake! Most of the frosting has been removed, leaving you with a nice, thin coat to seal in crumbs and prevent them from bugging you in the next few steps.

Using your disher, scoop on a pile of frosting. Some people put on what they estimate to be enough to frost the top and bottom of the cake at this stage, but I don't like to do it that way. Seeing that much frosting all at once freaks me out and I always have a problem with it falling off the cake before I've finished applying it. However, that method does work for some people, so I advise you to do whatever makes you comfortable!

I put on 3 scoops, which I thought would be enough to cover the top of the 6" cake and a little bit over the edges. However, this amount won't be enough for every size of cake, so be sure to adjust accordingly. One thing to learn from the alternate method is that more is better for this job, so don't be frightened about piling it on!

Using the same method that you used when you filled the layers of the cake, flatten out the mound of frosting with your offset spatula and work it out just over the edge (like in step 3), maintaining an even layer of frosting. It can be as thick or thin as you like; just make sure that you can't see the cake beneath it. Turn the turntable while you work, and spread in circular motions to even things out. Don't worry about getting it too perfect at this point because we'll come back to it later.

Before applying more frosting to the sides, flatten out the overhang.

After that's done, use a clean rubber spatula to scoop more frosting out of the bowl and transfer it to your offset spatula. You can simply scoop with the offset, if you like, but doing so increases the risk that you will get crumbs into your batch of frosting. Gently touch the loaded spatula to the side of the cake and begin spreading, being careful not to sweep your offset outside of the available frosting, which could introduce crumbs.

I worry about crumbs a lot. Have you noticed?

Continue spreading the frosting around the cake, applying excess frosting around the top rim of the cake which we will be using later to smooth out the top. Begin on the high side of the edge and work your way... the bottom. It doesn't need to be too smooth for now, just try to make sure the coat is fairly even without too many low spots. Also, note the raised edge that I mentioned in the previous step. Make sure that you have this, or it will be difficult to smooth out the top later. If you've forgotten, add it at any time by applying small dabs of frosting to the top edge.

Ok, you're in the home stretch! The cake doesn't need to be any smoother than this at this point, and it would be just fine if it was messier. The next few steps will even everything else out.

This is the trick to a smooth cake: the humble bench scraper! You'll use it just as you did before (by holding it still at about a 45 degree angle and turning the turntable toward it), but this time you have to be very much in control of the pressure you're applying so you don't leave marks. Keep your hand very steady and still, and remember that you aren't necessarily trying to remove the frosting, you just want to even it out. Be sure that the bench scraper is perpendicular to the stand so that your cake isn't at all conical.

This step takes practice, but don't be discouraged. Keep at it! After two or three sweeps all the way around, move on to the next step.

Ok, so you've probably noticed that there are some uneven spots on your cake. Don't worry - you haven't done anything wrong! Use a CLEAN, DRY offset spatula to apply small amounts of frosting to the low spots, then use a CLEAN, DRY bench scraper to re-smooth.

After you are satisfied with the edges of your cake, move on to the task of smoothing the top. Use a longer spatula, if you like, but this 8" one is what I was comfortable with for a cake this size. Place your spatula just beyond the side furthest from you at about a 45 degree angle, aligning the bottom edge with what you estimate to be the height of the inner layer of frosting...

... And scrape the frosting toward you, sweeping off when you get to the center of the cake. Clean your offset spatula.

Repeat this technique around all sides of the cake, cleaning the spatula each time, sweeping the last raised edge into the center, just as before.

Professionals would probably tell you to stop there. However, sometimes I'll add a little more frosting on top and spread it thinly over any imperfections, being very careful not to sweep it over the edges. But really, if there are a few marks on the top (or sides) it's not a huge deal!

Guess what? YOU'RE DONE! Continue decorating the cake any way you like or just leave it as is.

Don't stress yourself out over getting the frosting just so. If you start getting frustrated with it, stop and remind yourself that you're doing this for fun. Who cares if it's perfect? It's a cake. You're just going to eat it, anyway!

Thursday, February 10

How to Assemble a Layer Cake

Filling a cake is a pretty straightforward task, but I thought this guide might be helpful to people who are just learning to work with layer cakes.

Please keep in mind that this is just my way of doing it. As you practice, you will become more and more comfortable with the process and figure out what works for you and what doesn't. This is a starting point, so just focus on having fun!

