Tarted up

Episode 5: Pies and Tarts
Signature Challenge: Custard Tart

Britishism-American: Cling Film = Plastic Wrap

Bakers Time: 2.5 hrs                       My Time: 3.5 hours

One of the reasons I started this blog was to try new things, and improve at things I wasn’t particularly comfortable with. Before this, I would make it a new years resolution to learn a new skill – bread, ice cream, etc. But every time I would set myself the challenge of pie crust, I would chicken out.
I’m a little bit afraid of them.

That all changes now. I can’t avoid it! It’s just another one of the challenges. I’ll just have to learn as I go along. Let’s hope, anyway.

However, this was a bake that was PLAGUED with issues from the get go. This was a tart that wasn’t meant to be. I set out to make a basic egg custard with a plum jam topping. And I succeeded… to a degree. Also, it turns out I don’t like egg custard tarts. Go figure.

First off, I was petrified of overworking the dough. That’s all anyone ever talks about when it comes to pastry. As a consequence, I don’t think I worked it enough.

On the show, most of the bakers used their food processors to blend the butter and the flour before the water is added. That way your body heat doesn’t melt the butter while you work on it – However, I don’t have a big enough processor. So I used the old finger method, rubbing the butter into the flour, then adding the water. I ran my fingers under cold water first. Just to be safe.IMG_3328


But I didn’t want to risk it!

Hey, I haven’t had a lot of pie making experience. I didn’t grow up in a family that makes a lot of crust. We’re more of a graham cracker crust family. So I’ve got a lot of learning to do here.

Apparently the way this works is you want to chill your dough before rolling it out. Otherwise the butter pieces all melt, and the pastry won’t be flaky.

Basically, everything you do here is about making sure the butter doesn’t melt.

While the dough was chilling, I got started on the plums.IMG_3332.JPG
I had had these plums for a little while. They were so ripe, the skins had split a little.


I chopped them up whole and tossed them in a pan.

I’ve never made a jam/sauce before, so I winged it. Wung it?


I put in the two plums, and about 1/3rd cup of sugar.

And some wine.

Just for flavor.

Two plums, 1/3 c. sugar, 1/2 c. wine.

And some for the chef!
Oh, and this is the point of the evening where I realized I did not have a full size tart pan. I would have sworn I got one for Christmas, but what I actually got was a medium size tart pan.

My first attempt at rolling out the dough did not go so great.IMG_3342
I was trying it out in a springform pan before I finally decided to go ahead and use the smaller tart pan, but this crust had fallen apart before I even got it off the counter, really. So I gathered it up, gave it a little squeeze, and tossed it back in the fridge.

While that was re-chilling, I got started on the custard. Start with egg yolks and sugar and then beat it!


You know how egg yolks get lighter in color when you whisk them? It feels like magic!

You know what Arthur C. Clarke Said? “Any technology, sufficiently advanced, is indistinguishable from magic.” Well, this is about as low tech as possible, but still pretty magical to me.


After almost boiling over my cream and milk…

I slowly whisked it into the egg mixture. I learned from my mistakes on that one. When I was first dating my husband I wanted to impress him with my cooking skills, and thought I’d make him Spaghetti Carbonara – which is just spaghetti with a sauce made of eggs that have been “cooked” by the hot pasta. Lets just say I didn’t research recipes as thoroughly then, and Spaghetti Carbonara is forever known in our household as “Scrambled Egg Pasta”.
So, now I “temper” eggs when adding hot ingredients by slowly ladling in a spoonful and whisking like crazy. After that you can pour and whisk.

I set the custard aside to cool some while I gave that crust another go. It rolled out better this time. But my formica countertop is just not made for pastry, I think. Everything sticks to it!
I recently read about something called a pastry cloth? you put it over your counter and supposedly, nothing sticks. They’re not too expensive, but I wonder – would you end up with little cloth fibers in all your pastry? I want to try one!
Or I could just use plastic wrap or parchment paper. Those work and I wouldn’t have to buy anything. Maybe I’ll ask for that for Christmas, too…

IMG_3354.JPGThose speckles are vanilla bean. I scraped a pod into the dough, and tossed the pod into the milk when I was working on the custard. It’s what Jamie Oliver would do.
I still had a real hard time getting this into the tart pan. There was a lot of patching going on once it was in there. Did you know they make a little tool to push tart dough into the groves of a fluted tart pan? What an amazing unitasker! I just used my fingers.

With the dough in, it’s time to do a “blind bake”. This is a process where you weigh the pastry down and pre-cook it, so that it, hopefully, won’t end up with a soggy bottom(P.S. watching British people repeat the phrase “soggy bottom” over and over again is delightful). The weights help to keep the pastry from rising up, so you have a nice flat bottom crust, with more room for the filling. Some people have special ceramic or metal beads, called pie weights, but you can also use dry beans or rice. I used rice – at some point on the show I believe someone mentions that rice is nice for tarts, as it gets in all the nooks and crannies and lets the ridges show.

