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I’ve been called many names like perfectionist, difficult, and obsessive.  I think it takdes obsession, takes searching for the details for any artist to be good. ~Barbara Streisand

I turned SIXTY this past September.  That’s a big 6 and an 0.  Six DECADES of life.  And I still feel like I’m 17 with the whole world at my feet and eternity to explore it in.  As my birthday approached I became increasingly reflective, contemplating the past and what I have accomplished and musing about how much time I had left to accomplish anything,; whether I could accomplish anything that mattered,  and what I wanted that to be.  What kind of legacy did I want to leave behind?  How could I be the best me I could be?

These musings were very private and personal so they didn’t get written about.  At least not for public consumption. They consumed a great deal of time and energy and as a consequence this Blog and many other things were neglected.  It was a downright obsessive compulsive period that lasted much longer than I would have thought  but in many ways I am glad I took those long months off and engaged in more than a little self indulgent navel gazing.  It was good for me because I realized that I had been shambling  through life like a tumbleweed blown hither, thither, and yon at the whim of whatever breeze blew the hardest.  I need to focus.  I need to narrow down what I will give my precious little available head space  and physical energy to and set some goals.

I don’t usually make formal New Years Resolutions because when I do  I usually set such lofty goals for myself that I can’t possibly live up to them.  But then that leads to vague, unfocused rambling semi-goals  that are seldom really productive.  Every year I do choose a few  new to me things to learn.  Usually something difficult and something not so difficult and something easy. I really enjoy learning to do new things and I have learned a lot of things over my lifetime.  I’m proud of this ability and I’m proud of the many varied interests I have.  I think it keeps me young and my mind alert.  (I may be kidding myself about that part.)  Most of all it means that I am very rarely bored.

However, where I get into trouble is my expectations for myself.  For instance last year I vowed to learn to play bridge and I did learn the basics but bridge is a complicated game and there was so MUCH to learn that I became overwhelmed so I quit.  I wanted to be able to jump into a game with people who had been playing Bridge for years and be competitive.  I was not content to BE a beginner.  And that is my hubris.  I expect too much of myself.  I’m too competitive.

The same thing happened when I decided to learn to crochet before my daughter was born.  I didn’t just want to learn to crochet, I wanted to crochet her coming home from the  hospital outfit and when I was a couple of months along I chose a lovely and not too complicated  pattern. I managed to accomplish learning how to crochet and I did manage to make my daughter’s coming home outfit before she was born but I didn’t learn some things that were essential for crocheting a truly lovely garment.  And my disappointment in my effort led me to quit putting in any more effort to learn.   I couldn’t do it perfectly so I didn’t want to do it at all.  I realize now that it really was too hard to learn more than the basics  all by myself.  What’s more, I wasn’t willing to do the dull practice of crocheting simple scarves and hats that didn’t require complicated turns and counting stitches to get to the point that I could point with pride at what I had made. If I cannot produce a garment that looks as if it had been made by someone with 20 years of experience crocheting then I lose interest.  I want to be an expert in 3 easy lessons.

Of course that doesn’t  happen.  My expectations for myself were and always have been too high.  If I can’t be an instant expert, leftover tapes from my childhood begin to play in my head and I  abandon whatever didn’t come easy immediately.  So this year, late in life, I have decided to learn how to lower my expectations and learn something difficult one baby step at a time and not let my failure to be perfect at doing it right away get in my way. After all, over the years whenever I wanted a new scarf or a hat, I have picked up the yarn and needles and crocheted one and now people see my work and offer to pay me to crochet for them.  I have finally become an expert in scarves and hats. I’ve decided after all this time to learn to be a beginner. Not so difficult things usually comes pretty easy for me so I felt that the key to correcting this flaw in my character was to break something down into its simplest components, to begin at the beginning  and become an expert in one small piece at a time before I allowed myself to move on the the next small piece.

So these are my New Year’s resolutions.

1.  Find a teacher to teach me how to do something difficult the right way and quit expecting myself to be able to learn new things without help.

2. Accept that I cannot become an expert in something until I have finished the business of being a beginner.

3. Put my ability to be obsessive to good use and learn to deal with the boredom of the repetitive details of being a beginner until I have ceased to be a beginner at step one before I move on to step two.

4. Do allow my compulsive nature to jump ahead to what I consider  the “fun stuff”  ruin the process of learning.  Learn to accept “failure” and frustration as part of the process of learning.

5. Relax and enjoy being  the best me I can be.

These are the new things I want to learn this year:

Making good light fluffy cream Scones

The Korean alphabet

Understanding and using Linux terminal  command lines

Oh, and one more resolution:  BLOG about my experiences

.

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If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.
George Bernard Shaw

Happy is said to be the family which can eat onions together. They are, for the time being, separate, from the world, and have a harmony of aspiration.
Charles Dudley Warner

Family. Can there be a more prickly source of joy and despair in our lives? Last night my children, Daryn and Kerryn, came to have dinner with me. We haven’t had a meal together just the three of us in years. There were a good many conversations that began “remember when…”

Daryn brought Kerryn his electronic key board (she wants to learn to play the piano and is planning to take piano lessons!) and while I got dinner on the table and took pictures of it, she began trying to play chopsticks. I was immediately transported back in time, wandering down memory lane. That was the one piece I taught them as youngsters and they loved the fact that we could all three play a part. Whenever we got near a piano back in the early years the three of us would play chopsticks.

