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.