IMG_3356On the show, they use what they call “cling film” – plastic wrap. I’ve inadvertently picked this up more than I realized, along with another common phrase they use, “whack it” – “Whack the temperature up” Or “whack it in the oven for a few more minutes.” They really like to whack things over there.  Anyway, the contestants are fond of blind baking using cling film. I don’t know about you, but it seems counter-intuitive to put plastic in the oven. Surely there will be melting, or at least off-gassing or chemtrails or SOMETHING… but I decided to give it a try.IMG_3357

Maybe cling film in the UK is slightly different from our plastic wrap, or maybe I had my oven rack up to close to the top. But the top of mine… shrank? Kinda like a shrinky dink? Nothing melted, per se, and the pastry cooked just fine. I actually bagged the rice up for future baking needs. IMG_3358.JPG

So, bake with rice in, then bake with rice out. Then, for the last five minutes, brush a beaten egg over the entire inside of the pastry. This will apparently create a seal and keep the custard from leaking out.

Pinpricks to release steam —>

Once the pastry is baked, you should carefully cut away any excess pastry to create a nice, even edge. Mine had already cut itself away while baking, as you see. Minimal trimming was required. It had pretty much fallen away before it was all in the pan, actually.
IMG_3359Back to the jam now…

I had sieved it and left it on a low heat to simmer and thicken, but it was cool now. And yummy.
I was trying my hardest to keep to the time that the contestants had so I needed to get the jam into the crust and add the custard.  But right about now was when it hit me. I’d never be able to keep to the same time limit the contestants were given.  Why, you ask?


They don’t have to do their own dishes!

Seriously, I read an article and they have a whole staff of Production Assistant who wash the mountain of dishes and run out and buy extra ingredients if they need them. They just have whatever they need, when they need it.

Also, my jam does not have that much wine it it. But it’s really tasty.

IMG_3363So, the jam becomes liquid the minute it goes into the pastry. Which means little flecks of it float into the custard when I pour that in. So much for neatness.

Incidentally, you should always pour in your custard while the tin is in the oven already, so that you avoid spilling custard over the sides of the pastry. You’ll see why.IMG_3364

I filled it as full as I could, considering that little spot on the side where the crust had broken off at a jagged angle.

In theory, it should come all the way to the top. and cook into a nice, flat surface.

By now, it’s 25 minutes until the 2 and 1/2 hour deadline from the show. Which seems perfect, since, I think, it’s about a 25 minute bake time. Maybe I’ll actually get this done on time!

Welllll…. no.

It baked and baked and baked. And was still so liquid-y! There was nothing to do but wait. Finally, after about an hour, I pulled it out to drizzle on the jam. IMG_3365.JPGIt LOOKS good, but why did it get so puffy?! And it’s still pretty liquid in the middle.

I set it to bake a bit more. A good custard tart, like a quiche, should have a slight “wobble” or “jiggle” in the center when you nudge the tin. Mine still had quite a bit more than that when I decided to finally take it out. It had been 3 1/2 hours. Maybe if I let it set for a bit?


I dropped the case off of my tart, hoping that would cool it quicker. You can see the crust looks good, except for the dark bit there. That’s where my custard either leaked or sloshed over the side. Ideally, that would not be there.

Tart pans are delightfully designed. The side is separate from the base, so you can get your tart out without spoiling that lovely tart pastry case! If it’s cooked well, the side piece just… drops off the tart, leaving the pastry setting on the round base. The bakers like to set theirs on a can of something. Mine’s on some Dal Masala. Thanks, Trader Joes!

Finally, I decided to transfer my tart from it’s metal base to a cake stand. Cause that’s what they do on the show! It’s required to at least get it all the way off the tin. So, as my loving husband protested, I slid a spatula under, and made the transfer. And it completely fell apart. Surprise!

IMG_3373Still pretty tho.

It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever made.


Baked Alaska? Well, it is legal there…

Bakers Time: 4 1/2 hours                                  My Time: untimed

British – American Slang: Chucked it in the bin = Threw it away

Today’s bake is a SHOW. STOPPER. And by that I mean, on the actual show, the Great British Bake-Off, there was so much drama over ice cream and meringue that I thought the show might actually be cancelled. You see, Ian put his ice cream in a freezer and another contestant took it out when getting hers and forgot to put it back in again and… well, he chucked it in the bin.

It was the most polite reality show fracas I have ever seen, and yet… so much DRAMA.

So I figured, Ian got sent home for literally presenting a garbage bin as his final bake, so… I should be good at any level above that.BwEe3JfCQAA5kOU

A baked Alaska, if you don’t know, is a confection of ice cream and meringue on a base of cake. And yes, it is baked. Sort of. The legend goes that it was invented to celebrate the Alaska purchase, but this is probably as true as any other urban legend.

Many of the bakers created beautiful designs of meringue, I had planned a glorious creation – a meringue beehive filled with honey ice cream on a lightly orange-y pound cake base. What I ended up with was… close.

Oh, and as far as timing – I did not time this accurately to the show. The BBC provides fancy cuisinart ice cream makers, and I have a very retro machine (though still electric, thank goodness). I started the ice cream earlier in the day, and it worked out that a friend was coming over that evening. I wanted to be able to make it when someone would want to eat it!

