Friday, August 12, 2011

Cafe Mocha Cupcake Fail

I know just how popular cupcakes have become but I've never been a big fan, however I decided to try out a fun filled cupcake after having a suggestion to do so. I know cupcakes can be pretty easy and you can have a lot of free will when choosing what you want your cupcake to be all about. I sat down and thought about what I liked. I decided to make a cupcake based on one of my old favorite drinks; le cafe mocha.

The essence of my cupcake included; a basic chocolate cupcake, filled with an espresso flavored pastry cream, topped with homemade whipped cream and sprinkled with cocoa powder.  In my mind, this was the perfect idea; creating one my favorite sweet drinks into a pastry.  In reality, it did not come out like I imagined.  What can I say, I tend to be an optimist.

It all started with baking the cupcakes.  I had placed them in the oven and of coarse, I wanted to take advantage of time and start to cook the pastry cream as the cupcakes were baking in the oven. The pastry cream involved heating up milk and a sugar, egg mixture on the stove top.  It all went down hill when my stove top refused to light.  The timer went off for the cupcakes, when I checked them I decided to bake them a little longer.  In the meantime, I was distracted by my malfunctioning stove top.  

In the end, I over-baked the cupcakes, absentmindedly forgetting about them in the oven and managed to burn the pastry cream.  At the end of the day, I threw in the towel on my cupcakes and headed to Emmit's empty handed on that Saturday.  

Bake and Learn

However, it was a learning experience.  What I learned, you ask?  My stove is broken...

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Billy Eats Banana Cake

With summer in full fling, I decided to make a treat full of summer flavors; for this I chose a banana coconut cake.  The cake was full of different flavors: vanilla, nutmeg, coconut, banana, and held potential to add any extra flavors like nuts, raisins, maybe even some Malibu rum for a kick of coconut flavoring.

With my cake I was most concerned about having a moist and soft cake (I have eaten too many dried out banana breads for my liking).  To ensure a moist cake I used sour cream as a substitute for buttermilk in the recipe.  I have found that in most cakes, sour creams adds a nice flavor and also makes a moist cake.  With the sour cream and mashing up some ripe bananas, my cake seemed like it was off to a good start.  I knew that I had to watch the cake carefully considering I've been over-baking a lot of things.  
Billy can't resist the cake.

Somehow I managed to conquer my oven and my cake was deliciously tender.  I choose to serve my cake plain without any frosting but easily could have whipped up some frosting.  The cake was quite the hit at Emmit's, especially with my sister who loves all tropical flavors.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Size Doesn't Matter

So it been some time since my last post but Le Petit Baker is back in action.  I took quite the extended break from baking and blogging because life got messy; finishing up school, moving out of my apartment, moving into a new apartment, and staying in the suburbs with my parents for a few weeks, did not give me many opportunities to bake.  But now I'm in a new apartment and exploring the baking world again.  However, I have been lazy on blogging mostly because of the fact I have not bothered to set up wireless internet in my new closet, I mean studio.  

I've moved into a quaint vintage studio apartment and it is absolutely tiny but I'm already growing to love it.  Surprisingly it has not been too difficult to adjust to the "kitchen."  By kitchen, I mean a six foot wide space that houses a small fridge, a tiny countertop, a sink, and the cutest little oven I've ever seen!

Down for the Count[er]

It has been quite the task to bake considering the lack of counter space.  It's forcing me to be incredibly neat and organized during the baking process, which normally is not the case for me. But I look at it this way: if I can bake here, I certainly can bake anywhere.  

Recently I spoke with a culinary student and explained my tiny situation.  He told me how he avoided cooking and baking in any kitchen that was not the culinary school's.  The problem here is that I believe you do not need a tool for every project and enough space to make a mess.  Facing an issue and not having the proper tool to solve it requires innovation which can lead to new discoveries and ideas.  So for now, I'm going to have to face all the issues that will arise in my kitchenette. 

Coming Soon...

Disregarding the recent heat wave, I risked turning on my oven and creating a mini inferno in my studio to bake a few things; pound cake (which happened to overcook since I'm not fully acquainted with my new oven), quiche (which I made some improvements to), a fresh strawberry tart (with a hint of black pepper), along with a few other treats.

Future baking experiments include a banana coconut cake, croissants, and I most excited for a luau themed wedding cake for my newly eloped cousin!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Princess Peach

Peach Pie
Beer and Baked Goods Saturday featured peach pie.  Fruit pies are very simple but with this peach pie what was most important was the fruit to crust ratio.  The filling involves peaches and a little sugar, flour, and salt.  Peaches are not in season yet so I used canned peaches (and people could tell the difference).  I chose a lattice double crust in an attempt to try something new!  The pie looked nice and tasted great.

