Monday, December 24, 2018

Spiny balls for Christmas!

 Guess what was in the clearance bin again!

Indeed, they once again had artichokes at 50¢ each! We wanted to try to roast them without burning them like we did last time, but these were already looking dried and leathery. Unlike the last artichokes, you could tell why these were in the clearance bin. We decided that the only way to possibly cook these was in boiling water. Otherwise it'd be like eating rawhide. Though honestly, we didn't even know if this would work. While we have successfully cooked nearly-dead vegetables oftentimes before (usually by pulverizing them and putting them in meatloaf), our methods for sad and droopy vegetables generally involve reducing them to unrecognizable tiny bits that hopefully still contain vitamins.
See how shrivelled they are?

This was a great way to eliminate some other waste. You know those skinny little garlic cloves at the center of the bulb that are too small to bother peeling? We keep swearing we'll use them in something, but kept putting off the bother of having to peel like twenty garlic slivers to get a scant teaspoon's worth of garlic. So they've been stacking up.

In theory, by the time the artichokes had done cooking, the garlic essence would have suffused the water without even bothering to peel each of the little things.

Also, I'm not sure why, but absolutely every Italian person I know will religiously insist that you must put lemons in the pot. Granted, every Italian person I know would have fainted at the sight of me cooking such shrivelled-up artichokes. But at least remembering to add the lemon would downgrade their horror from fatal heart attack to a mere stroke.

As aforesaid, we didn't know if this would work of if we were boiling water for nothing. These things were pretty dead looking. However, after over an hour in the pot (well over twice the usual boiling time), you'd have never known they were so dried-up when I brought them home.

As you can see, the leaves reconstituted in the water. These suckers look like they were fresh when I bought them! I would say that no one would ever learn the truth, but knowing myself I wouldn't even be finished putting the plate on the table before saying "And these were two for a dollar because they were practically dead! I tell ya, they're practically giving them away!"

I don't know if this is a result of drying the artichokes and then boiling the heck out of them or if this happens with fresh ones too,  but if you wanted to you could just pull the center core of leaves right out.

The core came out very neatly with the slightest pull. Do all artichokes do this and I never noticed, or is this a giveaway sign that I cooked long-expired ones?
You can see the very tiny innermost leaves, still tightly packed at the bottom of the part that we lifted right out.
I'd try this every time someone served artichokes were it not considered rude to perform botanical observations on someone's mom's cooking.
This is also why you should get something besides a cellphone for attempting botanical photography. We'll need a better camera before attempting something like The Alphabet of Plants.

Speaking of botany, we finally got a plant we've wanted for a year now- a pink poinsettia!

We meant to get one last Christmas, but made the mistake of saying "We'll wait until the 26th and nab one on sale at the grocery." It turns out that the decorations and candy migrate to the clearance shelves, but the plants get snatched away in the night. So when we went to the store on the 26th to get a discounted pink poinsettia, they were all gone! And unlike other houseplants, no one sells them any other time of the year, so we got this one before Christmas before all the poinsettias went away. Where do they all go? Do the nurseries take them back and keep them alive to resell next year?  Do all those unsold plants end up in the trash (followed in a few weeks by most of the poinsettias people bring home)?
Anyway, we have a red one we got a few years ago, which promptly dropped all its leaves and looked completely dead right after Christmas. We kept meaning to throw it out but procrastinating, until one day we noticed it had new buds on its bare stalks. Now it spends most of its time looking like this.
You'd think it was just an ordinary green houseplant aside from the bright red stems coming out of each leaf.

Granted, it almost never blooms (it tried to last year), but we wanted a pink one anyway. Now we can have two poinsettias that never bloom. But at while not blooming, one of them will be pink!
The leaves are already starting to look dead and it hasn't been a week. We'll see if it stays alive like the other one.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Smashing cake!

