Saturday, April 28

Jam - {Apple & Strawberry Jam Tart}

A spoon.

A spoon and a mouthful of warm jam; involuntary intoxication administered within my own apartment.

I can see his face so vivdly all of a sudden; tired skin and dark eyes staring back at me from across the imagined table.  He thought it odd, I remember, that I ordered a coffee that night.  Odd that I also asked for a tall glass of ice water and odd that I spread my pancakes with jam - not syrup.

I cleaned the jam-covered spoon between closed lips, focusing on his calm eyes while trying to decipher his half-English sentences in my half-asleep mind.  Strawberry jam.  Smuckers.  Served table-side in individual packets, likely three years old, and oh so divine.

"I like your eyes.  They're very...  Pretty."

He caught me off guard.  He was strawberry-jam-sweet, I'd noticed, and I swooned over what I assumed to be pause for romantic emphasis.  Really though, in all likelihood, his delivery was either completely rehearsed or entirely accidental.  I like to give him the benefit of the doubt, but he wasn't as sweet as he seemed.  An ok guy with somewhat devious intentions that, well, I didn't see again.

But still, I like his memory.  Fading around me is the midnight diner, and I'm delivered back to my kitchen.  His face is gone, the spoon is clean, and the taste of strawberries lingers on my palette.  Fresh coffee settles in the pot, an apple-berry tart beckons to me from the cooling rack, and I'm feeling...  Comfortable.

At the risk of sounding like I live in the past: I revel in happy memories.  I like it when they're attached to fleeting things - like a spoonful of jam - because the memories just feel more special when you do accidentally come across them.

And I think too much, you know, so I attach memories to lots of things.  I can't scoop flour without thinking of Grandma M or chop rhubarb without being reminded of Grandma F.  M&M-dotted cookies remind me of C, chocolate silk pie of A, coconut of H, lemon squares of Grandpa M and Mom, peaches of  Grandpa F, almond extract of Dad and so many others.  I can't open my pantry without the warmth of my memories embracing me, which is probably why I enjoy it so much.

So, every time I have pancakes, I remember the boy with the dark eyes and the thick accent, plus eight or nine other selected friends, relatives and interests.

More, probably, but I can't be expected to count them, can I?

It just wouldn't be right.

Apple & Strawberry Jam Tart
I made these in the morning before class one day because I had an apple in the fridge that, judging by the ones I bought with it, was WAY too sour to eat.  It's a simple galette-type-pastry.  Not particularly impressive looking, but very good!  Use whatever fruit, spices and jam you've got around. Add some sugar and cornstarch if you think you'll need it.

(Pie Crust via Alton Brown)

1 c (142 g) flour
1/2 tsp salt
8 Tbls (118 g) butter, cut into 1/4" cubes and chilled
4 Tbls water, cold
1 apple (I used granny smith)
Lemon juice
Strawberry preserves

Combine the flour and salt in a medium-sized bowl. Add the butter, then cut in using two forks, a pastry blender, or your hands. Continue working in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add just enough water to bring the dough together and knead a few times to ensure that the flour is evenly moistened. Press into a 1" thick disk and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to two days.

While waiting for the dough to chill, cut the apple in half and remove the core. Slice thinly and keep the pieces together so that when you are done you can just press the apple in order to fan out the slices. Sprinkle with lemon juice and set aside.

When ready to roll, dust your counter with flour. Remove the dough from the fridge and let rest on the counter for 10-15 minutes to allow to warm slightly and become more workable.  Divide in half and roll into two rectangles, about 9 x 5 each, I 'd guess.  Trim the sides so they are straight. 

Before assembling the pastries, set the oven to 450F.  Spread the center of the pastry with a thin layer of jam and arrange one half of the apple on each piece.  Sprinkle with cinnamon.  Fold the edges over the pastry over the fruit, brush with cream and sprinkle with sugar.  Place the prepared tarts in the freezer (or fridge if you don't have the space) while you wait for the oven to continue heating.  Bake for about 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350F and bake until the pastry is golden.  Remove from the oven and brush with additional jam while still hot.  Cool on a rack.

Sunday, April 15

Rant - {Funfetti Cake with Strawberry Buttercream}

"She hates us."

I'd been focused on the sidewalk, but her words caught my attention. I looked up.

There was a sneer on her face, and the curt words had fallen from her mouth in a slur of Pabst and desperation. She clung to her boyfriend's arm like a leech with her free hand, nodding in my direction and seeking approval in his hazy eyes.

"Her? HA!"

The exchange was still registering as I heard their laughter billowing and growing more distant behind me; transforming into a salted wind and destined for ancient verbal lashes spread over my back.