When making the pie I was concerned about the fruit letting out juices during the baking so I sprinkled a thin layer of bread crumbs on the pie crust before filling the pie.  The bread crumbs are pretty much flavorless but would absorb any extra juices of the peaches.  I had an issue with the fruit juices when I made blueberry pie so I tried to fix this problem.  It most certainly worked, my pie held together when I cut and served it and as always it was a success at Emitt's (even when served with a bottle of Miller Lite).

Friday, May 6, 2011


Pie is not only intended for dessert but also can be made into a delicious meal, i.e. quiche!  Quiche is basically an oven-baked, egg based pie.  You can add a handful of ingredients (vegetables, meats, cheeses) to a simple egg and milk filling.
My interest in baking quiche started like most other things I try to make; I had ordered quiche at a cafe and as I indulged in it, decided that it really can't be too difficult to make.  And this was surprisingly true.
I chose to make a tomato basil quiche.  I started out making the crust.  I used the same dough recipe as I do for dessert pies.  Then a sautéed onions and tomatoes in a basil, garlic, olive oil mixture.  I layered the bottom of the unbaked pie shell with cheese and added the sautéed vegetables on top.  I then beat eggs and poured over the cheese and vegetables thinking my quiche was ready to bake.  This is of course where I made a classic mistake.  

Classic Le Petit Baker

I had beaten four eggs and thought I was done, however I forgotten to add milk to the eggs.  Adding milk to the eggs will ensure a fluffy, less dense quiche, so I decided that I had to somehow add the milk.  I got a little rustic and poured whole milk into the tart pan that already had all the fillings.  I simply used a fork to milk all the ingredients together in the tart pan.  I'm sure some of you may be questioning this technique but I have read about making cream pies this way.  I've read that the Amish prefer to mix all the pie filling ingredients, not in a bowl but in the pie shell.  Well, either way it worked!  My quiche came out looking beautiful and was fluffy and the perfect lunch dish.

Do It Yourself

Making this quiche reminded me about how I get most of my baking ideas.  I generally I'm out and about, see something I like, and then decompose it and figure out how I can do it myself.  I've gotten a lot of my ideas from exploring cafes and bakeries around Chicago and seeing what other people are doing.  I've indulged in many slices of quiche but never took the time to try it on my own.  I finally did and it was successful.  
Maybe my method of design is not the most unique and individual.  Perhaps you think that I'm merely stealing other people's ideas or recipes but let me leave you with a quote by a man who offers me inspiration...
          "The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your 
                    - Albert Einstein

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Unfortunately I decided to cancel Le Petit Baker's debut at the Empty Bottle Farmer's Market.  I feel that there was a slight miscommunication between the organizer of the event and who exactly Le Petit Baker is.  I'm not sure they really understood that as legitimate as I like to come off, I'm merely a struggling baker.

However, no worries!  Le Petit Baker will still continue her baking adventures! Perhaps I'll find a better suited market to make my debut at! 

Upcoming treats include; tomato basil quiche, peach cobbler, and madeleines.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Very Sticky Honey Pecan Buns

I recently took on my first challenge with using yeast.  I've been meaning to bake the challenging cinnamon bun for quite some time and finally did.


As delicious as cinnamon buns are, they are not at all easy or simple to make.  Baking these treats requires you to make the dough a day in advance so the yeast can rise (and your buns will be soft and delicious).  I never baked with yeast, so testing these buns out was an interesting surprise.  I made the dough Friday afternoon and it was quite a workout.  
The dough was simple: yeast, flour, sugar, salt, butter, and milk.  However, I had to knead the dough by hand for ten long minutes (considering that I don't have a stand mixer).  I'm pretty sure that I developed carpal tunnel from those ten minutes.  Anyway, once the dough is mixed I watched it rise and patted into down every half hour for two hours.  Then the dough needs to sit refrigerated overnight.  After that the dough should be set.
As I said it should be set, however, that was not my case.  Unfortunately, my refrigerator was too cold and the dough froze! Yikes!
I managed to recover the dough by letting it thaw out but I had to finish the baking at Emmit's considering I was suppose to be at work at 11 in the morning.  I wasn't sure how the buns would turn out because of the freezing.  I baked them longer than the time required but that could have been because I was using the oven at Emmit's.  Either way they came out delicious!


