A journey...

...to discover...

...the heart...

...and soul...

...of a baker.

Friday, October 2, 2015

California Baking...On Such An Autumn Day (With Apologies to The Mamas and The Papas) - Part The First

Last month I got to spend a bit of time in San Diego visiting with my brother and his family. It was short but very, very sweet – filled with great food, lots of hugs, laughter aplenty, and more than a few surprises.  For instance, I didn't know my nephew, Robbie, was taking German and that my nieces, Jeanine and Denise, sang songs in Japanese. What wasn't a surprise was that my sister-in-law, Wynter, looked at my brother, Rob, and me like we were crazy when we finished each others' sentences and movie quotes. That much I happily expected.

Rob, told me that the kids were excited I was coming because they figured I'd probably be doing some baking. In fact, my nephew, who has baking aspirations himself, was hoping I'd teach him something. I guess my reputation preceded me. (Actually, many boxes of shipped baked goodies preceded me, since I've been sending them gifts from my oven for a little while now.)

So, it was a forgone conclusion that I'd be using their oven for at least a couple of baking projects. I was prepared with two very good recipes. I was prepared to have to pick up some ingredients. What I wasn't prepared for was the need to also procure some very basic baking implements and pans and such. Many excellent meals come out of that kitchen, and from the grill in the back yard, but my brother and his wife don't do a lot of baking. We made lots of jokes about this and I was all too happy to leave behind a lot of "house warming gifts".  

After a few trips to the store, I was ready for my first baking project, which turned out to be a Saturday morning biscuit banquet. I used what I thought would be a good recipe from Food52.com, even though I've never made it before. (There I go again, breaking my rule of never serving a meal from a first-time recipe. I'm starting to think that I made that rule just so I could laugh at myself.) I thought I'd get up in the morning, bake the biscuits, and sit down with my family and devour them.

The blank slate. So clean...for now.
Mise en place. Please notice the iPod with my baking soundtrack queued up.
That plan went off without a hitch...with one major addition: my youngest niece, Denise, wanted to help me bake. And that changed the whole experience for me because it went from making something for breakfast to teaching my niece about baking biscuits. With a recipe I'd never made before. In a kitchen and oven I'd never used before. No pressure. Really.

As you should know by now, I'm always game for a challenge, even one as daunting as this. Still, teaching a thing is different from just doing a thing. With teaching you have to create a structure for imparting information in a way that the student will understand and readily assimilate. You have to give them the basics but at the same time take care to keep it interesting. And you've got to make it fun! Because if it's not fun, then why do it in the first place?

A Quick Sidebar:

Can you tell I'm the offspring of two teachers, with family on both sides with deep roots in Education? Guess I might have picked up a thing or two.

A Quick Sidebar Ends

With Denise (6 years old), I started off very simple: making sure she knew the measurements we'd be using, and identifying all the ingredients. After she donned her cute little apron, that is.

Please to observe these measuring spoons!

I told her about the importance of having everything you'll need right, mise en place, to make it easier to mix, add, stir, and (Got to add a little French to her go along with the Japanese she sings.)

"Mise en place" is French for "Don't run around the
kitchen like an idiot, trying to find stuff!" I think.

Now, I was a kid and I remember how overly excited I got when grownups let me do things with them. I caused more than a couple of...incidents because of my enthusiasm. Kids haven't changed that much over the years, so I made sure to watch out for this when I let Denise stir the dry ingredients. I only had to caution her about flinging everything out of the bowl once.

Carefully adding ingredients.

I had to use two knives to cut in the butter because I couldn't find a pastry blender at the store. It was just as well, since I got to refine my technique.

Using the old double-knife technique.
One of the reasons I chose this particular recipe was that I was curious about the lack of rolling pin use. I really wanted to see how it worked. I think both of us agreed that it was fun to gather and smush and gather and smush the dough (also known as "kneading"). I taught myself a little something about the right handling dough like that: easy-does-it. Press hard enough to combine and create the layers, but not hard enough to overwork the dough.

