Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Did Someone Say Bacon?!

Today: Bacon Cheddar scones -- which means... we're gonna be bakin' with bacon!! Hahaha, okay, I know that that's cheesy. . . (wait for it, wait for it. . . ) CHEDDAR cheesy that is!

I will take a moment to let everyone groan at my (admittedly poor) attempt at humor; I can see you all collectively rolling your eyes right now.

All kidding aside though, this was an unusual attempt for me; typically, I tend to be very wary of scones.  For whatever reason, the majority of scones that I've tried have been horribly dry.  So dry, in fact, that, in texture, they resemble crumbly biscuits (and not the good kind of biscuit -- more like the kind that has to be drenched in gravy in order to be able to eat). The scones that I dream of, though, are different; they are moist and buttery and make me feel like I'm in an episode of Downton Abbey, and if I hadn't had the absolutely divine experience of tasting them, I would be convinced that they were apparitions of my imagination. I have tasted them, though -- at exactly TWO places in my entire life.  The first was this sweet little coffee shop called Brew-Ha-Ha; it was across the street from my apartment, back when I lived in Philadelphia. Those scones were worth dying for, or at least worth traveling long distances for.  I started going to that coffee shop for convenience, but I kept returning after I moved half a mile away, and even after that, when I moved to Ohio.  Yes, you read that right.  I would travel across state lines for those scones.  To be honest, I was more than a little heartbroken when I found that the coffee shop had closed.  (Unfortunately, the coffee wasn't nearly as good as the scones, which was probably its downfall -- if only the owners had rebranded the business as a bakery, it would probably still be around.)  In any case, my bruised heart was slightly mollified by the fact that I  found the second successful "sconery" relatively close to my new home (and only 4 years after I moved!)  No need to use the interstate anymore for my scone fix; I just go downtown to this adorable new discovery called Sassafras Bakery.  Seriously, if you are ever in the vicinity of Worthington, Ohio, you should check this place out.  These really are the scones of my dreams.

Given that I've tried so many places and have been disappointed so many times,  I was a little skeptical of whether my amateur attempt was going to be worth the effort; but to give myself the best advantage possible, I used a recipe from Bouchon Bakery. If anyone can get it right, I was trusting that Thomas Keller could (at least until Sassafras Bakery and Brew-Ha-Ha decide to share their recipes).  And it probably didn't hurt to use bacon and cheese -- I mean, really, who doesn't like bacon and cheese -- they are two foods that make EVERYTHING better (even ice cream according to some -- although I admit to being slightly dubious about that particular combination).

So, obviously, this is not my recipe (which you may encounter fairly frequently on this blog since I am a self-professed amateur).  Because I have a lot of respect for Thomas Keller, and, really, all bakers who are experts at their craft, as well as a healthy respect for copyright law, I usually do not publish the recipes from cookbooks on this blog.  I will list out the ingredients (but not the specific measurements) and my particular technique, with the difficulties that I encounter and how I try to fix them. Hopefully, others can avoid my pitfalls.  I also mention the ways that I changed a recipe, if I do so. If you would like to try the recipes, I will list the cookbook that I used in each recipe with a link to the Amazon site where it can be bought.  Alternatively, a Google search usually will turn up something similar. In general, when I use a recipe from the Internet, I will link it to this blog to give credit where credit is due. Happily, this particular recipe has already been republished on the Internet, so the recipe can be found by clicking on the link below.

This recipe is from the Bouchon Bakery Cookbook and is published in the Star Tribune from July 10, 2013

The whole process was actually fairly straight forward. The hardest thing was cooking the bacon and shredding the cheese (which my wonderful husband was kind enough to do for me, so I totally lucked out).

Words of wisdom: The most important thing to do is. . . TASTE THE CHEESE BEFORE STARTING.  Sadly, in my excitement to start baking, I shredded an entire 6 ounces of cheddar at a fine grate (which took me a VERY long time) before sneaking a bite and realizing that it was way too sharp.  Which meant that I had to go out and get more cheese.  (That's probably why George agreed to shred the second chunk for me -- I can only imagine the forlorn expression on my face at realizing that I had wasted 20 minutes shredding cheese that I wouldn't use, and that my aching hands hadn't even really started to work yet. . .)  It wasn't a total loss -- turns out that sharp cheddar and bacon go very nicely on crackers, and make for an excellent mid-baking snack -- but still, save yourself the heartache and taste the cheese before starting.  Other than that, like I said, it wasn't bad.