I was very surprised at the results considering this was my first attempt but they were amazing.  They tasted like french toast with a sticky glaze and a pecan crunch.  Overall, my success was encouraging and everyone enjoyed them.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Blueberry Pie

The Secret Life of Pie

After multiple requests from one of Emmit's favorites, Tom Forde,I baked blueberry pie for this Saturday at Emmit's.  As always I woke up early to bake a delicious fresh pie.

Blueberry pie is a double crusted pie (there's pie crust on top of the pie) and baking can be difficult.  However I've developed a few tricks that make the crust come out better.  Because I make everything from hand, I don't use a food processor to prepare the pie dough which is generally standard.  As I've written before, using cold ingredients is really important for the pie dough.  Pie dough requires a lot of butter and cold butter can be difficult to work with.  I've found that using a cheese grater and grating the butter gets a perfect consistency and texture for the pie crust (so that's my little secret I'll share with all of you whom I've inspired to start baking pie!). So I just grate the butter into the flour and sugar mixture and then work the dough with my hands.

I also cover my pie with aluminum foil while baking it.  This prevents the edges of the pie crust from burning.  The aluminum foil will bake the crust but not allow it to brown so for the last few minutes of baking the pie I put it in the broiler and it browns the pie crust.  Just a little note about ovens: gas ovens and a lot better for baking than electric ovens so next time you buy an oven, I'd recommend gas. 

When it comes to the filling, fruit pies are really easy to make. Pick a fruit and add sugar and that's basically all you need.  (Of course I chose to add some lemon juice to my pie).

Living Up To T. Forde

Tom Forde, a friend of Emmit's owner Ron, is quite the difficult customer- he's very hard to please and is generally critical of any baked good I give him.  So Tom told me blueberry pie was his favorite and I thought I'd take on the challenge.

Drumroll please...

So what did Tom Forde think of my blueberry pie?

T. Forde's response was as classic as blueberry pie.  He mumbled a few words but I'm pretty sure he enjoyed it.  I'll admit that as weary as I am about fruit pies, I am proud of my blueberry pie creation.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

News Feed

Sadly I am getting out of the habit of blogging but I am still baking so here's a little update about what going on with Le Petit Baker.

Saturdays at Emmit's

Beer and baked goods Saturdays are really catching on at Emmit's.  It definitely makes work more exciting and I love when someone comes in and asks what I baked!  I find myself bringing in sweets not only on Saturdays now.  This week I made vanilla orange biscotti and sugar cream pie.

Farmer's Market

I will officially be selling pie at the Empty Bottle's Summer Farmer's Market on Sunday May 15th (right before my birthday)!  I am extremely excited for my first opportunity to sell something even though I probably won't make much money.  I'm still deciding if I should stick to only pie or some other pastries too (I figured pie would be the easiest thing to sell).  So come see Le Petit Baker (along with follower Sam Masi) at the Farmer's Market (Note: I'm pretty sure the market is 21+ because it is a bar but I'll check on that).  

Sunday, March 20, 2011

My Vintage Find

A few days ago I went to an antique store.  Along with the cuban cigar box and 1960s cigarette case, I bought a pie and pastry recipe booklet from the 1970s.  I figured that this book would hold some precious recipes so I tested some out for a beer and baked goods Saturday at Emmit's. 
(My attempt to promote myself at Emmit's)

Since I took a few week weeks off baking for Emmit's I decided to bake two pies; one fruit and one cream.  I chose a spiced pear pie and a coconut custard pie. The recipe booklet I bought was interesting in comparison to recently published cookbooks.  While more recent cookbooks offer a step by step detailed list of instructions, this booklet basically gave you a list of recipes and maybe one instruction.  I liked this change of pace considering I am generally too stubborn or impatient to follow every detail.  So I woke up early Saturday and baked my pies.

I am generally more partial to cream pies but I feel that the spiced pear pie was too delicious!  A tasty spice I used was nutmeg (which is my secret ingredient that I incorporate into everything that I bake, along with love).  I also incorporated some lemon juice and zest which I could certainly taste. 

Although I found the pear pie to be a better creation, the generally consensus from Emmit's regulars and employees was in favor of the coconut custard.  The best part of the day was seeing my favorite men (Ron, Dave, Tom, and Jerry) sitting at the bar simultaneously drinking a Guinness and eating my pie! I was lucky enough the sneak a picture on my cellphone.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Pi[e] Day!