Rolling pin? We don't need no stinkin' rolling pin...
even though I bought one for the house.
We laughed about there not being a lot of baking tools in the house but I was actually glad to improvise the way I did; using knives to work in the butter, and small-rimmed glasses to cut the biscuits, is very traditional and connected me with my Granma (my father's mother) who made biscuits from scratch in a similar fashion. So, in a way, this direct line through four generations of Bakers baking.

A couple of shot glasses will do in a pinch.
"Press hard!"
Loading up the baking sheets.
One other thing I tried to teach Denise was to try to keep the mess to a minimum, and confined to the table (something I'm not always so successful with at home). Fortunately for me, I was quick with the bowl to catch most of the flour she shook off her hands.

Aaaand...there goes the flour all over the floor.

Once we had the biscuits in the oven, I had to do some internal wrestling with the oven. It's probably about five or ten degrees off because the biscuits took about fifteen minutes longer than they should have. Hmmm. It's a good thing I have experience with recalcitrant ovens, isn't it? 

A little pale but still very well baked.
In the end, we pulled out two trays of utterly delicious and flaky biscuits! 

Delicious with honey!
I couldn't have done it without my able assistant, though! And thanks to my other niece assistant, Jeanine, for helping us butter the tops of the biscuits before we popped them in the oven.

Thus ends Part The First (the easy part).

Currently listening to: Brenda Russell - A Little Bit Of Love

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Transatlantica – A New Direction in Shipping

I've shipped baked goods and ice cream to friends and family across the country. From East to West and Northeast to South, boxes from me have covered a lot of ground. I've even sent cookies and cakes to a friend in Hawaii. I always use the USPS because I've got a soft spot in my heart for the Post Office. They gets a bad rap, and in some cases that's deservedly so, but for the most part, I've had great experiences them. 

I think some of that comes from the fact that I use to have an extensive correspondence and dropping letters in the mailbox was one of my joys. The other was receiving something other than bills in return. I'm so old school! (And I'm more than willing to restart that correspondence, should anyone out there want to join me in putting pen to paper.)

Oh. Wait. Back to the point of this blog entry. I've never shipped anything The Continent. And by "The Continent" I mean, Europe. (See? Old school!), mainly because I didn't have anyone there to ship to. That changed earlier this year when my friend Grace and her husband (who is from the Netherlands) moved from Dallas to Paris. They were here for a wedding in July (I believe I posted something about that). I meant to give them a box of my lemon-ginger cream cookies to take back with them but they were so jet lagged, and I was more than a little exhausted from a week of the 9-5, that I clean forgot to give it to them! 

Don't worry. I was able to find a local home for the orphans. Still, that oversight made me determined to get something tasty to them anyway. And since I had a stash of Michele-o-mars handy, I thought, "Why not a transatlantic shipment?" Why not? Because, my goodness, who can figure out the customs forms and the shipment requirements and the timing and the...! Stop. Chill out. Take a deep breath and do one thing at a time. 

I boxed the cookies in such a way that I thought they'd shift as little as possible. I'm finding that this is key to anything I send through the post; the less room the goods have for moving around as the box gets assaulted by man and machine from here to there, the better. But you also have to leave enough room inside so that the goods don't get squished when the box inevitably gets compressed. 

Once I got that done, I weighed it and settled in to figure out the forms. Nothing I've shipped has ever had to make it through customs before, so I paid close attention to the "Keep this crap out of our country" section. It seems that "chocolate cookies" isn't on that list. *phew*. I selected the shortest time between two points postage option (that I could comfortably afford), slapped the label on the box, and set off to the Post Office to consult with a clerk to make sure I filled everything out right.

A Word About Postal Clerks:

I know a lot of people have had horrendous interactions with postal clerks. I've seen the videos, heard the stories, seen the tantrums on both sides of the desk. Heck, I've had one or two less than satisfactory experiences myself. However, by-and-large, I prefer dealing with them when I've got something tricky to send. I always approach them with a smile and a "good morning", and never fail to get the same back. We acknowledge each other's humanity and establish a little rapport. Most everything from that point on goes smoothly; they're always helpful, efficient, and pleasant with me.
A Word About Postal Clerks Ends.

