Friday, August 10, 2012

Ricotta Vanilla Pound Cake

Today I made lots of food. I made black bean burgers and put them on toasted fresh bread from the local bakery along with goat cheese, avocado, tomato, and arugula. I made a ricotta vanilla pound cake and a fresh raspberry sauce to go with it. It was all pretty yummy, if I do say so myself.

Today was my first day home in a while. I spent the summer teaching seventh graders and it was absolutely incredible. I'm trying to make this cake into an analogy for the summer. Everything I'm coming up with is sort of ridiculous.
"This simple cake represented the simplicity of teaching..."
"This cake offers sweetness and tart without being overwhelming..."

It was actually overwhelming and insane. They did crazy things, they drove me nuts, they made me want to laugh when I should act stern, they humbled my conceited butt like no butt has been humbled before. The dessert I should relate to my summer would probably be this one:

This is the Chocolate Avalanche Cake I made with my friend a couple summers ago. This is what my summer was like. It was over-the-top, it had lots of different weird things smashed together, it was really sweet, and it sort of fell apart in the middle but turned out delicious anyways.

But this pound cake is my day-after-coming-home cake. It's beautiful and sweet but not an avalanche. It's a good "this ended" cake. It was a "use up the fat-free ricotta in the fridge" cake. It was a "get some fresh raspberries from the grocery store" cake.

It's because I'm sad. I hate this sad. My cake says "It ended and your life is not as worthwhile now as it was a couple days ago." I felt like this last summer, too, and I did today what I did before: I made up things to do. I relearned how to ride a bike and biked a lot, I remembered how to rollerblade and rollerbladed a lot, I went to a spinning class, I baked and cooked, I read. I'm sort of avoiding being sad and making up fulfilling stuff for me to do.

So, at the end of this depressing post, today's good thing of the day is feeling sad. For me, it means that even though it's gone, something good happened. I'm sad because I was so recently so incredibly happy. I just broke up with teaching and I'm using desserts and wheels to avoid it.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Cupcakes through the ages (okay, this past year)

Hey! This is my first post in a while. The baking situation here is still on edge. 

All right, and also I'm super busy. I'd like to say "it's just that time of year," but it's not. There's always something to do! This should be a wonderful week, though- both my younger sister and my best friend from high school are visiting. I can't wait to show them both around the beautiful campus and catch up. 

I don't really have much to write today, but I'm putting up pictures from a while ago just to switch things up a bit. Also, those cell-phone photos of the chocolate cakes are not very beautiful! So here are some cupcakes I made for various bake sales. You can tell which seasons they were, especially St. Patrick's Day!

Apparently, South Park is a big deal.

Thanks to Hello, Cupcake for the Pie and Marshmallow Flower ideas! Those guys are brilliant:)

And today's Good Thing of the Day: Late nights talking to a friend. Sometimes sleep is important. Sometimes it's a worthwhile sacrifice for an interesting conversation or a wonderful person. And sometimes there's no contest. I am so blessed to have people around me for whom I would willingly take up a coffee habit in the mornings (an addiction I'm hoping to put off as long as possible!) in exchange for extra hours smiling and laughing with somebody I love.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Chocolate Mousse Cake with Raspberries

It's official, I really am in love with the King Arthur Flour Company. I check the blog daily (okay, maybe two or three times a day...), have bought and memorized all the cookbooks, and am asking for a subscription to the Baking Sheet for my birthday. Why do I do this?

Because everything is so good.

I love being able to trust a recipe. Recipes abound online, and I am always optimistic about trying them. However, I've made some pretty horrible things from the web, ranging from microwaved cakes to brownies made mostly out of bananas to weird chicken concoctions. I've also found what I'm sure were great recipes that turned out to be nearly impossible to do, like the lemon coffeecake with sticky, persnickety dough I had to cut up into a million squares, or the cupcakes baked in ice cream cones that ended up dripping all over the bottom of the oven.

And those are simple! It should be easy to roll out dough, cut it up, stuff it in a pan, and stick it in the oven. I usually bake with endless patience, and I follow every direction. Somehow, though, something always goes wrong.

Not with KAF, though. (This is turning out to be a total plug for them, I truly don't have any affiliation except for a deep love.) I made this cake, a fancy, layered, complicated cake, in three hours for a birthday dinner- dinner with my then-boyfriend and his parents, no less. I frantically whipped things together, I didn't have enough cake pans, I didn't have a carrying case, I didn't have mini chocolate chips, I ran out of butter, I put it under a salad bowl and seat belted it in the passenger seat for a 20-minute car ride...