Happy Pie Day!  So of course I am celebrating with my favorite dessert: pie.  I've been exploring how to make a ginger pie for about a week now and what better day to try it out than a day dedicated to pi or pie. I recently fallen in love with ginger.  I love baking with fresh ginger.  Ginger typically has a potent, spicy, tangy taste but when paired with some sugar, the taste is irresistible (at least for me!).  So, the second that my roommate reminded me today was pie day, I got started on this new creation.

Ginger Pie

I was surprised when I started looking for ginger pie recipes and couldn't find any.  I'm certain that I have seen ginger pie before but Google offered little results except for a fellow blogger who offered me a place to start.  I read the recipe and made a few adjustments.
Ginger pie is a custard like a pie, I found the base to be similar to a chess pie. Thinking about what would complement the ginger, I decided to add pecans to the pie dough.  I then proceeded with the pie filling.  The filling consisted of sugar (lots of it), butter, eggs, flour, fresh ginger, and lemon zest.  I added a few extra spices that I knew would bring out the ginger flavor.  I sprinkled the top of the pie with some sugar and baked.

As Told by Ginger

Well, as appetizing as I find ginger to be, it's not for everyone.  Not everyone can handle finding a fresh bit of ginger in their custard pie.  The fresh ginger pieces surprise you when it seems you're eating an ordinary custard pie but that's what I love about it; the unexpected crunch and spice.  But isn't that just like life- one minute you're going about you're daily routine and the next minute something or someone comes up and offers you a little spice to your life?  I should probably start baking more ginger pie.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Be Back in 5

Sadly, baking is taking a back seat this week.  Between pre-finals week and the St. Patrick's Day season at work, responsibility is calling.   However, I have recently made some efforts to break out in the baking world (however, none of these efforts have been successful).

PERKy baking enthusiast willing to work for free!

First off, I've been trying to get a job at a bakery for quite some time now (nothing against the lovely Emmit's) but have been unsuccessful due to my lack of experience.  I had the idea to offer to intern for some small cafe (whose identity I shall conceal).  I spoke with the owner and told her my long, extensive future plans and the struggle I have had finding a job.  My impression was that she was interested, I mean I was offering her my FREE labor.  However, her excuse that she was too busy to interview me (even though her cafe was completely empty) threw me off.  She claimed that she would call me later in the week, but she didn't.

The Empty Inbox

Next, I decided I should try to sell my baked goods.  I looked into a few farmer's markets and sent an email to the one I found to be most casual (an indoor farmer's market held in a undisclosed bar).  I described my situation (a student bakery with aspirations of a sole proprietorship who would love the opportunity to network and get feedback on her pies!) through an email.  I eagerly checked my email for a week only to find it empty, just like their bottles. ;)

Where's the Beef?
So my major beef with these people are that they never bothered to respond.  I can handle rejection, hey just tell me that you don't want some unexperienced baker selling potentially roofied pies to your innocent customers (my only secret ingredient is love, not drugs).  So a lesson to all of you: just be forward with your intentions and thoughts- if you don't want the lovely Le Petit Baker, just tell the lovely Le Petit Baker, I'll appreciate the honesty (and I'm sure I'm not the only one).

Calling All Stalkers

Hey, all of my stalkers, I mean readers (who for some reason refuse to "follow" my blog!) if you know anyone who knows someone who would want to offer the hardworking, passionate, and creative Le Petit Baker a baking opportunity, let me know!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Bake it Blackberry

Black and Blue

Although muffins may not be my favorite breakfast, I had a request to make blueberry muffins. I like challenges and find blueberry muffins to be all too common, so I had to find some way to spin the original blueberry muffin. When I went shopping for ingredients I was unsatisfied with the fresh blueberries so then I thought to make substitute a different berry; I chose blackberries. Blackberries are more tangy than blueberries which resulted in a more flavorful muffin. And naturally, I added citrus (this time orange zest and juice).

Preparing the batter went smoothly because I had learned some lessons. I melted butter and needed to add buttermilk to the butter. I knew the butter would curdle if the buttermilk was not near room temperature (a lesson I learned from scone making). I also decided to cut the blackberries in half since they are considerably larger than a blueberry. I separated the batter into a cupcake pan and sprinkled the tops with sugar to add sweetness and also give the muffins a shimmery appeal.

