Monday, February 28, 2011

Someone left the cake out in the rain

Or they should have.
Ginger Maple Spice Cake with Creme Fraiche Frosting and Salted Maple Caramel Sauce.
There isn't a word in there that I don't like. I love Maple. I love Caramel. I especially love Salt and Spice Cake. The reviews on Epicurious were mixed at best. But I thought I'd just view them as advice and cautionary tales. One criticism was that the cake is dry. I figured it just needed more frosting. Instead of two 9" layers I made three 8" layers. I made 50 % more frosting. This was going to be wonderful. I was so excited.

I was so disappointed.
The ginger comes from Candied ginger that you grind into the flour. The spice is 5 spice powder which I like, but it turns out, only in savory dishes. The maple was maple sugar and real maple flavor. The recipe specifies artificial flavor, but Yuck! And the frosting has creme fraiche in it and more real maple flavor. All of those flavors are gross individually and they were all even worse together. The candied ginger was too sweet and not all that gingery. Creme fraiche tastes fermented, like cheese, not rich and slightly sour, like sour cream. The maple sugar and maple flavor imparted a musty burned flavor. Imagine you burned some sugar and then left it in the attic while you went off to college for 4 years.
And then there was the texture.

Because the frosting is really just whipped cream, the cake has to be chilled, so the cake is quite stiff while the frosting stays soft. And all that frosting doesn't penetrate and moisten the cake, it just squishes away and smears around the plate and away from your fork, not that you care because it has that nasty fermented flavor. But the experience is akin to a disconcerting episode with an ice cream sundae where the ice cream is too hard and the toppings are too soft and there is no melding. And it's all rum raisin anyway.
The salted maple caramel sauce? That burnt sugar you left in the attic, well, add some salt to it.

Love, M

Bread Today

Hi there,

I'm making bread today, and yet, here I am at my office. How is that, you ask? Well, let me tell you...

In the morning I mixed up:
1 T yeast
1 T salt
3 cups of warm water
When it was all stirred up I added:
1.5 c. polenta
3 c whole wheat flour
2 c. white flour (actually today it only took about 1.5 cups, but it's usually 2)
I  mix it up well and covered the bowl with a plastic shower cap lifted from a hotel still swanky enough to have such things, and let it rise while I went upstairs for an hour long conference call. When I came down it was pushing against the shower cap so I punched/stirred it down, covered it with a dusting of flour, divided it in half and made the "gluten cloak".

This is not as magical as it sounds, and it has no disappearing properties. You take each half and sort of turn it inside out, pulling the sides down and tucking them back into the middle on the bottom. You have to work fast bc the dough is sticky, and you can't get too uptight about it being perfect. The idea is that you are somehow stretching the flour that you have sprinkled on top into a "gluten cloak" that will trap the gas from the little yeastie beasties and make the bread rise. Maybe it's more magical than I thought.

Then I asked Amos to put it in the oven in an hour, at 350 for 45 minutes, and left for work. I'd send you a picture but like I said, I'm at work.

Love, Elise

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Chilly Hilly

Hi there,

The Chilly Hilly was both. Snow and rain on the last half of the ride, but fortunately we took the shortcut that cut off 10 miles. Our way was eased by lots of families with stands pedaling "hot chocolate, hot cider, hot coffee" as one 10 year old sang out.These girls were my favorite - rice crispy treats, brownies, cupcakes, cookies, and they'd made them all themselves. Now we're talking!

There were a surprising number of kids - on tandems, one set of two on a tri-dom with dad puffing hard going up the hill, and even one who looked to be about 8 riding the whole thing on his own. Wow.

These guys rode the entire 33 miles with 3 cases of beer.  I think they would have had a lighter load if they'd chosen a ride in August.

Came home to leftover Turkey Tagine - 3 super foods to fight all the free radicals. Thanks for the tip.