Last night was special. My kids became kids again and I was the Mom. We were the family of origin once again.  The salient unit. Happy being together.

Sadly, I forgot to take pictures of THEM. I’m pretty sure they enjoyed having just the three of us together without spouses, grandchildren and extended family members present. We’ll have to remember to do it more often.

On the menu: “left over” Boef Bourguinon (I froze some of the beef and broth when I made it a couple of weeks ago and added fresh vegetables. Fairly quick and easy.) and Dairy Free “Buttermilk” Biscuits. It was a great meal for a night spitting rain and snow and the biscuits turned out really well.  So far I have had only one failure with my egg and dairy free adaptions of family recipes.  That’s amazing!

Barbara Gavin-Lewellyn

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Sunday was my son’s 41st birthday so of course we had to have cake! My family doesn’t eat a lot of cake. Not that we don’t like it because we certainly do. A little too much, in fact. We just reserve cakes and pies and sweets in general for special occasions. So we get birthday cakes 6 times a year and probably a couple more “just because” cakes when all of us get together. Daryn has requested boxed cake mix cakes for years because he likes the oily fluffiness of them. To my daughter and me, this is cake heresy.

So this year I vowed to find the oiliest fluffiest cake recipe out there. After 41 years, I finally came up with a homemade cake that Dz actually liked. Presenting…

Brazilian Chocolate Chiffon Cake

with strawberries and custard

The cake:

Preheat your oven to 325*

Pour 1 ¼ cup hot very strong coffee* over:

4 squares of baker’s chocolate chopped

2 TBS margarine or butter

¼ to ½ ** tsp hot red pepper flakes

½ to 1** tsp cinnamon

½ tsp baking soda

and stir until chocolate is melted. *I ground coffee beans until they were espresso powder consistency, put a couple of heaping teaspoons in my glass measuring cup and then poured boiling water into it and let it steep awhile. Then I reheated it in the microwave and poured the whole mess over the chocolate. Most of the coffee grounds stayed in the cup. You can use 2 heaping teaspoons of instant crap coffee but… I’m just saying…

**The amount of pepper flakes and cinnamon depends on how much you like those flavors. I used more pepper flakes because we like more and less cinnamon because I was serving strawberries and cream with the cake. In moderation both intensify the flavor of the chocolate as does the coffee and you hardly know they are there.  Adding more pepper flakes does give the cake an unexpected bite.  You can also use cayenne pepper.

Set the chocolate mixture aside to cool and sift together:

2 Cups cake flour

1 ½ cup sugar

3 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

Make a well in the dry ingredients and add in order:

1 1/2 cup canola oil

7 unbeaten egg yolks

cooled* coffee and chocolate mixture

2 tsp vanilla

Stir with a spoon until the mixture is smooth. Do not beat. You do not want the gluten to start binding together. The less you stir the fluffier the cake will be.

*Make sure your coffee and chocolate mixture has cooled to room temperature. Too hot and it will cook the egg yolks and you don’t want that!

Beat slowly until the eggs whites start bubbling:

1 cup of egg whites (7 or 8)

½ tsp cream of tartar

Then crank the mixer up to high and beat until the egg whites form stiff glossy peaks.   Fold, do not stir, the chocolate batter into the egg whites just until they are incorporated. There should be light streaks, medium streaks and a few dark streaks in the batter.

Bake in three ungreased 9” cake pans (or in the case of the cake pictured above one 10 inch flan pan and two 8”pans) at 325* for 25-35 minutes, then check with a tooth pick. If it comes out clean, the cake is done. If it’s got gooey stuff on it bake another 5-10 minutes and check again.

OR

Bake in an ungreased angel food cake pan for 55 minutes. Increase the heat to 350* and bake another 10-15 minutes and test with a toothpick.

What comes next is probably the most ambitious cake project I have ever attempted. I should have stuck to plain old cake with Ganache icing but noooo, I had to try fancy. All I can say is DO NOT attempt this unless you are an experienced cake decorator or you are prepared to fail. I failed. Spectacularly.

Strawberries and Custard Filling

I wish I could give you a good recipe for this. The one I made tasted good but it was a total flop as far as constructing the cake went. I wish I had an excuse to make another cake to see if I could pull it off, having learned from my mistakes but given the expense of the key ingredients (13 eggs! 3 cups of heavy cream, 10 squares of baking chocolate, a bag of Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips and a pint of strawberries), I will have to wait until the next special occasion to experiment. Or not. If you insist on doing this, use the custard of your choice and slice some strawberries up in it. Don’t blame me if it doesn’t work.

Ganache

Where have I been all these years that I had not discovered you can cover a cake in semi-sweet chocolate candy??? Sweet!