You know, I was barely aware of the group before she opened her mouth, but having made the mistake of looking in her direction: things changed.

Now it's my turn to crack the whip.

Dear Girl,

For starters, I don't hate you. I don't
know you, and, in my mind, that's kind of integral for being able to hate a person.

But now that you mention it, I do hate your attitude. And your too-tall heels. And that scrap of fabric you're trying to pretend you're confident enough to pass off as a dress. Oh, and the way that all of those things together make you walk like and look like some kind of awkward robot prostitute. Yeah. Chew on that.

I can hate those things because I've seen them all before. After all, as college-aged girls, aren't we're expected to be generic, too-skinny, catty, and drunk all day e'ry day? And if it's expected, why not deliver? Why let the people down? Why be anything more when you can just be rude, completely superficial and altered?

No, girl, I don't hate you. I hate that your existence, which you've thrown off track by "drinking the Kool-aid/Jungle Juice," makes the world look down on the rest of the girls in our age group that
aren't like you. I hate knowing that all the jerks I knew as a kid probably haven't changed at all and just grew up to be nothing more than slightly taller jerks... Just like you.

I hate that, for some reason, you choose to associate with people that think it's important to be envied - and even more so to point it out to others.

No - wait a minute. This isn't hate. This is pity. Yes, girl. You see, I don't hate you at all. I pity you.

I pity you because you assume that I - someone who has never even interacted with you - hates you just because we crossed paths. I pity you because you've given yourself reason to believe that someone who doesn't know you AT ALL
would hate you. For no reason.

I pity you because you've chosen to live the life you have.


The Completely Unassuming Average-Looking Chick That Walked Past You on Saturday Night

I admit: this is all very wrong. It's wrong of me to pity her. It's wrong to be up on my soap box here, verbally beating on her and laying on the judgement.

I'm not taking the high road, but I'm so tired of this crap that, frankly, it's gotten to the point that I've got to say something.

And just what am I saying? Well, guys and gals, I'm looking at this like a PSA. Not that I've got much swing in our culture, but I just want to say: don't be that girl.

Go out there and make waves, but don't live your life in a way that makes you believe people would have reason to hate you without even speaking to you. It blows my mind to think anyone ever would. Honestly: wear what you want and do what you want, but if you're any extreme of insecure or self-absorbed and you think that what you're doing makes you any lesser or any better than others, you need to get a grip on things.

Change your perspective.

Make yourself better.

You'll be happier for it and others will too.

Funfetti Cake with Strawberry Buttercream
No matter what kind of girl you are now, I'm sure you went crazy for funfetti cake frosted with pink buttercream when you were a kid.  So let's play nice and eat some cake.  Smile and be friendly, dangit. 

Funfetti Cake via Sweetapolita
Pay careful attention to the method for preparing this cake, and also to the division of the milk.  It's not your typical cake!

Thanks to the bizarre method, this cake is extremely fluffy.  The almond flavor is perfect in it and I suggest that you do not leave it out. 

1 c milk (237 ml), divided and at room temp
4 egg whites (120 grams), room temp
1 egg, room temp
2 tsps vanilla
1/2 tsp almond extract (I prefer emulsion)
3 c (350 g) cake flour, sifted
1 1/2 c sugar (300 g)
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
6 Tbsp (85 g) butter, cubed and at room temp
6 Tbsp (85 g) vegetable shortening
1/2 c rainbow sprinkles

Preheat the oven to 350F (180C) and oil and line two 8" pans.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine 1/4 c of the milk, egg whites, egg, vanilla and almond extract.  Set aside.

Place the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of your mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Combine on low speed for 30 seconds.

Add the butter and shortening and blend on low for 30 seconds.  Add the remaining 3/4 c of milk and mix until just moistened.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat on medium-high speed for 1 and a half minutes.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add one third of the egg/milk mixture.  Beat on medium for 20 seconds, then scrape down the bowl and add the remaining egg/milk mix in the same way.  Fold in the rainbow sprinkles.

Divide the batter into your prepared pans and bake 25-30 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.  Be very careful not to overbake!

Cool cakes in their pans on a rack for ten minutes, then remove from pans and wrap well with cling film.  Place in the fridge to cool.

Quick Strawberry Jam
If you've got strawberry jam in your fridge, by all means - use it.  If not, do this!

1 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 c (150 g) chopped strawberries
2 Tbsp sugar

Combine the water and cornstarch in a cool saucepan.  Whisk until no lumps remain, then add the remaining ingredients.  Cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until very thick and no water remains.  Immediately press through a fine mesh sieve and allow to cool.

