Thursday, February 26, 2009

Making up TWD: A Tall and Creamy Cheesecake

For the Oscars on Sunday I made a cheesecake. This was on the TWD list from December, and I was all set to make it then. I had the main ingredients that I normally don't have (4 blocks of cream cheese, and chocolate graham crackers since I wanted to make the Layered Chocolate version). But then I was busy at work. And then I caught a cold. Then I was busy at work again. Then I caught another cold. The cream cheese in the fridge and the graham crackers in the cupboard mocked me everytime I opened them. They had just one question - when?

So what better occasion to make an elegant black and white dessert for than an Oscar party. The pressure was on, and as typical for me, I did a dopey thing -- I didn't read the recipe all the way through before I started to see if I had all the ingredients. What -- you mean I need something other than cream cheese and graham crackers??? To say I made this by the skin of my teeth would be an understatement (picture, if you will, opening about 20 sugar packets so that I could have enough sugar - need I say more?).

Since I never made a cheesecake before, and because this was going to a party with actual people (rather than my non-fussy co-workers) I was very nervous and thought I'd pass out from anticipation (or was that passing out feeling a Hugh Jackman closeup?). Happily, it was a success. Very tasty, very tall, very creamy (the cheesecake, not Hugh Jackman.....hmmmm.....let me rethink that last statement......).

I was surprised how easy this cheesecake is to make. It needs time, sure, so it's not a "throw it together" kind of dessert. But a show stopper for those special occassions.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

TWD: Carmel Crunch Bars

Today's TWD was just something that needed to get done. You know that feeling -- you've got a lot to do on top of a lot that's already done, and this little baked good is just another thing on the "to do" list that needs to be checked off. That was how I approached this week's choice by Whitney over at What's left on the Table. I know I shouldn't say such a thing out loud, but that was my reality this morning when I started. I simply wanted to get them done.

I really was looking forward to this choice too. If it has Heath Bar anything, I'm sold. This recipe is easy enough, but, if I can confess one more thing I shouldn't, I'm getting a little tired of chopping chocolate. Don't get me wrong, I love to eat chocolate, and I love chocolate desserts. But working with chocolate is messy, and everything I've made lately has chocolate (including Sunday's Oscar night Cheesecake), and I'm beginning to have evil thoughts about it.
On the up side I realized as I worked that the whole "practice makes perfect" thing really is true. I've found a rhythm in my kitchen and baking routine and have a much better idea of how to get ingredients and recipes put together without it seemingly taking all day. I felt pretty good about that, and thought it was my "take away" for the project.

Then, just after I put the base of the bars in the oven, I had a bite of the dough. If my mouth could have done a back flip and jumped up and down like a cheerleader, it would. "Oh my, that was good!" it shrieked (shrieked I tell you!). Suddenly, the whole "project" turned to a joy. Kind of like driving to work in the rain, cursing all the traffic, only to see a double rainbow light up the sky. Or you go to a movie you didn't really want to, only to think it the funniest thing you've seen in ages. That's what these bars ended up being for me.

My co-workers were enthusiastic as well. Their mouths were doing back flips too, I'd guess, based on how quickly the bars went, and how many requests for the recipe I got. So thanks Whitney, for a great pick. And for providing me my double rainbow for the day.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

TWD: Devil's Food White-Out Cake

Finally - the cover cake! Thanks to Stephanie over at Confessions of a City Eater for picking this cake (be sure to check out her cute dog!). Everyone over at TWD was very excited about this pick, as was I.

That is until the angst. At first I thought I'd get a head start and make this early. But I work in an industry that's a wee bit busy around February 14th, so that didn't work out. Then, as the days got closer to the 14th, my cubicle world started sounding like a T.B. ward. The coughing, the hacking, the sneezing -- it was only a matter of time before I caught the dreaded company cold.

Since no one wants to eat baked goods from a sick person (well, actually some of my co-workers would, but I want to save them from themselves) I thought I'd do what so many of the creative TWDers do and make a smaller cake. I went over to Great-News (simply the best cooking store in San Diego - hands down!) and bought 6" cake pans. How cute are they!

That was all good until I realized I'd have to do math to cut down the recipe. We've already established I'm not so great at that. So after much head scratching and scribbling, I decided to just go with the full recipe, use the 6" pans, and make cup cakes to freeze for later. Shesh - so much effort and I hadn't even started baking yet!

