Tag Archives: terrible

&*(@$(*! Camera

2 Jan

Once upon a time, there was a nice camera named Kodak.  It was a proud camera with a lot of megapixels and, depending on the settings, could even catch my cat doing cute things.  Kodak knew it was better than its old coworker Vivitar, which only shoots fast enough to catch the cat’s anus as it runs away.

Then one day Kodak, proud camera that she was, decided to shoot only what she deemed worthy of those massive megapixels, and sod the rest.  “Documentation’s not my game anymore, bitch!” she cried. “You and your food can just jam it!”

This is what I imagine was happening as I wiped butter, flour and who knows what else off the Kodak, which I believed held the photographic evidence of fudge that looked like vomit, brown sugar meringue that shrunk like wool in hot water and cookies that deflated like a flat chest.  And my ego.

Now, you might think it’s a blessing that I don’t have all my shots, but it isn’t.  It’s important to make a note of one’s mistakes so they’re not repeated.  It’s also important to know that those of us who are quite good at something still—or rather, constantly–make some fantastic mistakes.

I will have to do my best then to describe for you what happened.  I can tell you right away, though, that my biggest error was trying new things while under a time crunch.  I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that this will always break your heart, but as a baker my overconfidence, which I know damn well never works out for anyone, wouldn’t surprise anyone who knows me.  It seems I thrive on failure the same as I thrive on success.

So sit back and check out my failures.  A little schaudenfreude never hurt anyone.

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Easy Like Lionel Richie

2 Jan

Rest assured, there are more failures to write up for you, my nine readers (see below to start), but before I retire for the evening, I’d like to leave you with a small little trifle that turned into a big success.

I mentioned in an earlier post that making the best holiday treats means making small, handheld, easily transportable treats.  This means that sweet little candy-ish things that’re made assembly-line style while you’re parked in front of a “completely legal” feed of, say, weekday football games…well, these treats are as perfect as that sentence isn’t.

This brings us to it, and it’s based on the very popular chocolate-coated Ritz-and-peanut-butter sandwiches that a lot of people make this time of year.  I love those things.  But for these new treats, I came across some perfectly round pretzel crackers, a little larger than a quarter.  A freak for all things salty and crunchy, I knew there had to be a good use for these.

First, I ate used an entire bag myself while watching an episode of “Burn Notice.”

But, I also managed—somehow–to save the remaining bag and thought that instead of peanut butter, I could make use of a jar of Nutella that’s been taunting me since I bought it in the summer.  Honestly, why do I do this to myself?  This is a carb-free house.  Usually.

So, two pretzel crackers, salt side in, Nutella and… what kind of chocolate to coat?  After several taste tests it was decided to go with white chocolate, which would also provide a really nice color contrast.

There are a couple of tricks to making these successfully, the first of which is the most important: As Nutella liquefies quickly under heat, make sure these are fully chilled before dipping.  Unlike peanut butter, to which saturated fats are added for stability, Nutella is gooey paste, made of hazelnuts, cocoa solids and here in North America, modified (with more unsaturated fat) palm oil.  It doesn’t stand on its own.

To keep the flavors balanced—they’re all very strong—keep the layer of Nutella pretty thin, and add about a TBL of shortening (or more) to your white chocolate to thin it out.  Then work quickly: Even very chilled, some Nutella will get into the white chocolate.  So long as it’s not much, though, it’ll mix right in.

Then throw them on some wax paper to set.  Some decoration really adds to them, such as a light dusting of white sanding sugar, chocolate cookie crumbs, or whatever cute things you have handy.  It doesn’t really matter, because people will love these no matter what.  Trust me on this.  Have I ever steered you wrong?

Don’t answer that.

Sunday Fudgy Sunday

2 Jan

The original plan was to help out an old man with a sweet tooth.  I mean, a real sweet tooth.  I’m not talking about the coworker who cuts a quarter off a muffin with a butter knife, proclaims herself to be naughty, then pukes it up in a bathroom on a different floor.  No, I mean I think that old guy eats sugar packets when we’re not looking.