And it turned out perfectly.

I made it again here at college, it was the first (and only) baking project I've done in the college kitchen. It's very strange not to have constant access to a kitchen and ingredients, and right now I haven't baked as much as I'd like. I'm still getting the lay of the land. This experience baking was just as frantic as before, only this time I didn't have any cake pans, and had only two hours because I had been locked out! (I stole an extra hour, though. Shh.) It still came out perfectly- though the picture doesn't do it justice. 

I carried it down three blocks of city streets, uncovered, and stored it in our miniature refrigerator. I think this is becoming a pattern with this cake, and my 100% hit rate led me to my final decision:

King Arthur Flour is magical.

Today's good thing of the day is mail. Mail is fantastic. Getting a letter or a package is one of the best feelings in the world, especially when it's from somebody you love. "Brown paper packages tied up with string/ These are a few of my favorite things." Maria said it all.

And related KAF Blog Post

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tiramisu (TiramiSISTER)

I made this tiramisu, with the help of my sister, twice in one week. It was absolutely splendid, even for me, and I am a strict no-coffee person. It started out with a jelly roll, which was a sponge cake baked in a 10x15 pan. We let it cool and cut it into three strips, then brushed it with plain ol' coffee. We made the filling, but unfortunately had only bought one cup of cream at the store, half of what the recipe called for. To maximize the amount of filling we could make, we whipped the cream and folded it into two tubs of creamed marscapone cheese and sugar, instead of just pouring the cream in. We layered the filling with the cake and sprinkled cocoa over the top with a sifter, and TA-DA! A cake worthy of a bakery. Recipe from (seriously, do I have to say it?) King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion.

It's great to bake with other people. Usually I end up turning baking into a very solitary activity, and I forget how nice it is to chat and divide up the jobs with somebody I love. I have trouble relinquishing total power in the kitchen, because I'm somewhat of a control freak- but I mean well, I really do. It's a nice reminder that I'm not the only person allowed to bake in the world; perhaps other people don't share my desire to bake constantly, but that doesn't mean that they can't make some cookies sometimes.

Today's good thing of the day is the Mumford & Sons album Sigh No More. I had the album from my father for a while, but only really started listening when a friend suggested it to me. I've rediscovered it with the help of that same friend, and I can't get enough. It's full of great lyrics and beautiful music and memories, and I know it'll join my list of favorite collections of music (along with my Big Chill soundtrack, which has been a perennial favorite since elementary school). Listening to M&S this summer has helped me realize how to genuinely approach music. I'm finally realizing that I don't need to worry about finding music nobody else has heard of. I don't need to be picky, and I don't need to prove myself by what songs I like to listen to, as I worried about this past half a year. I DO like cheesy country songs, folk music, oldies, pop, Indian tunes, Celtic music, and classical. I like songs that make me feel good and mean something to me. Maybe people will continue to scoff, and I guess that's okay- I'm not a music junkie, and I'm certainly not an expert. I deserve it if I pretend to know more than I do know, but it's all right for me to continue listening to the songs that I love.

Monday, August 8, 2011


This was by far the best loaf of bread I've made to date. I know I can expect something to go wrong every time I bake, but as I get more experienced the obligatory mistake generally gets less dramatic. The exception here is with bread. I mixed potato starch flour up with potato flour. I put it in a gigantic baking pan. I burned the bottom, I undercooked the inside. I couldn't get it to rise, I poured boiling water into the yeast. I failed to knead it enough (I almost always have too-sticky bread dough, but I'm scared to add too much flour). I forgot to cover it when it was rising. The list goes on and on.

Interestingly enough, this phenomenon also applies to travels to our local grocery store. Every time you go there, you will see somebody you know. Sometimes it's nice and even enjoyable, but generally if you are not necessarily looking your best, the more likely it is you'll see somebody you either want to impress or don't want to see.

Back to baking. Usually all the bread turns out to be delicious despite slight setbacks, but this challah was challah. It was fantastic. It had the perfectly sweet, billowy/chewy inside (that texture is difficult to describe). The dough wasn't sticky and it rose up spectacularly and braided like a dream. Plus, since it was a nice "little bubble" bread, I didn't have to do a sponge overnight, which I often never have time to do.