I like to prep all my ingredients and place them all within arms reach so I'm not stuck measuring things out, while at the same time watching my mixer and a kitchen timer.  It's easier and makes for a more peaceful baking experience.  (There's enough stress in life, baking should not be stressful)

This recipe called for sifting the dry ingredients.  Honestly, I'm not actually sure that sifting does anything, but it's not hard and I didn't want to mess up the entire recipe because I didn't want to take the time to sift the ingredients, so I went ahead and did it.  Tip: It's quicker to sift dry ingredients if you drive the powders through a sieve by stirring them gently with a spoon and then force any last lumps against the sides to break them up.

Also, it helps to cut the butter up into more manageable pieces before trying to blend; it incorporates into the mixture more easily and seems to make things progress faster as well.

Everything blended very nicely in this recipe.  It was quick and easy and formed beautifully into a dough that was quite easy to mold.  The best part was that it wasn't very sticky at all. It probably helped to work the dough between two pieces of plastic wrap, like the recipe suggests and, in general,  I always try to use gloves when working with dough as well; even with more difficult doughs, nothing seems to stick to the latex.  And I get to keep my hands and nails clean which is an added benefit. The recipe called for the dough to be formed into a rectangular block. For me, this was the most difficult part, since my block kept looking like an irregularly shaped four sided polyhedron instead of a nice neat rectangular block.  After working with it for a while, though, I got it fairly regularly shaped.  I found that the best way to do it was to pound out the top of the dough, starting in the center and working my way out to the edges so that the dough didn't thin towards the end of the block.

After refrigerating a couple of hours, the dough was ready to slice.  The recipe calls for 12 even rectangular pieces to be cut, so I decided to slice the dough in quarters and then each quarter into thirds.  And because I'm not so good with eying things up, I used a measuring tape to be sure each piece was pretty much equal.

Then, into the freezer for the night.  The absolute BEST thing about this recipe is that these can be individually popped out of the freezer in the morning, dusted with some cream and cheese and stuck right into the oven. . .and then you can have fresh scones for breakfast.  And the dough stays good in the freezer for up to a month (so I will be having fresh scones for many weekends to come!)

These were so delicious -- I loved them. They really lived up to the scones of my dreams.  Crusty and cheesy on the outside, tender and buttery on the inside, 'bacon'y with just a hint of salt to bring out all the flavors. . .altogether, simply lovely.  The only potential downside is that they are so very satisfying that they almost would be better for dinner than breakfast.  But that is a minor downside, and they really are so good that I think that I could happily eat them for breakfast, lunch, AND dinner.

Wow, this blog post was longer than the first one --I didn't think that was possible.  Well, again, thanks for sticking it out until the (savory) end! Try the recipe and let me know how they turn out for you, I can't imagine anyone possibly being disappointed in the results! 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's Day Roses

Happy Valentine's Day everyone! In honor of the (arguably) sweetest day of the year, here is my very first blog post ever. (I suppose Halloween could be considered sweeter in actual grams of sugar consumed, but I don't want to quibble over details).

For anyone who has checked out the "About me" section of this blog, you will know that I actually fell in love with baking by making "from scratch" cakes. Therefore, it is sort of ironic that my very first post deals with a recipe that uses boxed cake mix (gasp! I know, sacrilegious!).  I'm kidding, actually; I think most people would agree that there's nothing wrong with the way boxed cake tastes; and pumped up boxed cake mix is seriously the best.  And it's so much easier to throw together (although I still managed to almost mess it up). The cake is actually from this recipe, and it is perfection.  The take away message is that pudding makes everything better (I'm sure Carl from the Walking Dead would agree). It gives the most vanilla-y taste ever -- excuse me as I take a moment to stare into space and recollect the wonderfulness...

You would think that boxed cake mix would be fool proof, but. . . not so much. My error came from trying to modify this from a rectangular cake to two 6 in round cakes.  Firstly, because I find layer cakes much more fun to decorate, and secondly, because the only people that are available to eat my creations on demand are me and my husband, and our waistlines have been suffering from the multiple full sized cakes that I have made in the past.  Convention suggests that for each 6 inch cake, one should put 2 cups of batter into the pan, which sounded easy enough; but I realized that when you pour batter from a measuring cup, it coats the edges (and the measurements) making it nearly impossible to see how much batter remains in the cup. I'm not sure how to fix this in the future, so if anyone has a suggestion, please speak up!  So I ended up overfilling both pans which majorly messed with the cooking time.  (I tried testing the cake at 25 minutes and it jiggled like jello) Anyways, it worked out in the end -- the result being that I had to cook it SO long that the top ended up slightly crispy with the inside remaining moist (which I have to admit, I kind of love).