Love, Elise

Monday, February 21, 2011

Brave about it

I remember the first time Andrew visited me at the ranch. I was probably 17 which meant he was 19. Mom and Dad had moved out of the Lancers but there was still a Jeroboam of Soave Bolla under the kitchen sink. And they bought cases of Olympia beer. A few days into the visit, Andrew told me that he wasn't enjoying the Olympia and asked if maybe Mom could get some Heineken. I told Mom that Andrew wanted Heineken, that he didn't like the Olympia. She said, "Well, he's being very brave about it."
I have had a yearning for Hermit cookies. Ali made Hermit cookies, so I have cozy associations, and it's cold and damp, and February takes FOREVER, so I want a warm, spicy, cozy cookie. You said that you like the ones from Rosie's All Butter Etc. cookbook, and I made those first. I thought they were too spicy, almost hot. I ate them all, but wanted something different. I also wanted to add chocolate, because I like chocolate with warm spices, although I understand that you do not. (Makes a horse race? Makes the world go round?) This time I tried the Hermit cookies from the C. Kimball Dessert Bible. His recipe calls for twice the molasses and half the spices. I added chocolate chips, about a cup, with the raisins, no nuts.
And two things became apparent. First, Hermit cookies are soft enough, especially since I under bake them slightly, that when you add chocolate chips which makes them even gooier, you really need nuts for a texture contrast. These are too soft and mushy. Second, chocolate and molasses clash.
But I'll be brave about it and eat them all.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Rise and fall of the Whole Wheat Oatmeal Loaf

You are the bread baker in the family and that is both fact and metaphor. I've generally been daunted by bread. I was told early on that bread is sort of like the kitchen's mood ring. If you approach it with any negative emotion, even if that emotion isn't about the bread, you're just feeling cranky, discouraged or dysthymic, the bread will sense this and turn dark gray. No it won't, but it won't rise. And if the negative emotion is about the bread, then like a dog, the bread can sense your fear and it will bite you, by not rising. And after a failure or two, a few loaves that could be used as weapons and then to weight the body down after you have bludgeoned it to death, well, who isn't afraid of bread?
The first bread we made was Mother Sawyer's Oatmeal loaf from Mrs. Bently. This was a loaf to soothe all fears. No kneading, and yummy every time, if a bit holey and homely. I think it won a prize at the Grant County Fair. Our award winning bread.
The first time I made that bread for someone else was at that camp in Canada where I was junior counselor. There was a woman there who helped me with the cooking. As junior counselor I was put in charge of all the cooking. She introduced me to beans and miso and cold drip coffee enemas. (The cold drip coffee enemas she only told me about, I didn't actually experience them. She felt bad about this but she had only brought so much cold drip coffee with her and to my staggering relief, didn't have enough for me.) I had made the bread dough and left it for it's first rise when she discovered it. She assumed it was a sponge, or maybe she just thought I was as hopeless with bread as I was with tempeh, and she wanted to help. She added loads more flour and kneaded away and it made a beautiful round tight loaf. Nothing like our award winning bread but still good. I should have taken comfort in that experience, seen how forgiving bread dough can be, more of this, less of that, it all still ends up as bread. But instead, I just decided that despite the awards, I knew nothing about bread and I stayed away for years.
But it's February and I want to bake and I'm trying to limit the amount of white sugar I inhale every day so I thought a week away from cake baking would be a useful exercise. Instead, I could bake bread. I found a whole wheat oatmeal loaf recipe. It is actually partial wheat, about half white flour, but that seemed safer so I went for it. The recipe warns against adding too much flour, advises 10 minutes of kneading and admits that the dough may be sticky. Well, I added nearly an extra cup of flour and only kneaded for 8 minutes and the dough was too sticky to knead any more.
I have an electric oven and a kitchen that stays about 65 degrees, so in order to have a warm place for the bread to rise, I heated the oven briefly and then put the bread in there. This worked well for the first rising, but for the second, I left it too long and it rose and then collapsed.

I baked it anyway and it probably could have taken more flour. It was good, but very soft and holey. I might gird my loins and try again. Maybe if I have a specialty cocktail before I start, I could mask my feelings and the bread wouldn't know.
Or the next time you visit we could do it together.
Love, M