The muffins browned beautifully and came out delicious. The blackberries were a great choice. The muffin was not very sweet but once you bite into a blackberry, the natural sweetness and tang balance out the rest of the muffin. My roommates were throughly satisfied but I hope my co-worker enjoys my innovation to the blueberry muffin.
Time yet for a hundred indecisions, and for a hundred visions and revisions.

That's one of my favorite TS Eliot quotes and basically describes my general indecisiveness (Prufrock and I are not so different). When asked to make blueberry muffins I contemplated dozens of ways I could make the muffin different and never resolved the situation. I had no clear idea of what I was going to make until I went to the grocery store and found the blueberries inedible. (This is the part where we flashback to me staring at the blueberries for four minutes as fellow grocery shoppers wonder why it is taking me so long to pick out berries). I was inspired to try a different berry and found the blackberries awaiting me.

This is also similar to my life philosophy. Decision making is so difficult for me that I let things make decisions for me. The blueberries were obviously not going to work so I looked around and the blackberries were so beautifully posed for me that I couldn't resist. This explains why it is so easy for me to stick to routine. My life is quite routine. It is not because I like change, it's because I am so much like Prufrock and contemplate what I am going to do instead of actually doing it. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Sweetish Visiting Cake

Yesterday I was invited over for dinner with my friend (and follower!) Sam.  Naturally, I was in charge of dessert while Sam handled dinner.  I thought a Swedish Visiting Cake would be appropriate since I was visiting Sam at his humble abode.  We sipped at red wine and chatted as he prepared a tomato penne with lemon and I prepared an lemon almond cake.

I took my recipe from the Dorie Greenspan book Baking: From My Home To Yours (of course I offered a few remedies to the original recipe).  I have found this baking book to be a great starting place for baking ideas.  Most recipes are unique and nearly everything I take from it comes out delicious.  The Swedish visiting cake permeates with almond flavor which lemon zest really enhances (and I hope I have already expressed my love of citrus).  
However, being in a new environment my baking clock was not properly adjusted.  The cake was slightly under-baked but both Sam and I discovered it was still delectable!  After our delicious (and organic) meal we indulged in the cake accompanied by a few cups of coffee. 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Corn Muffins, Beer, and Saturdays

This week I had a special request to make corn muffins.  The cook at my work is adding corn bread to the menu and he was in search of a recipe.  So I woke up nice and early this morning to make fresh corn muffins.  Corn muffins are pretty basic (flour, corn meal, sugar, baking powder, butter, egg, and buttermilk).  Even with these basic ingredients, each recipe I found varied the amount of each ingredient.  I chose one to follow but offered a little innovation to the recipe by mixing fresh corn into the batter.  You could also make a Mexican style corn muffin by adding ingredients like jalapenos, bell peppers, and/or chili powder.  I prefer more plain corn muffins so I only added corn kernels.  

Baking Mishaps
I guess I was a little absent-minded while baking today (don't worry it had nothing to do with having a late night yesterday).  My first baking mishap happened when mixing the butter and buttermilk.  I melted the butter, as the recipe called for, and mixed in the buttermilk.  The difference in temperatures caused the mixture to curdle (the butter began to solidify once mixed with cold buttermilk).  This risks the butter being unevenly distributed in the batter.  However, I had used my last stick of butter so I had to stick with the clumpy mixture.  After the muffins had been baking for 20 minutes (and my internal baking clock had not gone off) I realized I had set the oven to 300 degrees instead of 400 degrees.  This required me to bake the muffins longer which risks drying them out and also the muffin tops were not beautifully browned.  
After all of this I did not have high expectations for my muffins however, they did come out good!  The cook liked them and I passed on the recipe to him (so maybe by corn muffins will make the Emmit's menu soon!).  I personally didn't find the muffins too impressive of a creation but I think that corn muffins are just a modest treat.

My Sixth Sense:  The Baking Alarm Clock
If any of you have seen Seinfeld and remember Kramer's "mental alarm clock," I have the baking equivalent of that.  In "The Hot Tub" episode, Kramer explains to Jerry that he doesn't use an alarm clock; before he goes to sleep he tells himself what time to wake up and his body just knows what time it is and he wakes up on time.  Well, I have a similar alarm clock.
When baking, I rarely set a timer.  I do take note of the expected baking time but do not rely on it (every oven is different and everything will bake differently).  I generally put something in the oven and end up reading or doing some chores while things are baking.  I occasionally check up on the oven but usually my mind will be lost in some activity and then my mind literally dings and I remember that I have something in the oven.  I run to the oven and pull a pie out and it is PERFECTLY baked.  I'm sure I couldn't scientifically explain how this happens but it just works out.  I rarely overcook anything and so far this system has been working out relatively well.