Today's good thing of the day is rainy days. We've had a couple so far this summer, and they are heavenly. I can sit on the screen porch and read and listen to the rain and dream. It's my favorite kind of weather.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tomato Ravioli with Spinach, Prosciutto, and Ricotta Filling

One of my favorite things to do when I come home is to make pasta. It seems difficult, but the truth is it's very easy, only few people think to do it. The flavor is fantastic, to boot.

We always have a carbohydrate, a protein, and a vegetable for dinner, and since I love to cook I usually insist on making everything from scratch, to my family's dismay- "couldn't we just do something easy tonight?" Cooking is soothing to me, though, and it's so satisfying to have a day with no time constraints whatsoever, so the possibilities are limitless. The problem is, though, that I can only make bread so often, and usually I don't think ahead enough to make a starter. One day, then, I decided to make pasta- without a pasta maker!

I rolled and rolled the dough, and spent forever slicing it with a knife, but in the end a rolling pin could only do so much. Finally I got a pasta machine, and (with a little practice) I was making linguine like it was my calling.

I've learned a few things. First, fake eggs (my poison of choice for any baking endeavor that doesn't require separation) are just fine, if you're not a purist. Honestly, you can't tell the difference, and you don't have to worry about salmonella or fat. Second, the food processor is great, and you just need to grind up the ingredients until they look like cornmeal. When I first tried this, I didn't believe it, so I added a lot more olive oil and then formed it into a ball. That's really not necessary, because the dough is supposed to be, well, rubbery and not-sticky. Once you roll it flat and chop it into ribbons, it's perfect. Third, you can catch it and hang it from a baking rack between two chairs to dry, but be careful that the cats don't reach it or else they will bat it onto the floor and it will break.

This time, I got to use my new ravioli mold. I found the pasta dough in the King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook and chose a filling from Giada De Laurentiis's Everyday Pasta. I used fat-free ricotta, which was fantastic. This is another reason I love homemade food: you can control exactly what you're eating. Ravioli are a family favorite, but you can't buy ravioli made with fat-free eggs and fat-free ricotta.

We made an olive oil with two minced garlic cloves that we crisped up in a pan to drizzle on top, and steamed some asparagus for the side. It was a great dinner on a beautiful summer night.

Today's good things of the day are local Humane Societies. We've been volunteering there a lot, which basically means that I get to go pet cats and play with dogs for hours on end. There are a lot of beautiful, kind animals there, and even if you can't adopt one it's so wonderful to just spend a little time loving them. I know a lot of people stop there after work for half an hour and walk a dog for a bit- there's no pressure, just a lot of furry friends. If you're so inclined, I encourage you to check them out!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Birthday, America!

Happy Fourth of July!
This flag cake is off of a great baking blog called 17 and baking. I saw it on the most recent post, and knew right off the bat that I had to make it. It reminded me of another cake I made last year, a rainbow one (cool colors on the bottom, warm on top) with white icing. The "Big Reveal" invoked many oohs and aahs, and the theatrical, showy part of my soul rejoiced.

I usually don't focus as much on how baked goods look, because in my experience a beautiful cake is not necessarily the most delicious one. Given the choice between an absolutely circular cake with plastic-looking fondant and perfect sugar figurines and a sideways, gooey, rich chocolate concoction/mess, I know exactly what I'll choose. I'll take an Avalanche Cake over a sugar sculpture every time.

However, sometimes I adore a beautifully decorated cupcake or a colorful cake if it remains inviting to eat (AKA it still has lots of icing). I think that this cake is in a nice spot. It makes an impact, but it's neither so intricate nor so perfect that anybody would have second thoughts digging out a nice big forkful.

The good thing of the day is Harry Potter. This might make me (okay, definitely makes me) a geek. However, after years of resistance, my younger sister is finally motoring through the books, in order to be prepared for the midnight premiere of the last movie. I feel like a proud mother duck, watching all the movies and discussing all the books with her. All of my other friends have memorized them as I have, but initiating another person into the Ms. Rowling's magical world is, in a goofy way, inspiring. Let's hope she likes them!

(White layer of cake is Elegant White cake, red and blue layers are Classic Yellow Cake, and frosting is Easy Buttercream, all from the King Arthur Flour Cookbook)