I looked at a lot of recipes for the ice cream, and eventually went with this one, from David Lebovitz. I’m not quite comfortable making my own ice cream recipe just yet, but how hard can it be? 😉 The honey was local, we had picked it up at the Farmer’s market just for this occasion.

When the ice cream was done, I spooned it into a bowl so it would harden into a dome shape. Then I realized I hadn’t lined the bowl with anything, so I wouldn’t be able to get it out later. I had to transfer it to another bowl, wash and dry the original, and then re mold it (after lining it with plastic wrap this time). Ooops.


I chose a pound cake for this because the show made such an issue of having a “sturdy” base for your Alaska. I can’t think of a more sturdy cake than a pound cake.

Any pound cake recipe will do, and I actually can’t remember what recipe I used. Probably the trusty Betty Crocker cookbook, to be honest. I took a basic pound cake recipe and added a few teaspoons of one of my new favorite things – an orange emulsion.

orange emulsionEmulsions, supposedly, are superior to extracts. They’re water based rather than alcohol, so the flavor isn’t as likely to “bake out” they say. Despite being made of water, they have a rather thick consistency so you don’t feel like you’re adding a ton of liquid. I don’t know  how Paul and Mary will feel about adding an artificial flavor, but I feel like this isn’t much different than adding vanilla extract… right? Right. Plus, this was a gift and I’ve been dying to use it.

Now, a few words about the weather. The day this bake was done for the show turned out to be one of the hottest on record. For England, at any rate. And the day of my bake was hot hot hot as well. And I don’t have a large freezer in the kitchen, so I was running my ice cream up and down the stairs through the garage to the basement deep freeze every time I needed to do anything with it. In theory, you should be able to pop it back in the freezer at the end of every step, but that ended up doing me almost more harm than good! Things got pretty melty pretty quick around here.

IMG_3152 EDITEDI whipped up a meringue (French, since it’s what I know. I’ll get adventurous next time). I thought it ought to be pretty stiff, in order to hold the definition needed for the ridges of a beehive. It ended up being a little… I’m not even sure how to explain it. It felt like there were too many air bubbles in, and was more foam-like than I would have liked. I may have whipped a tich too long. I was moving so fast at this point, IMG_3156 EDITEDI didn’t really have time for a lot of pictures, but my darling husband volunteered to take a few.

There, that looks like a beehive, somewhat? Now, given better a better set of circumstances, I had planned a whole scene, with little yellow bees, more detail, etc. However: it was now 10 pm, our friend was waiting for his promised ice cream, and it was hot A.F. So I patched up any wholes I could see and prepared to get this in the oven.

Yes, the oven. Remember how I said IMG_3161 EDITEDyou do bake this thing? Well, supposedly, the meringue acts as a sort of insulator for the ice cream. So I patched in any wholes or breaks I saw in the meringue to give this thing the best chance I could and tossed it in under a broiler.

This is me, anxiously watching for meltage.

On the show, the bakers all had lovely brulee torches and were able to avoid the oven entirely. I WANT ONE SO BAD. I would make all the crème brulee, all the mini baked alaskas… I might just light things on fire for the heck of it. I mean, no! I would never do that! Only merengues and sugar, promise!



Theres a bit of melt… and the beehive has… drooped.

But is it still ice cream in there?


Success! That is still solid ice cream in there! And a nicely browned meringue. And it tasted pretty good, too! But with only two of us to eat it, it was a LOT. We did end up throwing a good deal of it away. IMG_3172

I think that if I made it again, I’d do “mini” ones. Easier to freeze, easier to portion control… I could make just a few and make them super cute. I’d probably do a different type of meringue, but like I said before, one challenge at a time.

Next up, Pie week!


Not Tiramisu Cake

This post was originally supposed to be about a Technical Challenge, a tiramisu cake. But it’s not going to be. I did make it! Really!
All of the photos have vanished. It’s possible I lost the SD card from the camera, however it’s also possible I just deleted them.
I’m kind of upset, because I worked really hard on this one. And it was super stressful, but it ended up super pretty. Here’s a picture of what a tiramisu cake is SUPPOSED to look like…


Lets assume mine looked exactly like this one. (Photo courtesy PBS)

So what I’m actually going to talk about is Pavlova. Maybe the bakers will have to make one at some point, and I’ll re-do it then, but for now, I took a few snaps when I made one for my mother-in-law’s birthday a few months ago.

I had never made one before, and but I’ve always loved the word, Pavlova. I knew it was made of meringue, and it was named after the dancer Anna Pavlova.

So to make a Pavlova, start with a baked meringue. Top it with whipped cream. Then fruit. Ta da! It sounds so fancy but is actually so simple…

The recipe my mother-in-law gave me to make for her was a fine one, but it called for a lot of tropical fruits I didn’t have on hand. So, I glanced in my fridge. What I DID have was a double pint of blackberries. A quick google search brought me to https://bakingamoment.com/blackberry-lemon-pavlova/

And wouldn’t you know it, I had purchased a jar of lemon curd on a whim a few weeks back! So I borrowed her recipe word for word. It turned out so pretty!