So, without further ado:

How to Assemble a Layer Cake
A step-by-step guide penned by Kaitlin and photographed by P.

Offset Spatula(s)
Spoons or knives may cut it when it comes to frosting cupcakes, but these are the way to go when it comes to frosting cakes. They're available in a variety of sizes and shapes, but I think the best two to have in your arsenal are the 8" model and the 13" one.
Serrated Knife
These are the best tool for splitting cakes. I recommend a long, thin, sturdy blade like this one. You don't need to spend a lot of money, but be aware that a flimsy knife will bend and make your cake slices convex/conical.
Dishers/Portioners/Ice cream scoops
If you don't have one of these, a large spoon will get the job done, but these will help you put an even amount of frosting between each layer. I'm using a #24 (1 1/3 oz) scoop today.
Serving Platter or Cardboard Rounds
You need to eventually serve your cake on something, right? You can either frost your cake directly on a stand if you like (I got this one at Home Goods), or, if you prefer, frost it on a cardboard round and then transfer it to something else.
I always use a turntable to frost cakes. It's an unnecessary investment if you don't frost cakes with any regularity, but if you do, you'll be so happy if you buy one. Look for them at small cake supply stores - they usually sell them there cheaper than you can find them at craft stores. If you really, really don't want to buy one, rig one up yourself like Alton Brown did in Season 6 Episode 15 of Good Eats.
Non-Slip Pad
Slip one of these under your cake on the turntable and you will thank me, I promise.
(Yeah, yeah - I know this and the next point are obvious, but I'm just covering my bases.)
Always use chilled cake. I would advise against using frozen ones because they can be near-impossible to cut, but definitely make sure that they've been in the refrigerator for at least 3 or 4 hours. This will make them easier to handle because the cakes will be firmer and therefore less likely to crack and easier to halve (split).
Use whichever kind you like - this technique is universal. Feel free to head over to my tutorials for Swiss Meringue and Italian Meringue, if you'd like some help with those, too!

Place the first of your baked cakes on a turntable, dome side up. Using your hand to slowly turn the cake and the turntable, gently saw around the edge of the dome. In the first rotation, you don't really want to cut too far into the cake - you just need to make a path for the knife to follow on the next pass.

Turn the cake again and guide your knife carefully through the path you just cut. Saw gently back and forth as you do so, cutting about an inch toward the center on each side with every rotation. Be patient and go slow! Pay careful attention that you are keeping your knife completely horizontal. If you happen to get a little off track (as I did in the above photo) don't fret; just try to realign the knife and keep sawing your way around the cake. Keep turning until you slice all the way through, then remove the dome and set aside. I'm sure you'll find something to do with it.

Place your hand, again, on the top of your newly-flattened cake. Place your knife halfway between the top and bottom on the side (estimating is fine - you'll get better with practice) and use the same method to halve it as you did to cut off the dome. First make a path, then saw gradually as you turn the cake.

When you've finished halving, or "splitting" the cake, set the layers aside and repeat with your remaining cake round(s).

I like to frost directly on a cake stand, but, as I said before, some people like to frost their cake on cake rounds. Whichever is your preferred method, Be sure to place a non-slip pad between it and the turntable. Without it, your cake will slide all over the place and be impossible to frost.

Once you've got everything set up, put down one layer of cake and prepare to fill.

Like I said before, using a disher/portioner/ice cream scoop for this step allows me to get consistent amounts of frosting between each layer. This one is a #24 (1 1/3 oz), but the size isn't terribly important. Just put on however much frosting you (or your guests) you like. For this cake, I dished 2 1/2 slightly mounded scoops out of the bowl...

And onto the first layer of the cake. Try to pile them over the center of the cake so that it will be easier to spread them evenly.

Place your spatula on the center of the frosting and gently push it down and out toward the edge, turning the cake to distribute. Think of it like rolling a pie crust; put more pressure on the center and work it out toward the edges without passing over them. As long as you keep the length of your spatula within the mound of frosting, no crumbs will find their way into it.

Also, whenever you need to remove your spatula from the cake, "sweep" it off by sliding it from one side of the frosting to the other, then off, in a fluid motion. If you lift it straight up, you'll risk tearing the cake.