(Unofficial) Beer and Baked Goods Saturday
This October I finally found a job (thanks to my sister).  I cocktail waitress at Emmit's Irish Pub (495 N Milwaukee Ave).  One day I decided to make cookies and bring them into work.  Everyone really liked them and the cookies were gone faster than I would have imagined.  After that I decided to start bringing in baked goods for my usual Saturday afternoon shifts and proclaimed it "Beer and Baked Goods Saturday."
So every Saturday (between 11 am and 6 pm) I have some sweet treat prepared and ready to share with my co-workers, regulars, and anyone who asks for dessert or is willing to try some of my baked goods.
This started around November and I didn't think it was really catching on but lately I've noticed how regulars come in and ask what I've made this week.
There's Dale whose son takes guitar lessons down the street from Emmit's so he stops in on Saturdays for a few PBRs while he waits for his son.
Tom Ford who enjoys a Hofbrau (and will not drink anything but Hofbrau) who stops in to try what I make and is NEVER satisfied unless its chocolate chip cookies.
Octavio (the cook) who still doesn't believe that I actually bake everything from scratch.
Charlie, the pilates instructor and Lagunitas IPA drinker, who always converses about what book I'm reading and always loves whatever I bake.
Anyway, baking for Emmit's every Saturday has given my a purpose for baking.  It keeps me on track and ensures that I bake at least once a week.  Now that it's becoming a bit of a tradition I can't give it up now, even after having a late night I still wake up early to bake.  
So, end of story, come visit me at Emmit's on Saturdays and dip your biscotti in the best poured Guinness in Chicago!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Scone Also Rises

I had some spare time today, so looked around my cabinets to find what I could make and decided with scones.  A scone recipe uses flour, sugar, oatmeal, baking powder or soda, egg, and buttermilk.  I thought I was prepared to make scones but discovered that I only had heavy cream and not buttermilk. It's quite typical for me to be careless like that and even more typical of me to be too stubborn to run to the grocery store (that's not even a block away).  

I did some research to find that buttermilk is only necessary if you are using a recipe based on baking soda (buttermilk makes the baking soda react and is what makes the scones rise).  However, my recipe used mostly baking powder and called for only one teaspoon of baking soda.  I decided to risk my scones not rising and continued with heavy cream.  Also I knew that heavy cream would offer a richer taste because of the higher fat content.  Buttermilk is generally low fat and personally when I eat a pastry I don't expect it to fit into a healthy diet so I don't mind the extra calories in comparison to taste. 

Once my dough was prepared I decided to add a few different ingredients to the scones.  I separated the dough into four equal balls and added chocolate chips to one, orange zest to one (I absolutely love incorporating citrus into anything), and raisins into one portion.  I left the last quarter plain.  I baked my scones and it turns out they did rise!  And they were also beautiful and delicious.  (The scone is almost like a biscuit so when you indulge in one, don't be fooled by its lack of sweetness.  It's generally a breakfast bread.  However, I did add a small amount of sugar to the dough and the chocolate chip and orange glazed scones were sweeter)

This is the part where I (am suppose to) talk about scones and life...

This is when I normally relate my baking to life but I'll spare you today.  Well maybe I could come up with some metaphor about how if my scones didn't rise my life would result in some tragic love story but I'm no Hemingway.

I really have nothing to say about scones and life.  Scones were easy to make and they came out just as I would have hoped.  However, I'm not going to end this post so soon.  Making my scones reminded that I haven't blogged about my handmade homemade goodness!

Handmade Homemade

All of my pastries I have blogged about have been 1. homemade (I didn't lie about actually making) and 2. handmade (that means I do not use an electric mixer or food processor or beater or etc).  Yes it can be messy, physically kneading dough with your hands rather than a KitchenAid mixer but I think you can actually taste the difference.  Making everything by hand lets me get close and personal with the dough (that sounds really cheesy but its true).  Mixing by hand will allow for a consistency that you can not expect from an electric mixer. Don't fret, I wash my hands!

At first making everything by hand started out because I was a poor college student who could not afford a $300 stand mixer and was too cheap to buy a $40 hand mixer but now I've come to value making pastries by hand (and I'm still a poor college student).  Handmade pastries are certainly more time consuming and exhausting but I'm sticking to it!  I enjoy baking and if it takes a half hour more to make something, oh well.  Making everything by hand really puts the love into my pastries (and love is always the secret ingredient).