I did a bit of research on meringue. Turns out, there’s more than one way to meringue a meringue. There’s Swiss meringue, – made with hot sugar syrup, Italian meringue – cooked while whipping, and French meringue – the one I had previously thought of as just “meringue”. French is the type I saw called for in most Pavlova recipes, including this one.


Pictured: soft peaks. Needed: stiff peaks

You want to form the meringue into a sort of bowl, or nest shape. This will form a little container for the toppings.



Pro tip – hold your parchment paper in place by spackling a little dab of the meringue underneath the corners.


Also, baking your shell on an upside down baking sheet helps when its time to transfer to a serving plate.

After the meringue bakes, its apparently important to let it cool slowly, by propping the oven door partway open. Luckily, I’ve got one of those fancy ovens that holds itself open. I guess this prevents it from cracking, but mine still did a bit.
It also puffed up a lot while baking. In future, I’d make this with a much steeper wall. Maybe pipe some decorations.



While it’s cooling, I made the blackberry sauce. I went ahead and made it as directed, whereas normally I might cut back on the sugar on something like this – but it’s a birthday cake, basically – this is no time to be healthy!

Whipping up some cream is easy enough. I left it a little soft for spreading.

I spooned on the lemon curd

Then the blackberries.

And finally topped it off with some fresh berries.20170604_180441





It was, in a word, disgusting.

It was SO SWEET. Mouth puckeringly sweet. It made me a little ill.

But my mother-in-law loved it, as well as some of the other family members present. So, success?

I will probably make this again. Just not with this combination of flavors. the tart berries, tart lemon, and sweet, sweet meringue was just too much for me. I saw a recipe that looked more appealing – something with chocolate or maybe just fresh strawberries. You know me, I’ll try anything twice.

Til next time!

Self-Saucing Pudding

Well, back to baking according to the whims of Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood… that is to say, doing what the show did. I forgot to time myself, so I can’t really judge how I did here compared to the show’s competitors, but I feel pretty good about it.

This is the kickoff of “pudding week” and this is where it gets a little confusing. like biscuits, pudding means something slightly different in the UK – it’s a general term for “dessert”, but also specifically a type of dessert. So, here in this context I believe they’re using the more general meaning. But now you know!

The first type of pudding the bakers were required to make is a “self-saucing” pudding. We all know the type – lava cakes, or “magic” cakes where you pour liquid over the cake batter and it sinks through… that type of thing.

I knew at the outset what I wanted to make. I wanted to use some of the awesome apples that I had on hand, and I really wanted to make it an apple cinnamon cake with a bright red, hot cinnamon sauce. Think Red Hots.

The cake recipe itself I found fully formed – called “caramel apple self-saucing cake” – on a lovely little blog called Seasons and Suppers, and it was so exactly what I was going for that I didn’t have to do much to it.



We meet again…

It starts with a basic cake batter, very similar to a spice cake I’ve made. In the recipe, the apple comes solely from slices that are placed on top. So I had to pull out my old frenemy – the mandoline.


I find a mandoline slicer incredibly useful. Also incredibly dangerous. If you didn’t know, I have a… history with this object. I even have a permanent reminder of that history. Who needs tattoos when you have scars, eh?

But I knew it was the only way I would get the thin, tender slices I was aiming for.

I thought and thought about how to get the sauce red without turning the whole cake red. I thought I could just put some red hots at the bottom, but 1) I could not find them ANYWHERE, and 2) I didn’t want to risk having little hard candy surprises at the bottom of what I hoped would be an ooey gooey, melt-in-your-mouth experience.


IMG_2869I decided instead I would use cinnamon oil and some red food coloring. Mostly because they were easily available and cheap.

Though the recipe didn’t call for it, I decided to use some shredded apples as a vehicle for the flavor and the coloring – the more apple the better, right?

Isn’t that so pretty?

I was a little afraid of going overboard with the oil, but it turns out I could have probably used a heavier hand with both color and flavor. Next time I won’t be so shy.


So, cinnamon apples on bottom, then pour over some batter. A few artistically arranged slices on top.IMG_2872

IMG_2876Then, pour over the magic mixture – boiling water, brown sugar, a little flour, a little butter… It looks like it’s just sitting on top, but during baking the liquid will sink through the batter and thicken, making the sauce! And, hopefully, making a nice, red, cinnamon-y sauce…

Starch, fat, flavor… you know, this is the same recipe as a good gravy…. hm…

I baked them as directed, and they couldn’t have come out better, I think. Beautifully brown on top, fluffy cake, and a lovely red sauce.

Doesn’t that look amazing?

Tasted fantastic, too.

I took these to work and they all got eaten, so I assume my coworkers thought so, too. I’m going to work on perfecting my version of this recipe, perhaps adding even more cinnamon oil for a little bit of a “candy apple” taste. Once I have that, I will update and post it here!



Princess of Whales

I don’t know if you know this, but my name is Diana.

Diana, like the princess, I always say. It helps keep people from calling me Diane. Not that I have anything against Diane, Diane is a very elegant name I think. It’s just not my name.

Why is this relevant? Well, because today I’m making whales. Get it? Princess of Whales.

So, this is not a challenge – just some random baking – and there might be a few more of these through the next few weeks while I catch back up again.