In any case, with that extensive background, I thought that I'd actually focus on the decorating of the cake (which is always the most fun part -- apart from the eating).  So, because it is Valentine's Day, and what is more Valentine's appropriate than roses, I thought I'd use these awesome fondant molds that my husband got me for Christmas.  Let me take a moment to espouse the virtues of fondant.  It's the best thing ever for people like me who have absolutely no freelance artistry ability.  And it's like play-doh for adults -- what's better than play-doh?!

So here is what you do:  Take a small amount of fondant, roll it into a ball, squish it into the mold, pare of the excess with a knife (slightly nervous about this because I am terrible with knives -- I will spare everyone a picture of my disgusting finger after a battle with a bread knife), and then pop it out.  These molds are silicone, and most people advocate brushing them with corn flour before using them, but I used them bare and the roses popped out fine.  If the flowers are a tad soft, you can always put the molds in the freezer for a couple of minutes and they will firm right up and pop out even more easily. Set these aside for now.

Now , to cover the cake with your background fondant:

Note: This requires some MAJOR muscle.
  1. Lightly dust your work area and your rolling pin  (and your fondant) with powdered sugar.
  2.  I use Satin Ice ready made fondant.  You will have to knead the fondant vigorously and then roll your fondant out into a rough circular shape that is about the thickness of a crepe.  This sounds easy, but is not -- at least for me, who has absolutely no upper body strength. The diameter should be the diameter of your cake + height of your combined layers+ a couple inches extra to drape beyond the ends of the cake.  For me this ended up being 14 in. Do NOT make your fondant too thin otherwise it will rip.  Because it is heavy, the sides will drag the center down when placed on the cake and create small rips which are VERY difficult to fix.
  3. Roll up half of your fondant onto the rolling pin.
  4. Place the rolling pin on top of your prepped cake (already layered and frosted -- I used a chocolate buttercream --more on than in a later post) with the unrolled part of the fondant draped over the side of half of the cake.
  5. Gently unroll the remaining fondant over the other half of the cake.
  6. Quickly smooth the top of the fondant with your hands (some people use a smoother, but I find it easier to just do with my hands) and pull the ends up and out to smooth the sides out.  As quickly as possible, cut the excess fondant away with a small knife or pizza cutter, or the weight will create tears in the top of the fondant.  

I wanted to do something fun with the sides of the cake, so I thought I'd try my hand at some fondant ruffles. I thought that this would be really easy, but honestly, it ended up being a total disaster.  Here is how I did it (and how I would do it differently in the future.)
  1. Do the ruffles LAST.  I did them first and set aside and, consequently, the strips got dried out and crispy and kept crumbling as I tried to apply them to the cake, which was a major headache. I managed to somewhat patch them together, but it was not fun. . .
  2.  Prepare your rolling pin by thinly applying a layer of shortening.  Do the same to both sides of your fondant.  Typically you would dust with powdered sugar, but because I'm using a red fondant and want the color to remain vibrant, I opted for shortening.
  3. Roll out your fondant (I use ready made Satin Ice) into a rectangular shape, approximately the length of the circumference of your cake plus 1-2 inches extra.  I could not for the life of me get a long enough piece of fondant rolled out, so in the future I would probably just tack pieces on as needed.  If anything, it will help the ruffle look more ruffle-y.
  4. Cut strips of fondant approximately 1 inch in width. I used a pizza cutter.  In the future, I would probably use a ruler to make sure the strips are even and similarly proportioned.
  5. Ruffle each strip fondant by positioning a toothpick at one edge of the long side and rolling it back and forth in a small segment until it thins and curls up a bit. Repeat along the length of the fondant strip. Do NOT use a lot of pressure.  I did and my fondant kept ripping, and I kept getting frustrated, and consequently applied even more pressure, and obviously that did not help anything.  Gentle rolling is key.

For the final steps!
  1.  Spread a layer of corn syrup along the non crinkled edge of a strip of fondant.  Place towards the top of the cake and wrap so that the crinkled surface is slightly above the edge of the cake.
  2. With your next strip, move down the cake and overlap so that the crinkled portion of the second strip covers the straight portion of the first strip.
  3. Repeat until you reach the bottom of the cake.
  4. Now arrange the molded fondant we made earlier on top of the cake however you would like, again attaching it to the background fondant with corn syrup.
And Voila!

Jeez, this was the longest post EVER! I write too much -- my next one will be shorter, I promise. Please feel free to comment and let me know your experiences and maybe suggestions on how to do this better. Until then, thanks for sticking it out 'til the end and Happy Valentine's Day!