'Tis Christmas time again! It's the time for an increase of ladder injuries, light displays that horribly abuse extension cords, and of course the end of the semester at cooking school! Which means we bring an end to an entire sixteen weeks of cake-decorating class, and therefore we consider ourselves well-qualified to make the finest of cakes for the most of festive occasions! After all, we can now do one of... these!

Actually, you can't properly behold the cake in such flat lighting. Let's show this cake in a way that allows you to truly feast your eyes on the artistry!

All right, that's merely the practice cake. Like last time, we thought that this cake was important enough to rehearse the night before as if our grade depended on it. We made careful notes ("be sure to cut scales into icing before making legs," "save icing for spine ridges," etc). We also made a list of every tool and icing tip we would need to do this again in class, and carefully packed everything so we would be absolutely ready for The Big Test Day. Then we left all our stuff at home.
I'm going to let the cake say how we felt when we got to class and realized that our carefully-packed supplies were still waiting at the house for us to put them in the car.

In an act of mercy, the teacher lent us her cake-decking supplies. And so,we spent the day making... this!

Isn't he cute? The girl who was making her cake next to me named him Froedrick.

As you can see, we deliberately avoided even trying to smoothly ice a cake. Instead, we hid our icing ineptitude with "the naturalistic look."
Usually, the school keeps the cakes you make, selling them for fundraising. But we got to take Froedrick home with us! Unfortunately, we didn't think he tasted very good. Remember how last time we turned our midterm cakes into cake balls? Well, we decided to get together with friends and do that again. Unfortunately, the realities of adulthood being what they are, a full week elapsed before we could all gather.
Smashing this thing tastes as good as when we threw our calculus book onto a grill.

Let's pause and look at the cake board right after we dumped the cake off of it and into the bowl. I love the intact autumn leaves.

As we noted last time, the decorating icing we use in class is basically a paste of powdered sugar and shortening. It tastes like the filling from some very sketchy knockoff Oreos from the clearance shelf of the dollar store. You have to admit, it's impressive that an icing recipe can make the usually-magical combination of fat and sugar taste bad.
However, we have to admit that the icing did an amazing job of keeping this week-old cake from going stale. Sure, the icing on the outside had gotten a little crusty, but the cake tasted like we had baked it that morning.

And let us add that the icing was the only thing keeping this  cake from going crumbly and sad. We didn't freeze the cake, or even wrap it very well. Only the icing kept it so well protected from the staleness-inducing forces of the outside world. Unfortunately, it tasted bland, so despite its extraordinary state of preservation we smashed it anyway.
Now, the practice cake was made from brownie mix (even at home, I didn't want to use eggs and fresh butter if I was going to entomb the resulting cake in sweetened Crisco). We briefly thought that the brownies might taste good if you scraped the icing off, but brownie mixes apparently use barely enough chocolate to turn the batter brown. These tastes bland and sad. So we smashed them too.

Now, the last time we turned these into cake balls, we had only enough icing in the cake to actually coat it. But entire sections of this dragon are made entirely of icing. So unlike last time, we didn't have ideal cake-ball filling so much as particles of cake suspended in icing glop. On the bright side, adding the brownie cake changed the green from the color of cheap St Patrick's Day party favors to the color of guacamole. Here it is before...

...And here it is after!

Whie we did originally intend to turn this paste into cake balls, this was a lot of smashed cake. No one wanted to spend an inordinate length of time rolling this into walnut-sized balls, nor did we want to clear out enough freezer space. So we did this instead.

Once you spread it out, it looks like you're staring at the surface of someone's seven-layer dip, doesn't it?

Well, anyone want to hire me to do their wedding cake? Satisfaction not guaranteed, memorable results promised!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

The sacred pumpkin cake roll

Welcome to A Book of Cookrye, where we defiantly carry the nutmeg torch of pumpkin spice against the tsunami of Christmas! Today, we bring you... this!

Bring out the canned pumpkin because here at A Book of Cookrye, autumn doesn't end until Christmas is safely over! Today we have a recipe we made for Thanksgiving, because if Christmas can start in August then Thanksgiving can stomp all over December.