The sweet clerk took me through the form, point by point, double-checked the weight and amount of postage, and assured me that everything was in order. She took the box into her charge. Off it went and off I went back to work, and to tell Grace, via FaceBook, that I'd sent her a box of something. I wouldn't tell her what was in the box because I'm evil that way. I made her promise to take pictures of the box and the contents, though, because I really wanted to see the shape in which everything arrived. 

Days later, after numerous checks on the tracking number, the package arrived at her mailbox in Paris. Via Facebook (again) I told her she might want to check her mail. She disappeared and soon after I was greeted with these images:

Seems intact! And look at all the check boxes to choose from on that form!
First bite of a cookie sent across the Atlantic!

 Our Facebook message exchange when thus:

Grace: Already being devoured! I can not believe you did this. You are so amazing. I love you so much!

Me: Cool! I'm glad they got there in one piece. :) And save some for Leon!

Grace: I'm afraid I can not make that promise.

Me: My first transatlantic delivery is a success!

Grace: A ripping, tripping, light dimming success! But as much as I love them, you can never do this again...It's ridiculously expensive.

(I laughed using my inside voice)

Me: Oh, no, honey. Shipping ice cream overnight is ridiculously expensive. This? I could do this a couple of times a year.

And who knows. I just might!

I wasn't surprised that the marshmallow had started coming through the chocolate a little. The coating was fairly thin, as per Michele's specs. Next time I decide to ship these somewhere, I might put a double coating on them. We'll see. 

Currently listening to: Tori Amos - Baker Baker


Saturday, September 5, 2015

My Oh My Oh Mallowmars! (Part III)

Leaving the cookie dilemma behind for just a moment, I had to turn my attention to the next big hurdle for this custom designed treat. 

Briefly, A Note About The Cookie Dilemma

In a word, I was exhausted! I made so many cookies, which were good but not right, in such a short time, that I was all cookied-out. The chocolate had to be easier, right? Right?

Briefly, A Note About The Cookie Dilemma Ends 

Yeah. Right. Easier. I had three (3) challenges to overcome with the chocolate: 1) sweetness, 2) thickness of the coating, and 3) hardness of the chocolate coating. One thing at a time. To address the sweetness, I figured I'd need to test different kinds of chocolate. Please to observe:

Come on! I had to use Baker's brand, right?
I needed to establish where Michele's tastes fell when combining chocolate and marshmallow. So, I sacrificed some of the marshmallows I'd given her for toasting (another post, for sure) to test the above three.

The line-up.
Suspect number 1.

Suspect number 2.
Suspect number 3.
After sampling the line-up, the witness...I mean Michele...determine that none of them had the means to achieve the proper balance. Simultaneously, though, both of us concluded that a mixture of the unsweetened and the bittersweet would probably do the trick. And it did. Number one out of the way. Two to go.

I kind of had to tackle number three out of sequence because it was more important to get the right formulation to make the chocolate hard at room temperature. I've been reading on-and-off about tempering chocolate for just such a purpose but have had little luck in recreating the results of others, no matter what recipe I used – and I used two or three different ones for this cookie. All the attempts yielded a tacky, sticky coating at best, and a gooey mess that defied being handled at worse. (Well, that's not quite the worst case, but we'll leave that alone.) 

There are recipes that call for using vegetable oil, butter, or melted shortening. These did not do the trick for me. There are techniques which require a marble slab (which I no longer own), chilled, and lots of spatula work. No way was I going to go down that road. I am crazy but I won't be that crazy until I am working out of my dream kitchen.

After all these attempts completely failed to yield the right chocolate consistency/hardness, I told Michele that it might be impossible for me to design this cookie for her. If I couldn't get this one element right, with my current skill set and equipment, then it really didn't make sense to continue working on it. I'd have to wait until I grew up a little more as a confectioner. She understood but hated to see all the work I'd done up to this point go to waste.

That made me smile because, as I told her, none of this was a waste because I'd taught myself a lot of valuable lessons, even in my failures. Nope. Even if I couldn't make her the cookie she wanted, I'd have to consider this a win. A qualified win but a win nonetheless. 