Try to make the frosting as smooth and level as possible so that your cake will be flat when stacked. After you've finished spreading the filling, carefully transfer another layer of cake over it and repeat the process with all but one layer of cake.

At this point you are ready to put on the final layer. Exciting, right?

Carefully transfer the last layer over the frosting cut side down. This will help prevent excessive/unnecessary amounts of crumbs from getting into the final coat of frosting.

After the entire cake has been filled and stacked, it's time to move onto crumb-coating and frosting...

Sunday, February 6

Designated - {Butterscotch Chocolate Chip Cookies}

With a cooling rack full of cookies behind me, it's no surprise that I'm on high-alert. Elbow-deep in the sink, my ears are working as hard as my hands, scouring the room for sounds as I scrub the grease off a baking sheet. I mentally check and recheck the locations of every living thing in the house, acutely aware of my surroundings and entranced with the thought of protecting the cookies.

J and C, my step-dad and younger brother, are the two people I've got to worry about the most. I know, for now, that they're focused on the living room TV, anxiously leaning forward in their seats with PS3 controllers fixed between their fingers. Their game-based dialogue is like a foreign language, becoming increasingly convoluted and muffled as it travels the length of the hall to infiltrate my solitude. Their energetic exchange leads me to believe that they're too far into their storyline for a cookie break, but one can never be sure.

Sudden footsteps send a chill up my spine, but after recognizing the accompanying clack clack on the floor as a result of my dog's nails, I'm calmed.

Mom, I know, is in the living room with J and C. However, although she is quite unlikely to ask for a sample, she's definitely the most likely to come into the kitchen. Probably with an empty coffee cup, I imagine, checking the level in the carafe during a routine glance around the room. But it's empty, which means she's probably not drinking any this morning and that I'm probably pretty safe.

So, I've located my mom, my step-dad, my younger brother and my dog. At this point the dishes are clean, the cookies are cool, and I am all prepped to photograph.

But then, timidly and from around the corner, C's voice is barely audible:

"Sissy...? Can I have a cookie?"

I've got to tell you: I really hate to tell them no. I love that my family and friends are so anxious to try the things I make that they don't want to/can't wait for me to photograph them. But I'm so wary of letting them blindly pick and wandering off with the one - the most photogenic baked good of them all - in hand that I can't just say, "yes! Go right ahead."

So they're afraid of me, which explains C's timidness. It comes as no surprise, really. In all honesty, more than a few overreactions on my part have warranted them the right to be fairly frightened. I hate that it's true, but you know what? It's ok. Especially since I've got a system now, devised in my very early days of food photography.

"Yes," I tell him, drawing two plates from the kitchen cabinet and placing them on the counter in front of him. "Just give me a second."

Transferring each cookie to a designated plate, I quickly sort through the ones I would like to photograph (the beauties) and the ones I don't want to (the rejects). It's a brief process, but it's an important one that, today, ends with me selecting the cream of the crop from the plate with the highest yield:

"Here you go, C. The most horrendous cookie of them all. THE reject. For you."

He's happy. I'm happy. The camera comes out and the cookies are saved.

Until the next time, that is...

Butterscotch Chocolate Chip Cookies via P
Make sure you make these cookies kind of large so you get a range of textures when they're baked! Feel free to use any flavor of pudding mix that you like/have on hand. These cookies are very adaptable and easily customizable. This will make about 33 cookies which, if they last, will taste even better on the second day.
Printable Recipe

1 1/2 c (213 g) flour
1 c (142g) whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 c (149 g) sugar
1 1/4 c (177 g) brown sugar
2 eggs, room temp
2 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp milk
1 tsp nutmeg
1 c (208 g) butter flavored shortening
1 (1 1/2oz or 42 g) pkg butterscotch-flavored instant pudding mix
2 Tbsp honey
1 1/2 c (355 ml) instant oats (corn flakes or puffed rice cereal are also good!)
1 1/2 - 2 c (355 ml - 473 ml) chocolate chips

In a large bowl, mix together the flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the sugars using a fork to break up any lumps in the brown sugar. Set aside.

In yet another small bowl, beat the eggs, vanilla, milk and nutmeg, on high until light and fluffy.

In a final, large bowl, beat the shortening until it's fluffy. Add half of the sugar and beat until incorporated, then add the second half. Beat on high until grainy (there's too much sugar for this to get fluffy like you might expect it to), about 3 minutes. Add in the pudding mix and beat until combined.