Pumpkin Roll
¾ c flour
2 tsp pumpkin spice
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
4 eggs, separated
1 c sugar, divided in half
⅔ c canned pumpkin (be sure you don't use canned pie filling)
1 tbsp lemon juice

Heat oven to 375°. Grease a 10½" x 15½" jelly roll pan. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom. Press it down, getting rid of as many air bubbles as you can. Spray the parchment.*
Mix the flour, spices, salt, and baking powder, set aside.
In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks until foamy. Add half the sugar. Beat 3-5 minutes more, until they are very light-colored and look a bit like cake batter. Beat in the pumpkin. Then reduce speed and beat in the flour, just until mixed.
In a separate bowl with clean beaters, beat the egg whites until foamy. Add the lemon juice and beat until you get peaks that don't flop over, but bend just a bit at the point. With the mixer running, gradually add the sugar. Beat until you get soft peaks.
Gently stir a spoonful of the egg whites into the batter. When mixed, gently stir in another. This should soften it enough that you can fold in the remaining egg whites without deflating them. Fold in the egg whites in two or three additions. To prevent overstirring which would deflate the egg whites, wait until you've added the last of them to thoroughly mix in every last lump of white.
Spread into the pan and bake 18-22 minutes. Because this cake is so thin, you really want to spin it 180° halfway through the baking time to make very sure it cooks evenly. It's done when the center springs back when pressed.
While it's baking, clear some counterspace and lay out a piece of parchment big enough to turn the cake out onto. Sprinkle it with graham cracker crumbs, powdered sugar, or flour.
When the cake is done, cut the edges to free it from the pan. Turn it out onto the parchment. Cut off the edges because they're crispy and will want to crack when you bend the cake. Peel off the paper you baked it with. Roll the cake up in the new parchment, using enough pressure to roll it firmly, but not enough to squish it. Leave it to cool completely.

½ c pecans, optional
4 oz white chocolate, melted
8 oz cream cheese
⅓ c caramel topping
2 8-oz tubs whipped topping
¼ tsp salt

Grind the pecans, if using, and set aside to sprinkle on top.
Beat the white chocolate, cream cheese, and topping. Gently stir in the whipped cream. You'll deflate it less if you add it in three or so additions. This softens up the mixture so that by the time you add the last portion of cream, you barely lose any fluffiness.
Gently unroll the cake. Spread the filling onto it, being sure to get all the way to the edges. Gently roll it up, being sure not to squeeze the filling out. Refrigerate until you want to serve it. If you're worried about neatness, slice off the ends after it's gotten cold enough to firm up the filling.

*All this pan preparation may seem like overkill, but this cake really wanted to stick to the pan.
I used 8 oz cream whipped with 2 tbsp powdered sugar instead.
In the original recipe, you put about a third of the icing inside the cake and spread the rest on top after you roll it up. I decided to forget trying to ice this thing and put it all inside the roll. If you're going to do the same, you may consider reducing how much filling you make unless you like a lot of filling in your cake rolls.

Source: Wilton

Incidentally, this website annoyed me so much. The ingredients are on one webpage, and the instructions are on another. You have to keep clicking back and forth as you make your way through the recipe unless you have a printer on hand. And if you do, you'll find yourself using a lot of paper. Even if you're not worried about saving trees, it gets really annoying to have to keep track of so many sheets of paper while you're covered in cake spatters.
But enough about crappy web design. We have a very specific reason for making a pumpkin roll for Thanksgiving. One of my aunts can't bake. This is not sniping at her behind her back, she'll readily say so herself. Anyway, you those school fundraisers where you and your children have to go door to door selling overpriced baked goods and nut trays? Well, one year my aunt ordered a pumpkin roll from a friend's kid and brought it to Thanksgiving. As a joke, she took it out of the supermarket-looking container, put it on one of her own plates, and (this is the extra gourmet touch) sprinkled powdered sugar on it.
Sugar! Spice! And a lot of fat waiting upstream on the countertop!