One of the very cool things I learned in culinary school is how to easily make a round parchment bottom for any sized pan. For my 9" pans I have some cool silicon inserts, but had to use the parchment paper for my new 6" pans. Very easy - just fold the parchment paper in half, then in half again, so now you have a square. Bring one side up to form a triangle (like you're going to cut out a snowflake) and keep going until it's as small as you can make it. Put the triangle at the middle of the pan, and cut to fit. Perhaps everyone knows this trick, but I sure didn't. I was the person tracing the pan on the parchment paper and then cutting it, and re-cutting it, trying to make it fit. This way is easy, breezy.

Because of all of the angst I started this project at my usual 7pm Tuesday night. All seemed well until the frosting stage. Just like many other bakers, my frosting seemed to take a long time. I was beginning to think that Conan O'Brien would be on before I got to the magic 242 degrees. Happily, I didn't have to wait that long!

I think one of the things I like most about this cake, is that it is so forgiving of BHMOTW (bone head moves of the week). Cook the sugar mixture too long and get a slightly brown frosting? No problem! Have a little trouble cutting your cake in two and have a big chunk fall off mid cut? No problem! All of these little mistakes are covered up by the cake crumbles. Genius!

The cake is firming in the fridge, but I did sneak a taste from the cupcake above. The frosting is really yummy and nicely complements the cake. A little too well, I'm afraid, considering I now have a cake all to myself. I wonder what my landlords are doing tomorrow???

See Stephanie's blog for the recipe. It's a keeper!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

TWD: Passing on this week

You will see me sitting out this week's pick. My apologies to my fellow TWDers and to Shari at Whisk: a food blog who is responsible for picking Floating Islands. Since I have no "built in" group to try and, more importantly, eat my creations, portability is a must! Whether that's over the back fence to the landlords, or to my eager and greedy co-workers (who recently have become a little pushy and demanding regarding baked goods. Sheesh - feed a co-worker a cookie, and they just want MORE!) whatever I make has to travel. The Floating Islands just didn't look like something that was going to be easily brought to work and divided among 20 people. What I've seen and read on the TWD blogs is very positive and has inspired me to try them the next time I have company.

I am very excited about the "cover cake" pick for next week. I may buck my own tradition and make that before Tuesday night!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

TWD: World Peace Cookies

World Peace is within our reach!

At least World Peace cookies are within reach, thanks to this TWD pick by Jess at cookbookhabit (visit Jess to get the recipe). These were a big hit with the TWD bakers, crumbly dough and all. I didn't have a problem with the dough, actually, and hardly a BHMOTW (bone head move of the week) worth mentioning (but will, just because it's a regular feature now).

These cookies were incredibly easy. I've occasionally had problems with the directions from the book "Baking from My Home to Yours" by Dorie Greenspan. Most of it is due to my limited culinary knowledge. Happily since baking with the TWDers that knowledge has grown, and these cookies were a success.

Although I love eating chocolate, I'm not as big of a fan of working with chocolate. It is messy and temperamental. Did I mention it is messy? Anyway, the chopping of the chocolate was the most difficult part. After that I was home free.

I did not purchase the fleur de sel sea salt that was recommended in the recipe. I didn't see it at my local store, though I did see it at my favorite cooking store in town (this is a very dangerous place - avoid if you don't want to spend hours of your time and many of your dollars on all the wonderful things they have for sale. And the staff there are so incredibly helpful!). Their price was about $14, and for 1/2 teaspoon I thought I'd skip it and go with sea salt. I cleverly used my Trader Joe's Sea Salt Crystals, and then put them through a sieve to get them extra fine. The salt taste wasn't super strong, but just enough to be intriguing. I like intriguing, so it worked for me.

Here it is - time for the BHMOTW. Not all of the salt made it out of the sieve. I moved on to other things. I forgot about the salt in the sieve and moved it. Here is the result (too bad you can't hear the sound of it falling like sand on the chocolate). Not nearly as bad as tossing a whole cake against a refrigerator, but it still made me laugh at myself.

I had no trouble getting the dough into logs (perhaps because I used Dutch processed cocoa which Dorie says may be the key to success here). I made the log smaller than I thought it should be, to compensate for my lack of math skills. Between the two - success! After an overnight in the refrigerator, the logs cut up nicely (a little crumble, but no big deal) and the house smelled soooooo good while the cookies were in the oven!

These were a huge hit with the co-workers, and me for that matter, so they will definitely be made again. I'd make them daily if I thought that they really would expand peace throughout the world. Unfortunately the only thing they would do is expand my waistline, I think.