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Cuppie!

Last night I dreamt that somebody loved CUPPIES
Last night as I was trying to fall asleep I came up with the great idea of the cuppie!  The cuppie is a cupcake sized pie.  As I've recently expressed, I love pie making however, I find having to slice pie and eat it with a fork makes it difficult for me to share my pies.  So as I was stumbling into a slumber and probably inspired from buying a new cupcake pan, the idea of making a pie in a cupcake pan crossed my mind.  Sadly, after searching Google, I am not the first to invent the cuppie or even think of that name (but I applaud myself for thinking of it on my own).

So today, with the idea fresh in mind, I made oatmeal cuppies.  I made a pie dough and filled each cupcake hole with a pie crust (I even fluted the edges).  This was cumbersome to roll out 12 individual doughs and flute the edges but the final result was worth the extra time.  I tried a new pie filling, oatmeal.  There are a lot of oatmeal pie recipes out there but I made a maple, walnut, and coconut oatmeal pie.  I filled the twelve cups and had nearly half the filling left over, so you could probably make 16-18 cuppies with a standard 9 in pie filling recipe.  

The main difference between a cuppie and a pie is the baking.  Since this was my first time making cuppies I continually checked up on the cuppies.  My cuppies took about 25 minutes to bake, which is about the time a regular cupcake should take. The cuppies came out adorable and delicious!  I think they are the perfect individual size and I ate mine just like a cupcake, so a fork or plate was unnecessary.  

The Cuppie vs The Pie
When I discovered the cuppie idea, I immediately thought that I would make all of my pies into cuppies because they seem much more convenient but after seeing the final result my mind changed.  Cuppies are an easy snack however, they cannot replace the pie.  Your cuppie will taste wonderful but it just will not be the same as eating a slice of pie.  Even though the same ingredients are used for the cuppie as for a pie, just eating the cuppie in a different way than a pie will make the experience particular (at least this was my reaction).  But I think most things in life are like that, just like how my peppermint tea that I make at home never tastes as good as it does when I order it in a coffee shop. Even though I loved that the cute cuppie was basically a pie that could be eaten with just your hands, I will not be replacing the pie with the cuppie.

Could you spare some change?
How I came up with the idea of the cuppie is not too distant from how I generally go about life.  There was something about pie that I did not like (it is more difficult to enjoy than something like a cookie) so I chose to change it (the cuppie).  I am quite the constructive person so when I see something that can be improved, I try to make it better.  Instead of accepting that pie should be served a single way, I attempted to experiment with a different kind of pie.
What I learned from the cuppie?  I learned that I can change something but it will not replace the original.  The cuppie is not a replacement for the pie but rather a fun and tasty substitute.  I hope I'm not giving the wrong impression; I did savor and respect the cuppie but it just wasn't pie.  
So can I spare some change?  By changing the pie I created a new indulgence but change is hard.  It would be hard for me to accept the cuppie as a replacement to pie making but at the same time the cuppie is a refreshing, exciting change to the conventional pie.
How I feel about the cuppie and change parallels change in my day to day life.  I am always eager to change routines or details of my life.  I am excited by the prospect of change but change is generally in the short term.  I quickly fall back into habits, just like I will quickly fall back into pie-making.

The question now is can you spare some change?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Bakin' and Bacon: The Bacon Effect

Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies
I've heard bacon makes everything better so to test this theory I embarked on the baking of bacon chocolate chip cookies.  Some of you might immediately be turned on by the thought of greasy pig fat cookies while others are probably repulsed by the idea of mixing greasy pig fat into something as delicious and traditional as the chocolate chip cookie.  I'll admit that I had my apprehensions about bacon and cookies (and not just for the fact that I am a vegetarian) but I gave it a try anyway.  

It's as simple as the title sounds; just add bacon to a chocolate chip cookie dough and bake!  (To prepare the bacon I layered a cookie sheet with bacon, sprinkled with brown sugar to add extra sweetness to the cookie, and baked in the oven.) My one suggestion would be to watch the ratio of dry to wet ingredients.  You will need a stickier dough because you are adding extra dry ingredients (the bacon!) to the dough and you want the dough to stick together so you can roll into golf ball sized balls.

And the results...

Bacon does make everything better (at least chocolate chip cookies)!  Yup, that's right these cookies were quite a hit (my ultimate frisbee team can attest to indulging in a bacon cookie complemented by a PBR and enjoying every bit).  The cookie was not too overwhelmed by the bacon flavor; the chocolate chips certainly balanced the salty bacon.  
Incorporating a non-traditional ingredient into a classic recipe was worth the taking the risk but I'm not sure where this will lead me in my next baking adventure. 