Actually, hold the story for a minute. THIS IS AN UNSPEAKABLE AMOUNT OF BOWLS. Seriously, we haven't even produced anything that looks like cake batter yet, and look at how many bowls we already have to wash! Have we mentioned that our dishwasher is permanently broken?

Whoever devised this recipe was probably working in a commercial kitchen with an industrial dishwasher that cleans a full load of dishes in 5 minutes or less. Either that or they had a small platoon of underpaid underlings permanently stationed at the sink. This recipe did not come from someone who bakes at home. Or if they do, they have an actual commercial-grade kitchen in their house instead of what the rest of us have.
This is what the empty steel bowl above was for.

All right, back to why we were making this for Thanksgiving. As aforementioned, a few years ago, my aunt who does not bake ordered one from one of those school fundraisers and put it on her own plate like she was trying to pass it off as homemade. Not that she actually wanted to make anyone think she'd suddenly started doing her own cakes. Have you ever been to someone's house for dinner, and they served takeout while joking about how they totally spent forever in the kitchen preparing this feast-- while serving it out of the styrofoam boxes? My aunt was doing that. To everyone's surprise, one of my cousins thought my aunt had baked it herself, and asked her to bring it next year. The rest of us were too amused to undeceive her.

Anyway, this was easy enough for my aunt to do. Those school fundraisers come around every year. My aunt ordered another one the next Thanksgiving. As before, she removed it from its clear plastic shipping container and put it on her own plate. She got out the powdered sugar and sprinkled a little on top, saying "There! Now it's homemade!"
This went on right up until last year, when the last of my aunt's friends' kids graduated from school, bringing an end to the fundraisers. This meant she could not order Thanksgiving pumpkin rolls anymore. Well, she could order them in a sense. Because somehow I got asked to make it this year.

Anyway, I don't know if my cousin ever realized that my aunt never made a single one of the many pumpkin rolls that graced the dessert table over the years. If she did wise up, she never let on.
Maybe she thought it was my aunt's one recipe. You know how a lot of people who can't cook will have one thing they make really well? Like those people who burn a pot of rice and ruin canned biscuits, but somehow make a really damn good cheesecake? Maybe my cousin thought that pumpkin rolls were my aunt's one recipe. Or maybe she figured out the truth a while ago but hasn't said so, lest she risk bringing an end to pumpkin rolls (which she does like a lot, homemade or otherwise).

See that orange splot on top of the batter? That's what makes this a pumpkin roll. I have to note that I was more than slightly annoyed at how very little pumpkin this uses. It meant I had to figure out what to do with the rest of this can.

Anyway, this recipe comes to us from the Wilton website. You may recognize Wilton as the company that manufactures nearly everything on the cake decorating aisle at the craft store. When we first started our cake decorating class, we had to order a huge amount of icing tips and other overpriced little cake doodads. When we went on their website, they offered a discount to anyone who signed up to their newsletter. We've been getting emails from them ever since, each of them filled with projects far too complicated for us and ads for more cake paraphernalia that we refuse to purchase unless forced. Usually we delete them unopened. But literally the day we were asked to make this thing, we got one that proclaimed in the subject line that it had a pumpkin roll recipe and the latest fall cake decorations.
We were going to just use the recipe on the pumpkin can, but this was the well-timed hand of fate blessing us with a recipe that we were truly meant to make! Like, how often does a recipe literally land in your inbox, unsolicited, the day after you find out you're going to need to look for it? Clearly, this recipe would be utterly amazing, as it was the gods themselves who made Wilton put this recipe in this week's mass mailer.

The batter was not as orange as I thought it'd be. Like, I'd thought we'd be using enough pumpkin to make this, well, pumpkin-colored. It's barely tinted! Would this thing taste like pumpkin at all?  We didn't want to serve a pumpkin roll that didn't taste like pumpkin. I mean, it'd be a decent cake roll even if you couldn't detect the pumpkin, but this is supposed to be a pumpkin cake. Which we're serving in the fall, dangit. You just can't have a pumpkin cake that doesn't taste like pumpkin in the fall.