Maybe I’ll even make you read about other things I enjoy. What do you think about that, internet? This is MY BLOG and I DO WHAT I WANT. 😉

But for now, I’d like to talk about some cookies I made for my book club.
I facilitate a few book clubs as a part of my job, and I love it. But I very rarely have the forethought to provide snacks, like you might have at your home book club. But the book we read a few months ago, Why Read Moby Dick, by Nathaniel Philbrick, seemed to call out for a special treat. This is in part because I had the idea to do it, and in part because no one was particularly psyched to read this. Moby Dick itself is not a book that inspires a lot of excitement from most people. They were either forced to read it in high school and therefore have a healthy disdain for it, or they view it as a book they would have been forced to read and disdain it just the same. So I bribed them.

It took me only a quick Pinterest search to come up with this very clever, fairly easy project. This brilliance is the product of a blogger called Handmade Charlotte, who I will shortly begin following for other amazing ideas. I’ve copied her whale wholesale, so I owe it all to her.

The idea here is that you take a simple sugar cookie dough, cut it in half, and then stick the two halves together with a “waterspout” in between .

Her sugar cookie recipe is not one I’ve made. It calls for oil rather than butter, which I imagine helps prevent the cookie spreading- but that’s just a guess. It also calls for cream of tartar – most sugar cookies do, I think. But I am out! So a quick google search revealed that white vinegar (in double the original amount) makes an okay-ish replacement. I’ve certainly got plenty of that! In the end, you couldn’t tell at all. My next goal is going to be learning the scientific properties of what exactly cream of tartar does for baking.


So, I made the cookies, coloring the dough blue as Handmade Charlotte had. Someone pointed out later that I should have made them white for “the great white whale”. Oh well, hindsight.


In order to get the “whale” shape, you need a fairly substantial cookie that is then cut in half while still warm from the oven (if it cools too much, it will crack). I hand rolled teardrop shaped balls of dough and then flattened. It ended up being quite large. I might make a future cookie smaller, although it would make for more intricate work, it would be more friendly for the end user (read: the cookie eater).

I happened to have blue candy melt on hand, so I used that to “glue” the cookie halves together (rather a buttercream or icing, which would probably have been better).


I also had these candy eyes on hand. I had purchased them on a whim at Halloween; knowing they would come in handy one day…

This turned out to be a bit tricky. I needed to make sure the eyes were on the right place when I put the cookies together! I may or may not have gotten a few of these wrong the first time. You’ll never know for sure.

IMG_2822I also made literally hundreds of these white candy melt waterspouts. Thousands maybe. Millions. Ok, maybe not. But it felt like it.

They took a while to get just right, and work out how thick to make the candy so it wouldn’t shatter when you picked it up.



Attach with a little blue candy melt and… et voila!

Now, the finishing touch…the whale of a tail.

Using a small heart cookie cutter, I removed the center of small cookies.
I CUT OUT THEIR HEARTS. I can’t believe I didn’t realize the horrible implications of this action at the time.
I attached the tail at an angle using a spoon. This was a little precarious for travel once the spoon was removed. So, I decided I would add the tails once I got to work, and then never had the time. I don’t think the members of my book club cared much whether there was a tail or not… they got the point. They were a big hit!

I was having some trouble with all the waste this recipe created – all those sugar cookies with their hearts cut out. But then I had a brilliant idea – I had a bunch of the blue candy melt leftover also, so I just filled the heart hollows with that, and it made a lovely little treat.

I wrapped a few up and sent them off with my husband for friends at his office, and took the rest in for my coworkers.

Have I mentioned that I can be bad for my coworkers diets? I’m fine with that, really.


Time to bake!

Hi readers! 

I wanted to take a moment to say thank you to everyone reading, and those asking when I’d post again. I think it’s safe to say that a perfect storm of issues had conspired to temporarily prohibit me from blogging.

Certainly a lot has been happening, both good and bad. I got a new job! It’s been really great, it’s just been a period of adjustment and a LOT of work. Awesome, fun, exciting work. But still, a lot of it. I also started some freelancing that is incredibly satisfying professionally, but can be a time drain. 

And, in October, my husband was diagnosed with a chronic illness. He even ended up spending a few days in the hospital after having a serious complication. We’ve had to make a lot of life changes, including how we eat (a lot less sugar, for one). It was discouraging to think about all the things I wanted to make that he couldn’t (at least shouldn’t) eat, and took a little of the joy out of things for a while. Not to mention, our house became a disaster area – it’s hard to want to bake when you know you need to do some serious housecleaning just to have room to set a cookie sheet. 

Not to mention, about this same time, Netflix removed the Great British Baking show! Netflix has since re-added several seasons, but I was worried there for a good month.

But I think I’m finally ready. So without further ado, here’s a picture of a cat.



Everyone on the internet loves cat pics


This was inspired by a pinterest cake, on the occasion of a co-workers retirement party. She’s… fond of cats, to put it mildly. This was my first experience using a crumb coat, believe it or not, and doing any kind of sculpting with chocolate. I also bought an icing scraper to attempt a smoothe side and sharp corner at the top – as you can see my technique needs a little work.