On medium heat in a heavy pan, scald 1 ½ cup of whipping cream or to be safe, do it over a double boiler. Watch it carefully because it will scorch in a heart beat. That would be bad. While it is heating, in a heat proof bowl put:

1 bag of Ghirardelli semi-sweet chocolate chips,

6 squares of bitter-sweet baking chocolate

1 TBS corn syrup (I used coconut syrup)

2 TBS unsalted butter

2 TBS Dutch processed cocoa mixed with a little of the hot cream.

Just before the cream starts to boil, pour it over the chocolate and other ingredients and start stirring. Stir until the chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours until it is of the consistency you can still pour it onto the cake and spread it like frosting. Start assembling your cake.

Here’s where things started going south for me. The strawberries and custard in the well of the flan layer, worked out great but the second layer, not so much. The custard was supposed to sit on top of the second layer but it was way too loose. I might not have cooled it down enough. The kitchen might have been too hot. I also should have listened to my gut and gone with my instinct that the recipe I was referencing for the custard called for way too much whipped cream. Probably three times as much as it should have had in it to do what they claimed it was going to do. In other words, 1 ½ cups of heavy cream vs ½ cup of heavy cream whipped. That was my first big mistake.

At any rate, the strawberries and custard started sliding off the second layer of cake immediately. I threw the whole mess in the refrigerator and took a break to contemplate my impending disaster. Then it occurred to me that I could just make a well in the second layer of cake and slap the third layer of cake on top of it to contain it. So I scraped all the strawberries and cream off the second layer, dug a well by cutting a circle 1 ½ inch from the edge of the cake and hollowing it out about 1 ½ inch down. Then I filled it up with the strawberries and cream and used some of the ganache to glue the top layer onto the second layer. That worked for the most part BUT I should have glued the second layer to the flan base too. Mistake number two. Strawberries and cream started oozing out of the bottom layer. Gaaaah!

About now the Ganache is starting to set up big time, desperately trying to turn back into chocolate chips and squares. So I’m starting to panic and I start slapping Ganache on there, trying to use it like Spackle and I’m filling in nail holes on the wall, getting chocolate everywhere. Oh brother… Then it hits me. I can probably just heat this stuff back up to get it back to pouring and spreading consistency again. Ah, yes, that works. Deep breath, all is not lost, yet…

Finally it’s together and doesn’t look nearly as awful as I thought it was going to look. In fact, I’m rather pleased with it, all things considered. I decide I will use this recipe for Ganache again but I need something better than a table knife to apply it with.  I put an offset icing spatula on my Amazon wish list.


So 10 long hours after I started baking I have a cake to take to my son’s birthday party. In a fit of laziness, I buy some canned whip cream to cover up the worst of the messiness and make my THIRD big mistake.

My daughter comes to pick me up and talks me into letting the cake be seat belted into the back seat rather than riding on my lap where I can keep it upright. You KNOW where this is going, right? HUGE mistake number FOUR. I knew before I took it out of the car that I was in crisis mode again. The top two layers have slid off of the flan layer and are smushed up against the lid of the cake carrier.

We  decide to deal with it in the morning and stick it into Kerryn’s refrigerator. It doesn’t look irreparable and canned whipped cream can cover a lot of sins. Right? Right.

Sooo I’m up early and at K’s house looking for coffee by 7:30. My son-in-law promises to help me fix the cake after Kerryn and I get the roasts in the oven. We begin browning meat, preheating the oven and peeling vegetables. By 10am our dinner is under control and Kerryn and I have made a run to PiggilyWiggily to find the flints for the vintage table lighter I got Dz.

Mike and I get the top two layer of the cake back to where they belong and I proceed to use my trusty can of pressurized whip cream to make pretty flowerets that cover up the worst of the disasters. But wait, before I’m done the flowerets start melting! Oh NOES! The kitchen is too hot from the roasting beef and pork. Back in the fridge it goes!

I go peek at it before dinner and all those pretty whipped cream flowerets have dripped down the side of the cake like whipped cream tears. This cake is looking decidedly and sadly Gothic. THEN I remember that canned whip cream isn’t very stable. Sigh…

In the end before I present the cake to my family and guests, I show them the picture of what it looked like before the whipped cream melted. Then I bring out the sad Gothic mess I had to serve and we all have a good laugh at my expense. Before I can find the camera, they start pulling the chocolate covered strawberries off so Dz can cut it into serving pieces. 

Everyone agrees that despite its sad appearance the cake and its damn strawberries and cream custard tastes really good although Jen doesn’t look like she is too sure she wants to taste it in this picture. Dz says it is as fluffy and oily as a boxed mix and I should try again next year. So mostly a success.

In retrospect I should have gone and bought an angel food cake pan or used my Bundt pan and poured the custard and strawberries into the center as advised by one recipe I read but they didn’t have an angel food cake pan at the store and I was afraid my Bundt pan wouldn’t work well enough. I wanted a flat top for the chocolate covered strawberries. Right…

Oh yeah, the vintage lighter doesn’t work either. It needs one of these:

On the other hand it looks really cool but I forgot to take a picture of it. It looks like this but is cooler because it is black and tan and shinier.

We are looking for a working model to get the part we need.

B

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