All right, after dirtying nearly every bowl in the kitchen we are almost ready to get this thing in the oven! But wait! We must take out the last remaining bowl and turn the egg whites into shaving cream.

You may have noticed that we had practically no batter in the bowl. Like, that orange pumpkin-spice paste tasted really nice, but it wasn't going to fill a big sheet pan. Well, let's get this bowl of egg foam in there and see what it looks like now!

Quite a bit more of it, isn't there? The the batter no longer seemed like a batter. All that foam made it seem more like pumpkin-spice whipped cream when you ate it.
But finally, at long long long long last, we were ready to get this into the pan. And because we really didn't want to risk this thing sticking, we gave it absolutely no chance to. First we sprayed the pan. Then we cut a piece of parchment paper to fit it, and pressed it down very hard, trying to get out all the air bubbles trapped under it. (This did not work very well, but we did get a few of them out.) Then we sprayed the whole thing again.If this cake was going to stick, it would stick to the paper. And the paper was so greased underneath that it couldn't possibly stick to the pan. I mean, with all the cooking spray both on top of and beneath it, the paper might get deep-fried in the oven. But it would not stick.

The tricky thing with cake rolls is that the batter's always so thin in the pan. Obviously it must be thin or else you can't bend it into a roll. But when your cake's that thin, you can't just dump it in the pan because it'll bake before it has a chance to spread and even out. So you have to get it perfectly even. Or, as close to it as you can before you get frustrated and mutter "close enough."

It's a bit ironic given how aggressive-looking grilling spatulas are sold at men and how most people think cake decorating is for women, but those ten-foot-wide, ten-pounds-heavy grilling spatulas are perfect for spreading the batter perfectly flat.
But enough about the batter. We finally got it in the oven, so all we needed to do was make the filling for this thing. We didn't have any white chocolate waiting forgotten in the pantry, so we had to buy some. Based on its appearance when we unwrapped it, either the shipping crate of white chocolate got left in a hot warehouse, or Frank Gehry is now designing baking chocolate.

Anyway, this part of the recipe is where we really start to see evidence of corporate sponsorship on this recipe. First of all, for whatever reason, they have us using caramel syrup. Now, we at A Book of Cookrye thought about being cheap and just making it ourselves. I mean, you can make a reasonable facsimile of caramel syrup by boiling brown sugar and water. But then we asked ourselves- do we really want to bother with that over such a tiny little amount, when we already have a small Mount Rainier of dishes piling up in the sink? We ended up surrendering and buying a jar of this stuff.

You may notice that this is not store-brand fake caramel syrup. This was not our idea. All the cheap stuff was sold out. Did everyone who came to the store earlier decide to make sundaes for Thanksgiving, or is everyone making this recipe? Why would everyone want to buy all the store-brand caramel syrup in mid-November?
Moving on, the cake looked nice when it came out of the oven.

Now you may think that all that excessive greasing, papering, and re-greasing of the pan was excessive. But despite our using about a quarter of a can of cooking spray, this cake welded itself to the sides of the pan. But that's all right. We didn't think that anything could stick to the pan after we greased it so much, but we prepared for it anyway. We could easily cut the sides out, and the bottom of the cake was glued very firmly to the paper. Which fell right out of the pan. I mean, the cake tried really hard to stick to the paper, but it was a lot easier to separate those two than it would have been to try to slice under the cake while it was still in the pan. Would you like to see how well-greased this pan was upon getting the cake out of it?

 It's always so reassuring when your cake finally falls out of the pan. No matter how much you grease and line everything, there's always a subconscious fear that it will firmly stick to the pan, or fall out in pieces. But this thing? Once we cut the sides free, it fell right out.