IMG_2641I also learned that the way professional bakers get their cakes to look uniform is by slicing the crap out of them. At this point was when I became sucked into a vortex of youtube channels on cake decorating. There are some great ones out there. Hopefully I can dedicate a post to a few of my favorites at some point, but for now, lets just say it’s an education.


A crumb coat, if you’re not hip to the lingo, is a thin layer of buttercream, you spread over the cake which traps crumbs, and prevents any from showing up on your cake surface when you put the outer coat on.


I’m also not real steady on the detail work, so my cat has a pretty severe wing on that eyeliner there. Oh well. Cat’s have all sorts of markings, you know. I’ve got a friend who’s cat is all white with a black mustache. Stranger things have happened.

For the ears, I just painted candymelt onto wax paper that I had formed into a vague shape using a paperclip – by this time I was in a rush to get done and so, no pictures of the process.

Expect a new post roughly weekly – thanks for sticking with me, folks!

Pizza for everyone!

Bakers time: 4 hours                            My time: 4 hours

I get to make bread again, and it has to be delicious AND pretty. And have a filling. I considered this bake a long time before attempting it. What is considered “filled” anyway? How much filling? Would cinnamon swirl bread count? Did the filling have to be completely enclosed? I re-watched the episode several times in order to closely observe every baker’s dish. Most had a meat or cheese filling, but a few had desserts. And having the filling showing didn’t seem to be a dealbreaker.

I was so thrilled to stumble across this recipe from King Arthur Flour, which is stunning, and I thought would translate well to what I wanted to make. In fact, it’s so pretty I may make all my bread look like this from now own. At least, the ones with fillings.

In the end, inspired by the tomato and basil in the King Arthur recipe (and frankly, because I knew it would get eaten), I decided I would do pizza!

img_2794This loaf starts with a basic white bread loaf – flour, salt, yeast, but also milk, egg, and a bit of sugar. Even though the recipe doesn’t call for it, I decided to “proof” the yeast – dissolve it in liquid with a bit of the sugar in order to make sure it’s alive – before adding it to the mix. I primarily wanted to make sure this yeast was good, after I’d had so much trouble with the ciabatta – so that step is optional!
Have I mentioned how pretty I think a nice ball of dough looks?

img_2796Once the dough had doubled, I punched it down and attempted to do as the recipe said, and stretch it to a 22×18 rectangle. I missed a very important step though, to let the dough rest before stretching. Apparently this “relaxes the gluten” so its easier to stretch/roll. I definitely recommend doing that, as I really struggled to roll this out.

I put about 1/4 c. of pizza sauce on the rolled out dough. I probably could have put another 1/4 c. on there, but I went easy for this first time.

I added the remaining ingredients and rolled the dough along the long edge, pinching the seam. Now for the tricky part.


It looks a little like intestines at this point. Happy Halloween!

In order to get the beautiful, intricately layered S shape, you need to take a pair of kitchen scissors and cut about 3/4 down – leaving about 1/2 inch on either end uncut. Basically, you take one end and curve it towards the center and tuck it under. And then take the other end and curve the opposite direction, tucking under.
It’s super simple despite the imposing look, and makes a gorgeous little loaf.



I sprinkled a little pizza seasoning over the entire loaf, and pressed some into the sides and crevices. If I’d really been thinking I would have rolled the log of dough in the seasoning before I cut and shaped it, but this worked fine.

img_2811After a second rise, bake. I did let it rise just a little too long the second time through, because I was busy fixing dinner. It got a little bloated in the oven, but was still very pretty.

Now, I do believe if I had gone all in with the sauce it would have been awesome and bubbly and more pizza-like. But it was pretty great as it was. I recommend serving straight from the oven for tastiest results, with heated pizza sauce on the side for dipping.

Pizza Bread

Dough Filling
3c bread flour 1/4-1/2c pizza sauce
2tsp instant yeast 1/2c pepperoni
1 1/4tsp saltt 3/4c mozzerella or pizza cheese of choice
1 large egg 2tsp pizza seasoning
1/2c lukewarm milk
1/3c lukewarm water
3tbsp olive oil
pizza seasoning (for outside)
  1. Make the dough by combining these ingredients (except the seas into a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix for 6-8 minutes to knead. The dough should be slightly sticky.
  2. Form the dough into a ball, and place it in a bowl sprayed lightly with cooking spray. Cover and allow to rise until doubled in size.
  3. Punch down the dough and form into a square-ish ball.Allow to rest for 10 minutes or so to relax the gluten.
  4. Stretch or roll the dough out to a large rectangle, aiming for about 22 inches by 8 inches.
  5. Spread the dough with the pizza toppings. You don’t want to overfill it, but I found you could be a little on the generous side.Roll the dough along the long edge, so you have a long rope of dough, and pinch the seam to seal it. I also sealed the ends.
  6. Sprinkle some of the pizza seasoning onto the workspace and roll the rope lightly over so that the spices press lightly into the outside. Put the rope seam down on your baking pan (I also recommend parchment paper).
  7. Leaving about a half inch on either end, use scissors to cut down into the loaf about 1 inch along the length.
  8. Twist the top half of the rope into a loop with the end tucked under the middle. Now, twist the bottom half to loop the opposite direction, making a figure 8.
  9. Cover and let rise again until it has doubled again. Preheat your oven to 350.
  10. Bake for 35-40 minutes. After the first 25 minutes, cover the bread with foil in order to prevent your cheese from burning and the bread from over-browning.