I figured I'd give it one last try so I scoured my cookbooks for chocolate recipes and had one more consultation with The Google. That's when I came across the Cooking For Engineers Website, and a discussion about the very problem I was having. Confectionery science to the rescue! Finally someone laid things out for me in a way I could understand, and presented a solution that made sense to me! I was already clear on the concept of "seizing" chocolate but the underlying science of seeding the melted chocolate to help form the crystal structure necessary for tempering and, thus, hard shell at room temperature, new to me. 

I set things up and decided to use a variation on the double-boiler technique that I was familiar with. I created a hot water bath using two different sized Pyrex bowls, with the chocolate in the smaller bowl. The heated water melted the chocolate perfectly, even though it did take about fifteen or more minutes of stirring. Yes, this technique was a little tricky because of the proximity of the water to the chocolate, but I just felt I could work better that way. And the test I did on the remaining rejected digestive biscuits proved me right.
Dipped and hardening.
Once these had been sitting out for a couple of hours, I touched them and absolutely no chocolate came off on my finger. The covering was still soft but I new it would harden sufficiently for me to continue my quest!

I determined that number two, thickness of the coating, wasn't nearly as important as the chocolate sweetness and the shell hardness, so I just skipped it. 

Back to the cookie, which by now I was ready to figure out. I'd had a little epiphany after the digestive biscuit didn't work. I liked the recipe, so why not use all white flour instead of mixing it with the whole wheat flour? The dough would be easier for me to work with and it wouldn't yield a graham cracker, which wasn't what Michele wanted, anyway. Et voila! The biscuit cookie.

Exactly what Michele said she wanted in the first place!
The irony of ending up with what Michele had jokingly wanted at the beginning of this whole process was not lost on me. These were delicious and easy to make. Heck, they'd even be nice to spread a little jam on and just gobble up! They were also neutral enough with regards to sweetness that they'd work perfectly with the marshmallow and the chocolate. And they were tender to the bite but substantial enough to take the other two ingredients without going mushy. Time to assemble!

Biscuit cookies laid out.
The next problem to solve was how to actually get the marshmallow onto the cookies. Last time I let the marshmallow set and then used a cookie cutter to chop out cylinders of fluff to place of the cookies. Fail. This time I used another Alton Brown idea and put the freshly made marshmallow into a pastry bag and piped it onto the cookies. That way, I'd used the stickiness of the marshmallow to my benefit. Once set, the cookies would be much easier to dip into the chocolate.

A Disclosure:

I absolutely suck at using a pastry bag and decorating tips. Absolutely. Suck. I have no feel for them and generally make a huge mess when using them. If you asked me to decorate a cake, I'd tell you to take a long walk off a short pier. Despite that, I use a pastry bag to load up my ginger lemon cream cookies and decided that it was the way to go with these as well. By the time I'm done with this project I'll either throw away all my pastry bags and decorator tips or come away with techniques that I'm happy with.

A Disclosure Ends.

Piped-in marshmallows!
I waited three or four hours for the marshmallow to set before I dipped the cookies into the chocolate.

Set and dipped.

Take a closer look, why don't you?
As I discovered, once the chocolate finally set, it maintained a hard shell but lost the glossy sheen.

Hard shell, less sheen. Wait. No sheen!
That's a trade-off I could live with. And the absolute best part of all? Michele loved them! Her only further desires were: thinner cookie, if possible, and more marshmallow. Did I mention that my girl is just mad for marshmallow?

This definitely goes into the "Win" column. Michele-o-mars are now part of my baking repertoire and I am ecstatic!

One Last Note Regarding Pastry Bags:

I won't be throwing my decorating tips away. I will, however, be looking for larger bags to use. I need to load up as much marshmallow as possible so that I can pipe it onto the cookies before it sets up too much. Oh, and I finally began to see what techniques I'd need to master in order to get better at cake decorating, too. 

One Last Note Regarding Pastry Bags Ends.