This makes him an easy target for fudge, seeing as how that stuff, no matter how you make it, is nearly all sugar.  Personally, I’m not much of a fan; the kind I’ve had is the kind of fudge sold in cute country stores and is always, and unrepentantly, dried out.  Can’t figure out why a proprietor would leave a large, uncovered tray of fudge in a refrigerated case.  Transmission fluid would dry out if left uncovered in a refrigerated case.

And traditional fudge can be tricky as it is: Like all candy, the temperature to which you heat your sugar will determine its characteristics and in this, precision is key.  If your candy thermometer is off, your candy will be off.  If your timing is off, your candy will be off.  In this case, heating the sugar component of fudge too high will produce a dry, crumbly fudge, which is how I suspect a lot of fudge is sold at the start.

(On a side note, I would like to meet the people who will pay American dollars for what tastes like candied sand, because boy, have I got some serious rejects available for those fools.)

So while all of this is true, there actually is a very easy way to produce better-than-average fudge without regard to precision, temperature or technique.  I can’t take credit for it; it’s a Cook’s Illustrated recipe that uses sweetened condensed milk, chips, and a little baking soda to add just enough air to keep it from being too dense.  (I’m sorry, but the recipe is not free, so I can’t reproduce it here.  But if you search for “15-Minute Walnut Fudge,” you might get lucky.)

The recipe is in fact so easy, I thought I could substitute just about any flavor chip I wanted to make the fudge.  It’s the sweetened condensed milk and baking soda doing the work, both of which could hide a multitude of sins considering that precision and temperature were not involved.  With that in mind I decided, having made plenty of chocolate fudge for our favorite old guy in the past, I’d make butterscotch fudge for him using butterscotch chips, marshmallows, and chunks of Werther’s.  Pretty damn sugary, that.

This did not work out at all.

First, although the largest constituent of all chips is sugar, all bets are off after that.  Naturally, I didn’t bother to check this or even think about it knowing full well that if the type and amount of fat varies greatly between white and dark chocolate, maybe I ought to check out the content of the butterscotch chips because, you know, they’re not chocolate.  But whatever, right?

The butterscotch chips I used (purchased from Aldi and believe me, that store brings it in sweets department) actually have a remarkably high amount of palm oil in them, nearly as much as the sugar.  If you’ve worked with palm oil, then you know that while it solidifies at room temperature, it’s still very malleable.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  It’s a superb idea to use palm oil for this purpose.  White chocolate coatings will use more palm oil than shortening, making it cheaper and easier to work with; better peanut butters use palm oil instead of shortening, too, to give it that creamy texture.  As for butterscotch chips, there’s a huge gulf in taste between those made with palm oil and those made with shortening.  That said, the crappier-tasting, shortening-laden butterscotch chips would’ve been better suited to making this variety of fudge.  Here’s why.

Once mixed, melted and cooled with the sweetened condensed milk, baking soda, salt and vanilla, it never set properly.  Palm oil, though it’s solid at room temperature, is still 49.2 percent unsaturated fat.  The stuff is, like, half cooking oil, basically.  Combining this with gooey sweetened condensed milk made it impossible for it to set.  Chips made with shortening, which is a fully saturated fat, would probably set up just fine.

Then there were aesthetic issues I didn’t anticipate, but should’ve.  Butterscotch chips are an orange shade of tan and to combat this, I thought adding white marshmallows would add a nice contrast.  Except that the marshmallows ended up coated in orange-tan goo and were too large even in the miniature variety.  This made for orange-tan goo with lumps.

No problem, I thought; these shiny Werther’s chunks I just pulverized with a stubby hammer will look shiny and great even though the bag broke and there’s butterscotch dust everywhere.  Okay, that’s a lie.  “Oh shit!” was what I thought immediately.  But I added the Werther’s bits to the top anyway, which made for orange-tan goo with lumps and chunks.

I pretty much knew there was no hope at this point.  But I thought that maybe I’d get lucky–that cutting into them would reveal this marvelous contrast of colors and textures and regardless of what the tops looked like, maybe that’s what people would see first.  And maybe it would’ve been if my orange-tan goo with lumps and chunks had solidified at all.

Instead, it’s sitting in my uninsulated mudroom, held back in an old Tupperware container like some slimy alien, its nasty gooey arms clinging to the sides as if it’s going to kill me for this when it breaks out.  This fudge could be the end of me.

Please note that despite all this it is ridiculously delicious, so I will do something with it someday.