Pour in half of the egg mixture and beat until incorporated. Repeat with the second half, being sure to scrape the bowl. Drizzle in the honey and beat until fluffy.

Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until just incorporated. Scrape the sides of the bowl and repeat, adding the rest of the dry ingredients in two portions. Gently fold in the oats and chocolate chips.

Preheat the oven to 350F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Portion dough into approximately 1/4 c balls (or use a 1 3/4 oz disher) and place on baking sheets about 2 inches apart. Bake for 15-17 minutes, until the edges just begin to brown. Transfer sheets to cooling racks and allow cookies to cool on the sheets for about 5 minutes before transferring to cooling racks.

Thursday, February 3

Close - {Chocolate Covered Cherries}

When I was little, it took but a light dusting of overnight snow to centralize my morning routine around our television. I would prepare - and consume - my breakfast in front of the screen, pack my backpack on the living room floor and put on my socks while sitting on the couch, all the while taking healthy glances at the box in an impressive stupor, much to the chagrin of my parents.

Repeatedly, they told me to hurry up, and although I may have hastened my movement to some degree, I didn't really listen. I would continue with my routine, but my head would be turned toward the television.

Checking for school closings.

Old school.

I don't want to say that I was sure, but I was certainly hopeful. Hopeful that the snow on the ground would be enough to call the whole day off and hopeful that my district's name would, consequently, find its way into the queue spinning away on the local new station. Excitement would build as the G districts came to an end and I would hold my breath as the H districts cycled through. By the time the I districts had their turn, one of two things had occurred:

1. School was closed and I had permission to spend the morning watching cartoons instead of sitting in latchkey. Or,

2. My district's name was not on the list, and I was in denial; angrily muttering about how unfair it was that kids from districts X, Y and Z got the day off but we didn't. Mom and Dad would power down the television and it was back to business as usual.

But sometimes in the case of event 2, when I kept quiet about the exclusion of my school on the closing's list, I would sit through the cycle a few more times, hoping that there would be last minute additions.

And sometimes there were.

Sometimes we would be buttoned up and ready to leave when I spotted it and stopped the line of traffic through my kitchen. Wildly gesticulating, I would point my finger toward the screen and yell, "there! Look! SNOW DAY!" as if screaming somehow ensured that my parents would see the listing and believe me. It was satisfying to finally see my districts name on the screen, followed by a hyphen and the blessed word, closed. After waiting and watching, there it was.

But now, things are different. Two days ago when I received a phone call and an e-mail from MSU in addition to numerous texts from friends and Facebook status updates telling me that classes for the following day were canceled, I realized that the days of anxiously waiting for school closings to cycle through are nearly (if not completely) over. It's almost hard for me to believe that I ever did wait for information like that, instead of directly seeking it and having it handed to me.

Funny how things have changed, isn't it?

But one thing that hasn't changed is how much I love snow days. Having the day off yesterday was just as awesome as ever, especially since I was snowed in with my friends and a fully-stocked kitchen.


Chocolate Covered Cherries via AllRecipes
These are great when eaten right away, but they're best when prepared about two weeks in advance and allowed to "ripen" in the fridge.
Printable Recipe

About 20 maraschino cherries from an 18oz (532ml) jar, preferably with stems
1 Tbsp butter, room temp
1 Tbsp corn syrup
2/3 c (103g) confectioners' sugar
5 oz (142g) chocolate or chocolate candy melts

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Drain cherries and set on paper towels to dry.

In a medium bowl, beat together butter and corn syrup until smooth. Slowly work in confectioners' sugar and knead to form a dough. Add more sugar if the dough is too sticky to handle or more corn syrup if it's too stiff.

Pinch off about 1 tsp of the dough and press it into an oval shape between your fingers. Wrap around a cherry and pinch to seal. Set on parchment-lined baking sheet and repeat. Chill wrapped cherries until firm, about 1 hour.

Melt chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave and transfer to a tall thin vessel for dipping. Dip each chilled cherry in the chocolate, letting excess drip off, then set on the parchment to harden. If any cherries leak on the bottom or crack, dip them again. Store in the refrigerator.

Set cherries can be eaten immediately, but the filling will become more liquid after about two weeks.