Monday, May 31, 2010

What's up doc?

So, my ankle is finally feeling better. Perhaps it was just a mild sprain? Either way, I'm happy I'm no longer hobbling around like an angry hobbit.

Though I'm working on expanding my knowledge of baking to start creating my own confections, I have dabbled a bit with experimentation.

The first successful experimentation occurred with my boyfriend's birthday cake. He had requested a carrot cake, which I had never made before so, naturally, I was intrigued. I started by looking up several recipes online to see what they entailed and after finding 2 that I thought might work well, I started to modify.

Recipe #1: Carrot Cake with Maple-Cream Cheese Icing
Recipe #2:
Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese-Lemon Zest Frosting

I used Recipe #1 as my base recipe but cut about 3/4 cup of sugar and 1 egg from the recipe. Then I added the nutmeg and vanilla from Recipe #2.

I didn't use either recipe's frosting recipe. Actually, I tried to make the icing from this recipe but hated it. So, I went back to an old standby icing recipe used for a friend's birthday cupcakes a few months ago.

And so my own little monster was created (thanks, Dr. Frankenstein for the inspiration).

I forgot to mention it was a Dinosaur/Mexican themed birthday party. So, I used green food coloring to make the icing green and baked star shaped sugar cookies (with orange icing from store-bought tubes) to create the spikes for the stegosaurus cake.


Icing: Siouxsie and the Banshees - 92 Degrees

A busted ankle means less time on my feet and more on my hands...

Our bimonthly game of kickball was a blast, though my ankle begs to differ. But this does leave me some time to do a little more digging.

If I haven't already explained, the purpose of this blog is for me to document my trials, tribulations, and overall expansion of knowledge regarding one of my favorite past times: baking.

While the amount of baking I've done over the past few years has steadily increased, I realized I have no idea why I do the things I do. Why is it better to use room-temperature eggs? Why does too much batter mixing cause cake to come out on the dense side? What's the difference between light and dark brown sugar? The list goes on and on.

This brings me to my first research project, which will be done whilst elevating my foot: Which books will help me learn the ins and outs of baking and better understand the science behind it all?

Lucky for me, my mom helped me along by picking up a copy of Ready for Dessert by David Lebovitz to start my collection. Mr. Lebovitz is a pastry chef originally from the San Francisco Bay area who has received a number of accolades and written tons of books.

Here's the man himself:

Some other books I have been looking at on Amazon include:
- Baking & Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft by the Culinary Institute of America (which is where I'm taking a baking class later this year)

- The Professional Pastry Chef: Fundamentals of Baking and Pastry by Bo Friberg, a master pastry chef and confectioner

- How Baking Works: Exploring the Fundamentals of Baking Science by Paula I. Figoni, a professor of baking science and other classes at Johnson & Wales University


- Chocolates and Confections: Formula, Theory, and Technique for the Artisan Confectioner by Peter P. Greweling, a professor at the CIA

These books seem like they will help round out my knowledge of baking and - hopefully - help me learn enough about how everything works for me to start concocting more of my own recipes.

Icing: Snake River Conspiracy - Strangled

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Powder and Soda

In the beginning there was darkness. And then I opened the cabinet door and pulled out the baking powder and baking soda and stared at them bewildered, willing them to break from their inanimate pasts and explain what the hell they do for a living.

Seriously. When and why am I supposed to use them?

This is where the magic of the interwebs comes in.

This evening, I learned that the difference between baking soda and baking powder is that baking soda is pure sodium bicarbonate while baking powder is a mixture of sodium bicarbonate, an acidifying agent, and a drying agent. The purpose of these powders is to help dough leaven (or as I like to say, levitate) by producing carbon dioxide upon contact with dough or high temperatures.

Some notes:
- Baking Soda -
* The chemical reaction begins as soon as it comes in contact with dough, so anything made with baking soda must be baked immediately or the power of the chemical will fade
* Baking soda is a base and, thus, bitter to the tongue. Therefore, it should be combined with an acidic ingredient such as buttermilk, citrus, chocolate, or yogurt

- Baking Powder -
There are two types of baking powder:
1) single-acting, which is activated by moisture and, as a result, when combined with dough, it must be baked immediately
2) double-acting, which reacts in two phases. The first phase occurs when it comes in contact with moisture, releasing a small amount of carbon dioxide. During the second phase, most of the carbon dioxide is released, which happens when the dough is exposed to high temperatures

Some interesting morsels pulled off of the interwebs:
- Always sift or wisk baking soda or baking powder with other dry ingredients in your recipe to ensure uniformity. In other words, if you don't, you'll create giant carbon dioxide holes in your banana bread
- Baking soda causes cocoa powder to redden (see: Devil's Food Cake)
- When baking soda and baking powder are used simultaneously in a recipe, the baking soda is to neutralize acidity while the baking powder is mainly there for leavening

TADA! Mystery solved.

I feel like my childhood idol...

Nancy Drew...

Not what you expected?

Music (my icing): Acid Bath - Dead Girl

Credits: page on food chemistry
Joy of Baking page on baking soda and baking powder

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Beginning

Everyone needs a first post and this is mine.

I've been going through one of - I'm guessing - many life crises. From feeling lost and fumbly to unabashedly motivated, I'm all over the map. Simply put, now what?

I haven't lost my job, but am looking for a new outlet. One that will allow me to learn something. And hopefully this something will also give me the opportunity to be creative and innovative.

This is my goal, but one must start at the bottom and work her way up.

And so I begin.

Music: Cocteau Twins - Amelia