Peanut Butter Cups: I Failed

3 Oct

Update:  I’m just gonna say it.  This looks like a vagina.

Maybe it was because I wasn’t in the mood, or maybe it was because I filled the house with chlorine gas the night before.  I don’t know.  But I performed a thoughtless and poorly planned test of these peanut butter cups.  And it shows.  I’ve attached a photo, and will detail my failure for you this week.

I will take your pity, if you wish to give it.

Yeesh!

The Baking Life

19 Aug

The baking life includes headaches.  Trying to resist coating myself in Ben Gay.  But resistance may be futile: The nausea as slain me.  I’m out.  I imagine that this is what C3PO felt like on Tattooine, stiff and hurt by all the sand and an unsympathetic little companion.

My last two years of college, and for several years after, I had terrible insomnia and headaches every single day.  Yet somehow I was capable of getting up and doing great things then.  I had three 4.0 semesters in a row.  Then I freelanced and made actual money at it.  With that pain.  Every day.  And I can’t help but feel weak, and useless, because I just can’t do that now.  I don’t remember how I did it.

I’ll see you tomorrow, before my sexy grocery trip.

The San Diego Chargers Ruined My Baking Dreams

17 Aug

Due to the fact that the fight song for the San Diego Chargers has given me brain damage, I will be unable to post any superbly written baking news today. I will however return tomorrow after a full 24 hours of not hearing that song.

See you tomorrow.

God Save the Queen

1 Aug

After a long, long day of writing yesterday–I need to take better care of my notes so this takes less than seven hours next time–I spent today cleaning the house, coloring my roots, running a couple of errands and otherwise plotting my next test.  This of course is going to be Honeypie’s Fruit Swirl Brownies (see related post and here), and while I have the utmost respect for a bakery that’ll publish its recipes in the paper–that’s balls, people–I do have to test it out for myself.  And, eventually, do it better.  Because that’s the kind of bastard I am.

The ingredients that Honeypie’s recipe requires are pretty pricey, though, so by “plotting my next test,” what I mean is that I’m plotting the purchase of those ingredients versus my upcoming paydays.  I know you know what I’m talking about it here.

But I’m honestly looking forward to seeing how these expensive hippie ingredients behave, and if I can achieve the same results with with my own hands and a noncommercial oven.  I’m looking less forward, however, to visiting the store that carries these ingredients because I think the place has more hippies per square foot than “Canada.” And you know, we Gen Xers have no patience for people who dream.

But enough about my troglodyte sensibilities.  I stopped in at a Barnes & Noble to have some tea and read magazines I won’t buy, and I came across a food magazine published by the BBC.  A quarterly of summer recipes, or something like that.  But it was the subtitle that caught my eye: “130 recipes you can trust.”  Oh, really?  I thought.  We’ll have to see about that.  I know London restaurants are allegedly stupendous, but since the end of Two Fat Ladies, I don’t think England’s exported any chefs of value to motivated home cooks and bakers.  I mean, Gordon Ramsey?  Jamie Oliver?  What a couple of insects.

Not that either of those two lent their very irritating but still considerable expertise to anything in this particular publication.  The very vast majority of the recipes appeared to be salads (really, England? Recipes for salads?), so it took a lot of flipping to find the baked goods among them.  And seriously, it took me only about 10 seconds to find problems.  No, less.  Here’s a sampling:

  • A cookie crust made with butter and honey, but no oven.  Just how is that supposed to cohere and solidify?  Or come out of the pan?
  • No emphasis on just how chilled a pastry’s liquids and fats really need to be, and just how fast you need to work
  • Lemon curd for pie with no finishing temperature–just some visual cues.  Do you know how many new bakers will fuck this up?  All of them
  • Cake ingredients mixed together all at once, rather than using the staggered mixing process
  • Sending a cake outdoors with a temperature-sensitive icing.  I don’t even know what to say to this
  • A cheesecake made with only two eggs and again, the ingredients mixed all at once
  • A recipe for… a bowl of fruit

You know, I knew England’s new coalition government would be more useless than the last, but the government does in fact run the BBC, so I think David Cameron should do something about this.  Or better yet, Paul McCartney, if he’s finished fondling Barack Obama’s earlobes.