Currently listening to: Dvořák • String Quartet no. 12 in F major, op. 96 "American" - I. Allegro ma non troppo - Emerson String Quartet

Saturday, August 29, 2015

My Oh My Oh Mallowmars! (Part II)

I thought it would be the marshmallow that would make this little bit of insanity difficult to pull off. I was wrong. It was the cookie. And the chocolate. And the assembly. And the storage. 

The more I thought about how to make this cookie, the more I had to ask Michele what she thought about each of it's components. It didn't take me too long to figure out that what I was doing was custom designing a cookie for her that was based on a cookie she loved. I wasn't recreating Mallowmars so much as creating "Michele-o-mars"...from the ground up. Wow. I guess I take requests now. (From some people. Put your hand down back there!)

One thing at a time, I told myself. The cookie first. Since graham crackers were out, I asked Michele what she thought would make a good base for her cookie. She first said a classic biscuit but then we talked about how the cookie needed to be light but sturdy enough to stand up to both the marshmallow and the chocolate. I searched my mind for alternatives. What about vanilla wafers?

Wafers in Rows.

Some detail.
I've been wanting to try my hand at vanilla wafers for a while now, for a completely different project (which will happen pretty soon), so now was as good a time as any. I went with this recipe, which turned out well. It was tasty but a little too dense for this, and my completely different project

A Brief Word About What I Want (With Regards To Vanilla Wafers):

I'll probably make an alteration or two for the completely different project (notice the foreshadowing). They need to be a little lighter but brown up more. I have a specific plan for my vanilla wafers and they'll need to be as perfect as I can make them.

A Brief Word About What I Want (With Regards To Vanilla Wafers):

I sent Michele to work with the results of the wafers. One of her co-workers, a level or two up from her, I believe, couldn't stop raving about them and how they were the absolute perfect cookie. I accepted the praise and told Michele that if she ever needed to...um...distract this person for any reason, we now know how to do it. But for Mallowmars? No cigar.

What about short bread? I've made shortbread before and I do like it. But I've never made shortbread cookies. I found a recipe that was simple – three ingredients – and had a lot of promise.

Shortbread rounds!

These baked up well, kept a good shape and were pretty much the right thickness. Michele, however, pronounced them too sweet and I had to agree. Alone they were great but if I combined them with marshmallow and chocolate, they'd send her right over the edge of her sweetness tolerance. 

Again I sent her to work with a box of rejects. She shared them at a meeting and they were well-received. When the meeting was over, she noticed that the box, which still had a great many cookies in it, was gone. It turns out that her new direct supervisor had secreted it away from everyone for himself. He told her that they were amazing, and he knows from amazing because his mother, who was a fantastic cook, taught him how to bake, and he's also frequented many incredible bakeries with great cookies in his time. These ranked right up there. Highest praise!

But still not right. Even when I halved the amount of sugar they were too sweet. What if I did a mixture of butter and shortening (as I use to do with my pie crusts) and halved the sugar? 

Three ingredients...plus one.

These tasted fine but they were too fragile to stand up to the rigors of this cookie. (This batch, though, I kept to myself. Mmmmmm!) And when I tried it with all shortening, the results were dismal:

These just refused to brown in any way and weren't even worth giving to Michele to try. Drawing board...as in back to the. 

Digestive biscuits?

It was the baking soda that was supposed
to aid in digestion...hence the name.

Not bad but digestives are sort of graham cracker-like. So these just wouldn't do. 

Wow. Three different cookies, six different batches, and not a winner is sight. I needed to solve this problem but I'd have to wait. It was time to work on the chocolate. 

Part II ends.

Currently listening to: Said The Sky - Book Of Us (Feat. Mothica)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

My Oh My Oh Mallowmars!

Mallomars are Michele's favorite cookie. Personally, I don't care much for them but she adores them. Why? Marshmallow. They have marshmallow in them. My wife is just absolutely loves marshmallow. Rocky Road is her favorite ice cream because of the marshmallow in it. She loves Peeps because they're made of marshmallow. She loves marshmallow because of the...well you get the idea. 

Bottom line is, a couple of years ago, I surprised Michele with my own version of Mallowmars. 