Boiled Frosting via Baked: New Frontiers in Baking
This frosting has replaced Swiss Meringue as my go-to.  It's much fluffier and a lot quicker to make than meringue style buttercreams!

1 1/2 c (300 g) sugar
1/3 c (47 g) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 c (155 ml) milk
1/3 c (78 ml) heavy cream
1 1/2 c (355 g) butter, room temp and cubed
1 tsp vanilla
Strawberry Jam
Pink food coloring

Combine the sugar and flour in a cool saucepan.  Stir in the milk and cream, then set the pan over medium heat.  Stirring frequently, cook the mixture until quite thick, 10-15 minutes.

Remove the pan from heat and pour the mixture into the bowl of your mixer.  Fit with the paddle attachment and whip on high speed until the outside of the bowl is cool to the touch, about fifteen minutes.

When the bowl is coo, add the butter all at once and whip on high speed until very light and fluffy.  Add the vanilla and whip to combine, then begin adding the jam, spoonful by spoonful, being careful not to add so much that the buttercream becomes soupy.  Add pink food coloring, if desired.

Need help with assembly?  Check out this guide to assembling a layer cake and this guide to frosting a layer cake.

Monday, April 9

Spring Giveaway! - {Blueberry Coffee Cake}

Hey guys!

View this image in the McCormick Look Book!

Want to enter to win a giveaway? Click through for more details!

Thursday, April 5

Influence - {Mocha Macarons}

I've had my head down for the past three hours, applying all of my concentration to the mixed stack of binder- and paper-clipped documents in front of me. It would be excessive to delve into their nature here, but imagine for me, if you will: their wisdom buried beneath layers of ink; their once-perfect figures aged with wrinkles and scars of mishandling.

For the better part of March, this project was my life. I upset my aunt recently by admitting this that work has become more important to me than school, but I don't think she truly understood me. My education is, of course, important. I will get my degree. But I'm mature enough to know what classes require my full attention to succeed in and which ones don't. Some classes don't require my attendance for every lecture, and if skipping one means I'll be granted more time to meet deadlines without any consequences... Well, there's really no point in being anywhere but my cube, is there?

I enjoy my work because it's challenging. Over and over I've been presented with tasks that have forced me to stretch my mind and my abilities, forced me to adopt confidence and forced me to just be more. I find my mind transformed there as I bask in the drugged space between the hardwood floors and the tall ceilings; breathing in and freely giving myself up to the addiction.

So, naturally, when I noticed the sentence, "we need to chat," had popped up in a chat window on the computer screen beside me, it stopped me dead in my tracks.

"I know," I responded to my boss, having recently had the very same thought myself. Though I'd love to work full time this summer where I'm currently working (if I'm able), another very attractive employment opportunity has recently presented itself, leaving me feeling somehow... Lost.

I've got big decisions to make. Life-changing ones. No, I'm not getting a TV show, writing a book, having a baby or getting married, but I'm reaching the point in my life where it's time to truly decide for the first time what it really is that I want to do. I've been navigating a path somewhere between a career in marketing and a career in food for quite some time, and though I'm happy to do it, it's not sustainable in the long run. I'm going to have to "end up" somewhere someday, and that somewhere can only be determined through wars of logic pitted against dreams.

I know I'm going to be happy no matter which route I take, but I plan to keep trekking down this middle path for as long as I can.

Maybe it's immature, but I'm not ready for the decision point to be now. Considering it is even almost too surreal to handle. I can't believe it's even approaching.

I'm still hiding under the influence of youth and dreams, and I'm ok with it. Definition comes later. Soon. But still later.

Mocha Macarons recipe and method via BraveTart
I encourage you to click through to Stella's recipe for the method for these. She explains it much better than I ever could! Just be sure to watch your meringue because it whips up more quickly than normal considering the itty bitty size of this batch. These go over very, very well. It's simple, but I think it may be my favorite macron flavor to date!

26 g almond meal
40 g powdered sugar
13 g cocoa powder
1/8 tsp instant espresso powder
33 g egg white
17 g sugar
1/8 tsp salt

Click through to BraveTart for a foolproof macaron method.

As a note: add the cocoa and espresso powders to the powdered sugar.

Mocha Ganache
This will make more than you need, but it's wonderful added to frosting, poured in a tart shell or used as a dip for, you know, everything. If you don't plan to use it within a week, store leftovers in the freezer.

170 g bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 tsp instant espresso powder
1/8 tsp salt
85 g heavy cream

Combine the chocolate, espresso powder and salt in a small bowl.

In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream just to a boil. Remove from heat and pour over the bowl of chocolate. Let set five minutes, then stir gently until smooth. Allow to cool to room temp, then refrigerate until solid enough to pipe, stirring occasionally.