I don't know why recipes have you rolling the cake in paper, unrolling it, and rerolling it so many times. Why don't you just put your filling in it the first time and forget all this business of unrolling and rerolling the cake so many times while hoping it doesn't tear open? Fanny Cradock doesn't do this multiple-times rolling business either.We wanted to just put the filling in there the first time and be done with it. But we figured that if we followed the recipe exactly, we could blame Wilton for this if it failed.
Anyway, the edges always come out crispy, so no matter what you do they will crack anyway. We decided to just cut them off ahead of time, which also gave us a chance to taste the cake. After all, if you've never made a recipe before, you want to make sure you didn't make a piece of crap before you let others try it. The cake tasted fan-damn-tastic. We ate absolutely everything that we cut off.

Right, while the cake's rolled up and cooling, let's get to the filling. You don't even have to ask if this came out good. Just look at what was in the bowl before we turned on the mixer.
Cream cheese, melted white chocolate, caramel syrup. Forget the cake and just eat this.

Now, as aforementioned, we had to use a lot of bowls just on the cake. In fact, we ran out of bowls and had to wash and reuse two of them to make the filling. I don't know what this brings our total bowl count up to because I lost track mid-recipe. To be fair, one of the two bowls we got out for the filling was for whipping the cream, which was our own fault. In the original recipe, we'd have just dumped in a tub of Cool Whip. But as much as we like eating Cool Whip straight out of the freezer, we didn't want that weird synthetic taste on this cake we spent all this time and dirtied all these dishes making. Besides, it seems way too much like something out of those corporate cookbooks where they try to force in as many of Our Sponsors' convenience products into the recipes whether said products make the recipes easier or not.

After having a good time with our electric mixer, we had a bowl of what tasted like a super-amped-up version of cheesecake dip. The original recipe has you making a lot of this stuff because you're supposed to both put it inside the cake roll and also use it to ice the outside. But the pumpkin rolls our aunt has ordered from the school fundraiser were not iced on the outside. Also, we were feeling lazy.

Ohboyohboyohboyohboy this is a lot of tasty sugary glop!
You may think this picture came out dark, but that's actually the caramel sauce giving the filling a sort-of tan color.

When we rolled it up, we started to think they told us to save most of the cream cheese for the outside because of huge cake fissures like this.

We worried for this thing's structural integrity. A lot of the cracks were so deep that it didn't seem the cake was holding itself together anymore. After rolling, unrolling, and rerolling, we no longer had a single cake but multiple cake pieces, torn apart and glued together with all that cream cheese paste. But on the other hand, LOOKIT THE TASTY CREAM CHEESINESS OOZING OUT OF THIS THING!

Well, that was the cake roll, finally done. All that remained was the depressingly high mountain of dishes. On the bright side, we had a perfect container for this thing.

Now, there are two ways people do cake rolls, whether they're filled with jelly, mincemeat, peanut butter and jelly, custard, or whatever else. Some people like a thin stripe of filling spiraling through the cake, some people like it to be simply oozing  with stuff. Here's a handy illustration!
Choose the cake-to-stuffing ratio that speaks to your heart (or clogs it).

Now, the filling for this thing tastes a lot like cheesecake. Also, we made a lot of it. When you sliced at this thing, it looked more like a thin stripe of cake in the middle of a massive amount of cream cheese.
Incidentally, this one little slice was all that was left.

Since this thing was near-solid cream cheese, it tasted like a cheesecake with the crust swirled into it. Which was fan-damn-tastic. But if we were going to get really picky, we might point out that the cream cheese kind of overwhelmed the pumpkin cake. This irked us because we spent a long time making said cake, and it was really good.
A lot of jelly roll recipes produce a really bland cake because in theory you will deliberately drown out the cake flavor with whatever you put in it. But this was a really delicious pumpkin cake, and while the cream cheese stuffing was delicious, the cake was way too tasty for us to want to smother it under cream cheese. You know this cakes's good when you say that the cream cheese was not the best part.
On the other hand, there were a lot of desserts and yet this pumpkin roll was all but demolished. We're keeping this recipe.