A Quick Word About Surprises For Michele:

There are times when Michele's job requires her to be out of town. When that happens there is apparently a switch that gets flipped inside my culinary brain. This switch seems to control the impulses that lead me to obsess about creating something delicious for her to enjoy upon her return. Ice cream, marshmallows, cookies, red velvet cupcakes...all have been the result of being unable to resist this obsession. So long as she keeps getting a kick out of it, I'll keep giving in to it.

A Quick Word About Surprises For Michele Ends

It was a qualified success. I had a few firsts with that project. First time making marshmallow. First time making graham crackers. First time tempering chocolate for covering a cookie. I made more than a few mistakes, too. I think I chose the wrong technique for the chocolate (and maybe the wrong chocolate). Assembly was a bear. And though I enjoyed making my own graham crackers, I reminded myself that I didn't really like graham crackers. 

Turns out, neither does Michele. There I'd gone through all this trouble to make her a version of her favorite cookie only to find out that part of her favorite cookie isn't her favorite cookie! Not quite an allegory of O. Henry proportions but eye-opening nonetheless.

There were a few problems with this version besides the dislike of the graham cracker. 

Stacks of grahams. Delicious but not the right taste.

The marshmallow was good but the recipe was a little convoluted in my opinion (which is subject to change, by the way)

Fluff in the pan.

I didn't get the chocolate right because it was too gooey instead of being hard and shell-like. The marshmallow was quite the wrong shape, which added to the problem with the chocolate. I used a cookie cutter to cut out the marshmallows and the cylindrical shape, smaller than the diameter of the cookie, meant the chocolate covered more of the cookie and thereby softened it. 

Problem solving.

Assemble the mallows!
I think being under the gun, trying to get this done as a surprise for Michele, and having never, ever made marshmallow before were factors in my considering this a qualified success. 

Three on a plate.

Not bad for the first try but I could do better. Don't get me wrong. She loved that I'd made them for her as a surprise and she enjoyed the cookies. I just know I can do better. 

Two years later and I'm finally ready to give it a go. Part 2 forthcoming.

Currently listening to: Dexter Wansel - Voyager

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Make Mine (Own) Marshamallow!

I've always loved marshmallows, especially the giant ones. The only brand I indulged in (especially after I left home for college), though was Kraft. Those other brands just didn't seem to have the right flavor or texture. That said, the only other brand I took a liking to was Stay-puft. I mean, who's going to argue with their spokesmallowman? 

"It's the Stay-puft Marshmallow Man."
When I was in college I discovered that there wasn't anyone who was going to tell me I couldn't buy myself a bag of giant marshmallows for my birthday, so for four years I did just that. Oh, I bought myself marshmallows at other times, but I made it a tradition to always get a bag specifically to celebrate my birthday. Share? Are you kidding? Those babies were mine, all mine!

Though I enjoy having marshmallows in my hot cocoa or just raw  out of the bag,  I don't care for s'mores. Milk chocolate? Ugh! 

A Word About S'Mores ("No Thank You"):

I didn't do any camping when I was growing up. In fact, my first time sitting around an actual camp fire didn't happen until I was in college. There I was, surrounded by peers from around the country, facing a blazing hot pile of flaming wood when the topic of s'mores came up. I had no idea what the heck they were talking about, I'd never heard of s'mores. Then they started making them. I watched in awe as these people proceeded to do what they all must have done around dozens of campfires as kids, resulting in a gooey mess of a "sandwich" that made me think they were all crazy. I understood the concept of toasted marshmallows but combining them with chocolate and graham crackers? Yeah, no. 

A Word About S'mores ("No, Thank You") Ends

As I said, I like marshmallows. Michele? She loves marshmallows. She'll eat cereal with marshmallows in it for a snack. She loves Peeps. She adores Rocky Road ice cream. Her favorite cookies are Mallowmars. A couple of years ago, I used the marshmallow recipe I found in the Bi-Rite Ice Cream recipe book to make her my own version of Mallowmars, but that's a different blog post. Let's just say, it was a qualified near-success.