Cool on a wire rack, but try and enjoy it while it’s still warm! Serving suggestion: Take some of the leftover pizza sauce from your filling, heat, and serve alongside. Yum!

Little Slippers

For a little while, I thought I had lost all the photos for this post. Ironically, it wasn’t that big a loss, as none of them looked very… appealing. I tried and tried, but I could not make this recipe work.

But, then I found them! And there was much rejoicing. (Yayyy)

So without further ado, Ciabatta.

Bakers time: 3 hours                                              My time: 6+ hours

Did you know Ciabatta translates literally to slippers. Supposedly, because they look like slippers, and I guess they do?

The bakers got 3.5 hours to bake one of Paul Hollywood’s recipes. Paul Hollywood, one of the show’s judges, is the “bread guy”. He is very into bread and into kind of being a know-it-all about breads. If this show could have a “mean judge,” he would be it. But I’ve got to tell you – this recipe didn’t work for me.

I followed it to the letter. I used a scale rather than just measuring, so I could follow the British recipe (and because it’s just smart to use one). But it just wouldn’t work. I ended up baking the whole thing through twice, which it turns out is only partially responsible for why my time is so much longer.

img_2766This is a pretty basic dough, where bread is concerned. I’m actually not sure why it’s so beloved. Its a simple flour-salt-yeast recipe, with a little oil.

Ciabatta recipes call for a very wet dough. Check. Seems a little wet to me at this point, but who am I to judge? I’m no Paul Hollywood.

You’re supposed to put it in a square container to rise, supposedly in order to help it keep it’s shape. Ha ha, jokes on you Paul Hollywood. This dough never had a shape.

I put a little dot on the container so I’d be able to tell when it doubled.

It didn’t.

It puffed up maybe… a fourth of what it should. I left it longer and and got maybe another centimeter. Okaaaaaayyyy….  The instructions call for you to not punch down the dough, you want to maintain the air. But this dough was so wet, I couldn’t even cut it. It just oozed right back together.And forget putting it into a loaf form on a baking sheet. Ridiculous. It was like trying to make loaves out of pancake batter. Ok, maybe not that bad. But it was pretty crazy scooping this “dough” over to a pan, and I can pretty much guarantee that it did not retain any of that precious air. I went ahead and baked them, but they looked awful. I decided to try again, and this time, I would be more careful.

Now this is a technical challenge, so usually you would want to stick as closely to the recipe as possible, or pay the price. But I went rogue. Given that either my scale is wrong or the recipe is, I decided to hold back on the water. Even leaving out just a few tablespoons seems to have done wonders for this recipe.

Although it still rose very slowly and never in fact doubled, I was able to work with the dough as a dough, rather than as a liquid! This time, when I cut the loaves, they stayed loaves. Transferring them to a pan was still quite tricky (Note to self – invest in large flat metal spatula?), I got it done. After a second rise, they still looked unimpressive. But they were much better than last time! It didn’t taste terrible, but it was far from what a ciabatta is supposed to look like, I think.

I get an F in this technical challenge. Next time, I think I’d use even less water, or maybe more yeast? Maybe both!img_2791img_2786





Non-challenge bake

So, if I baked nothing but GBBO bakes for the next xx years, before I was done I would probably throw my oven out of the side of the house, incredible hulk style. In order to keep my sanity, and to keep the creativity flowing, I will occasionally be bringing you bakes that have nothing to do with Britain, Mary Berry, or a big white tent. This one has everything to do with me having leftover bananas.

I have a very loving, supportive relationship with banana bread. I love to make it, I love to eat it, and it reminds me of my mother.

For those of you who don’t know me personally, you should know that my mother died 10 years ago this December. I say this not to elicit sympathy, but to let you know that 1) My particular love affair with banana bread originates with the fact that she made the BEST ever banana bread, and 2) I can’t just call her up for her recipe.

So I had these leftover bananas, and I had not had any banana bread in a while, so I figured it was time.

I do have a recipe that I fall back to a lot- from e a copy of the ubiquitous red and white checkered Better Homes and Gardens. A gift from Mom. It has a pretty good banana bread recipe, and it’s always close to hand.img_2540

This dish towel is a heirloom from my husband’s family.It’s an equal opportunity emotional manipulation.
img_2543I also happened to have a nectarine lying around. Don’t ask me why there was a single nectarine sitting lonely on my counter, but I decided that I would put it to work as well.

I was a little worried that the addition of the nectarine would make the batter runny, but it seemed like a pretty good consistency as it went into the pans.

IMG_2545.JPGI decided at the last minute that I would make up the crumb topping that comes with the recipe. I don’t usually make it, even though I do enjoy a good crumb topping. But, I whipped it up, and sprinkled it on. It makes a lot… way more than I expected.  I piled it on all the same – the more the better, right?

Mmmm… Butter and brown sugar.


It looks like a chubby little face. Like mine after I eat it.