The Bacon Effect

So, I have obviously established that bacon makes everything better and this provoked me to think what's my bacon?  Confused?  I'll clarify:  Bacon added to any food will make it instantly better (the bacon effect), so what it is in my life that can have that same effect?  

Sticking with the puns, my bacon is probably bakin'.  (I'm sorry if that's too much for some of you but it had to be said- this is a blog about baking.)  Baking is my first response to a stressful day (that would probably explain why I've been baking so much lately).  Baking focuses my mind on a single task but also has a physical aspect to it (trust me, whipping cream by hand is a better workout than lifting dumbbells).  I love being able to create something that will make someone happy and excited to indulge in (I have been told that the way into someone's heart is through their stomach but I don't think I have stolen any hearts yet).  There is nothing I enjoy more than being in a kitchen, listening (and dancing!) to some twee pop, and sipping at coffee while I attempt to create something sweet.

Baking makes everything better for me, so what is your bacon?

Friday, February 18, 2011

If I Were a Cookie...

If I were a cookie, I would be biscotti.

Yesterday I made my first biscotti and it was surprisingly a success (most of my firsts are not quite as lucky).  Biscotti is a traditional Italian twice-baked cookie/cake that is crunchy and sweet.  Supposedly, it never goes stale however, I’d be a little concerned about eating year old biscotti.  Biscotti is really simple to make and I’m sure I’ll be making a lot more of it.  The dough is basic (flour, sugar, butter, egg, baking soda)  however I chose a recipe that used both flour and cornmeal for a base.  I think the cornmeal gave the biscotti a more diverse texture.

It turns out that biscotti allows you to get original.  Once you have a dough you can add just about anything you want to it.  I chose to add lemon zest to an almond dough and coated the top of each cookie with lemon juice.  I’m sure I’ll get more inventive with my next batch of biscotti.

After my endeavors with biscotti, it seems we have somethings in common (speaking metaphorically of course).  The sweet cookie is generally paired with a coffee or espresso drink.  The bitterness of the coffee perfectly compliments this otherwise sweet treat.  Biscotti also is a rough, hard cookie but once dipped in coffee or tea, immediately softens it up.  The cookie is simple and low maintenance: you can add any ingredients you feel and it will last a long time.  Perhaps I've been able to offer all of my (FOUR) followers a little insight into the nature of biscotti as well as a Calculating Bimbo.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

pi = 3.14159265...

Pie, enough said.

After devouring a slice of sugar cream pie made by Chicago's Hoosier Mama Pie Company (  I was inspired to give pie making another try.  Now I absolutely love making pies and I say give pie a try.

My first (and only attempt) at pie making was a little more than a disaster.  I tried to make a basic banana cream pie that resulted in an overflowing salty mess.  Being a generally stubborn person I insisted on doing things my way rather than following the advice of a cook book.  I was too impatient to let my pie dough chill, I carelessly added double the amount of salt needed, and insisted on fitting every ounce of pie filling into my uncrimped pie crust.  By the end of my terrible tasting pie, I was turned off from pie making entirely.

This time around I read up on pie crusts and used a crust that was both salty and sweet and used butter and shortening (this gave the crust a buttery taste and flaky texture).  I was patient with my pie dough and used cold ingredients and allowed the dough to cool before rolling it out.  I watched a few videos online to find a good pinch method to crimp the pie crust and did not squeeze every bit of filling into the crust.  What I ended with was a delicious pie comparable to Hoosier Mama Pie Company and a love of pie making!  This past week I have continued to craft pies including peanut butter pie and my original Nutella pie (oh, it was as delicious as you think it would be)!

As I was on my way to work (bringing one of my peanut butter pies to share with my fellow employees and regulars) I realized that its more than just pie.  While running after the bus, pie in hand, it dawned on me that I should take some life lessons from pie baking.

What I learned: 

Be patient:  My first experience I was so focused on the final result that I didn't take the time to enjoy the experience leading up to the outcome.

Stop Questioning: Being stubborn, it is in my nature to question everything.  Some things should not be questioned.

First impressions are WRONG:  I was so turned off by my first experience that I was afraid to give it another try.  When I finally did, I discovered a new love.

Share your pie:  The best part of baking is to share it with someone.

Nutella: It makes everything delicious.