A couple of weeks ago she was going to be out of the apartment all day at a work thingy. I knew I would have time to take care of some errands and to also prepare her a surprise batch of marshmallows. Actually, the idea came to me after watching one of Alton Brown's "Good Eats" episodes. It was about marshmallows and his recipe seemed like it would work perfectly for me. At the very least it wasn't as convoluted a recipe as the Bi-Rite's and that couldn't hurt.

When time came for Michele to leave for the work thingy, I very calmly kissed her good-bye and then set out to run my errands and get back in time to make the marshmallows so that they'd be ready by the time she got back. I don't think she noticed me practically shoving my proxy peach pie into her hands and pushing her out the door. I don't think.

I'm just getting into working in the confectionery world, and though there were areas of my process that could definitely stand some improvement and refinement (perhaps I need a different style of candy thermometer), what I ended up with was most definitely better than any marshmallows I've ever had before!

Chock full o' mallows!

Even better up close.

I think I might have to start a new birthday tradition.

When Michele (finally) got home, I had a bowl of marshmallows sitting ready for her. When she finally saw them – walked right by them, she did – the smile on her face let me know that I'd done a very, very good thing. And the look of ecstasy that replaced the smile when she popped one in her mouth let me know that the good thing was delicious. I took the bulk of the remainder to the standing Saturday night dinner engagement we have with friends and shared them with the table. I was left with very few to take back home with me. A good day, I think!

One question remained, though: Would they stand up to toasting? There was only one way to find out. Tonight we broke out the kitchen torch, found some bamboo skewers and Michele put the heat to the mallow.




I think it held up rather well. And Michele pronounced it "delicious" so that settled the matter.

Someone mentioned that we should descend on the home of some friends in Connecticut and commandeer there fire pit and toast up a batch of these. I might just be up for that....

Currently listening to: Tina Moore - Never Gonna Let You Go


Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Brulee By Any Other Name...

...is caramelized sugar. I sort of learned this fact about twenty-four years ago when I made my first Raspberry Bakewell Tart (with Burnt Cream). Actually, it was a creme brulee with with fresh raspberries on top. I found the recipe in one of my issues of Bon Appetit and it was a hit with my dinner guests. This was well before I actually had my first true creme brulee, mind you. I hadn't even heard of that dessert at the time. Yet I made one just the same. Go figure.

What does this have to do with the price of tea in China, you may ask. Well, not much, except that I recently got back into the creme brulee game, and by "creme" I mean "ice cream". The story goes like this:

Remember a while ago when I made all that ice cream to send my father? Remember the Golden Double Vanilla? Remember when I told a  friend mine about it and he issued a challenge? Of course you don't because I didn't tell you about it then! Don't pout; I'm telling you about it now. Being an excellent cook himself, he said something like "Now I challenge you to put some of that in a heat resistant bowl, freeze it hard then put some turbinado sugar on top of it and caramelize the sugar." Essentially he wanted me to make an ice cream brulee. Hot sugar on still frozen ice cream? How could I resist?

It just so happens that I actually have a kitchen torch. It was a birthday gift from someone (a professional chef) and I'd never used it. The box just gathered dust for nearly twenty years until this challenge. I bought some butane for it, filled it and prepared to light it for the first time.

No, it didn't explode but it was rather unnerving to have that kind of controlled flame so close to my hand. An arc welder I'll never be. I was a little incredulous how this little experiment would turn out, especially since I had zero experience with the torch. Still, I was committed so I set things up...

With sugar on top.

...put the fire to the ice and watched what happened.

Poufe! Caramelizing sugar.
Working. Sort of.

And I ended up with:

Sort of.
As another friend of mine told me when I showed him a picture, I need a bigger torch so I can broaden the flame to get a more even melt. The tiny torch I have is prone to hot spots. Not that I gave one wit about all that when I was broke through the hardening hot crust to dig into still frozen ice cream. I cared even less after the first spoonful hit my tongue. Delicious! I call this challenge mostly met.

But, yeah, I'll get a bigger torch. Later.

Currently listening to: Azedia - Calm Down