As I pulled the bread from the oven, I could see that the topping had collapsed the top of the loaf. Not a big deal, of course, I figured it would just bake in (though Paul Hollywood would NOT approve of the sunken top).

I could barely wait to cut off a slice and… it was delicious. I could not taste the nectarine at all though.


I cut a second slice, and, horrors! it appeared to have a RAW MIDDLE. I was devastated. How could it be raw? I stuck in a cake tester! I baked it correctly! Something must have gone wrong – the nectarine?

I couldn’t help myself. I was going to eat it anyway, maybe just nibble around the raw bits…

And you know what? I was wrong.

It had sunk all the way down and created a gooey, sugary core throughout the loaf. I probably couldn’t have made that happen if I’d been trying.

Next time, maybe I will try!


Baked at the Lake. Or, Rye Cinnamon Rolls

Blogging is hard work.

You know, I actually started this blog about a month before my first post, and baked like a crazy person in order to have content in advance. In the midst of all that, I had the opportunity to go away for the weekend. To the lake

Every year, a group of my fellow librarians head to our friend April’s family cabin to enjoy a weekend of librarian antics. “What kind of antics are those?” you might ask.
I’ll never tell.
But of course, I used that opportunity to bake for a captive audience!

This bake constitutes the signature challenge for “bread week” on the show.
I want to pause for a moment to say that bread was one of the first things that started me down the path that was eventually to lead to this blog. A few years back on New Years I was casting about for a resolution – something that I could challenge myself to learn over the next year. I finally settled on bread. I’d always wanted to learn how to make yeast breads-been a little afraid of yeast, actually- and this would be the year.

It was a Friday, and I set about doing the thing librarians do: research. It didn’t take long before I found a website that positively changed my life, and made me wish – a little bit – that I had gone into the bakery science program in college.


My first loaf!


By the end of the weekend I was a pro. The lessons laid out the science behind each ingredient and suddenly there was nothing to be afraid of.

So that’s bread sorted. The next year it was pie crust, and the next thing you know, here we are.

So! Bread week! The signature, wherein the bakers were asked to create a dozen rye rolls. other than that, there were no rules! Freedom!

Bakers time: 3.5 hours                                                      My time: 4 hours

First problem was: I’ve never had rye bread outside a sandwich. I stopped in at a little local bakery I know (Panera Bread its called, perhaps you’ve heard of it?) to try some out. Quite a lot of caraway involved, it seems. Was great with ham and cheese.

That sampling aside, I decided to use this opportunity to tackle another fear of mine – cinnamon rolls. A few of the bakers had made sweet rolls, with cranberries and oranges featuring prominently, so I figured that would be a good place to start. I like cranberry. I like oranges. And I happened to have some of both laying around. I like to buy my dried cranberries in bulk, you see, and I had those leftover dried orange peels after the Florentines…

img_2513I found a great recipe for rye cinnamon rolls here, and just adjusted it to include the orange/cranberry aspect. It calls for cardamom. I did not know before this exactly how AMAZING cardamom smells. And since it came with me, everything in my luggage smelled amazing. I may have put some in my coffee – every day since then.

Cinnamon rolls are a challenge. I want to eat them, but I usually don’t want to wait the 3 or 4 hours to make them. And it really did end up taking much longer than I would otherwise have liked. It started out well, but the dough wouldn’t rise! I ended up putting it out on the deck. What a shame, to have to sit and do nothing while bread rises with this view…img_2508

img_2525Once it had sufficiently risen, I found some counter space and rolled it out.




IMG_2524.JPGI mixed up the filling, including the orange peel. The cranberries I minced and sprinkled throughout. Then rolled them up.

I really liked the idea of cutting them in triangles and placing them on their side, as they’d done in the inspiration recipe. It seemed like a cool, distinctive look. I didn’t stop to think it would probably be a thing I wanted to practice a few times first… But, I gave it a go, and set them out for their second rise.
img_2529While they were basking in the sun on the deck, and then as they went into the oven, I turned my attention to the glaze. To be honest, I was gazing longingly at my friends out there with their books and mimosas and relaxation by this time. I may have half-assed the glaze, pardon the expression. I replaced the liquids with orange juice, and left it to simmer for a good bit. Looking back now, I should have let it boil until it thickened, as the recipe calls for, but I was worried about scorching. So, it definitely ended up more as a liquid than anything resembling a cinnamon roll icing, but it was sweet and sticky and orange-y!

As the rolls came out of the oven, I only let them cool the slightest bit before throwing the best looking 12 onto a plate and drenching them in the glaze. They were definitely over baked, but certainly had that distinctive look I was going for.

It turns out that baking in an unfamiliar oven is probably not the way to win a baking championship. After they were out and eaten, I heard from one of the lake houses’ semi-permanent residents (April’s mom) “I hope they told you it bakes about 25 degrees hot”!
No they hadn’t. Oh well, at least now I can pass the blame for any over baking onto that, rather than any fault of my own! That, and the oven had no window. I had never realized before this very bake exactly how much I rely on a window in the oven. And the bakers, too, are often seen kneeling before their oven, watching things bake. I really missed that window!