Sunday, December 27, 2009

Festive Gingerbread Prison

It's been a long December. It's our third year of law school, and it was hard to rally for a fifth semester of exams. So cut us some slack on this one...

On the bright side, the gingerbread came out of the oven in beautiful shape. We had all kinds of ideas and decorations for our gingerbread house. Indeed, those ideas flow well after a few cups of brandy-spiked mulled cider, some beer, and some wine. And the movie Four Christmases. (Do not watch this movie without good doses of holiday spirit and holiday spirits.)

Building gingerbread houses while intoxicated, however? Not a good idea. Clearly. We could blame it on the consistency of the frosting--yes, it was a little bit off--but let's be honest here, folks: the outcome of this challenge had quite a bit to do with our good friend alcohol.

Note the unusual triangular shape. This was because we broke a few of our walls while trying to attach them. (See broken wall at left, with clever circular window). We made up for it with Snocap detailing above our (one) window and (one) door. Another highlight is the the jellybean "stone" path up to the "door," which was a window in our original design. We improvised.

Observe also the delightful open-air "exercise yard" on the side of the gingerbread prison, with candy cane guard posts. Or stripper poles, for this is a happy, festive prison.

And the coup de grace--a Necco wafer roof, with shredded coconut "snow." How beautiful. And lest you fear our gingerbread prison is not secure, don't miss the gumdrop alarm lights going off at the front of the roof.

Turn your eyes from the screen so as not to be blinded by the perfect beauty of this festive gingerbread prison.

PS--No children were traumatized (or involved) in the construction of this challenge.

The December 2009 Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to you by Anna of Very Small Anna and Y of Lemonpi. They chose to challenge Daring Bakers’ everywhere to bake and assemble a gingerbread house from scratch. They chose recipes from Good Housekeeping and from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book as the challenge recipes.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Corageous Cannolis

Sorry we're a bit late on posting this month! While Erica and spent a lovely (and relaxing weekend) down in Big Sur making cannolis in early November, finals have begun to take their toll and posting fell below outlining and writing papers on my to do list. But as procrastination has now set in, here we go....

I must confess, I found this dough rather odd. It smelled of playdough

and was near impossible to roll out. Luckily for us, we had some manly help with both the rolling

and the frying. My mother looked scared when I brought the fire extinguisher into the kitchen "just in case," but after many years of frying fish for Christmas Eve, my father appeared a seasoned pro at frying up the cannolis.

Finding a cannoli mold was a challenge. I looked for them at the store, but the not-so-helpful man at Safeway looked v. confused when I asked where in the baking section I might be able to find one. So we resorted to the traditional method instead and used a sawed off section of dowel. It worked fairly well, though they did smell a bit like cedar.

And out the came! We did get a blistery outside, though I think we should have rolled the dough a bit thinner - these shells were thicker and heavier than cannolis I've had in the past (Erica and I have both lived in Boston, with a pretty high bar set by Mike's Pastries in the North End).

We made both a "traditional" filling

and a seasonal pumpkin filling.

Not quite mini chocolate chips, but pretty enough!

Given that we didn't burn the kitchen down, however, I'll call this one a rousing success! And now, back to the grindstone for two weeks of finals. We'll be back in December, hopefully for a dessert that goes well with eggnog and mulled wine!

The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100% verbatim from either book

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Macaron Update

A little update from TV Land. I was just watching the latest episode of Gossip Girl and came across a moment I just had to share. I wish I knew how to link to stolen episodes of GG, but I'm not that tech savvy (and rather afraid of getting caught).

So, Blair and Serena are in a big fight, and Chuck (Blair's BF) schemes to get them stuck in an elevator together so they can make up. What does he leave them as rations? Single Malt and MACARONS from LaDuree! If only that had happened two weeks ago, it would have been so perfect!

Okay, back to reality...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Macarons (not Macaroons)

As big fans of macarons (but not macaroons!), we were both very excited about this Daring Bakers' challenge. After tossing around a few different ideas, we settled on three varieties: orange with Nutella filling (1/4); green tea with Nutella filling (1/4); and vanilla with espresso ganache (1/2). The last variation was an attempt to imitate a macaron from Sara's favorite Parisian bakeshop, Laduree (

[The homemade espresso ganache is in the orange corningware bowl above. And who can resist Nutella?]

While we struggled to obtain many cookies with perfect "feet," we generally felt proud of our results. And all of the varieties were absolutely delicious!

We used orange zest to flavor the orange cookies, which caused them to be a little too wet, though wonderfully flavorful. Since we couldn't find green tea powder at the grocery store, we just ground up green tea leaves in a spice grinder. While this was effective, the flavor was quite faint. Scraped vanilla bean served to flavor the vanilla cookies deliciously.

Sara and I are both Gossip Girl ( junkies, and we enjoyed an episode as we assembled our macarons. Above you can see the evil Blair Waldorf rising out of the bowl of espresso ganache.

The 2009 October Daring Bakers’ challenge was brought to us by Ami S. She chose macarons from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern as the challenge recipe.

The espresso ganache recipe is by Rose Levy Beranbaum, and is from the September 1998 issue of
Food and Wine. It is available at

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Windblown Treat

According to the internets, vol-au-vent means windblown because of the lightness of the puffy pastries. Ours certainly stayed true to their name, although they were simultaneously rich, too (all that butter!).

We baked this month over Labor Day weekend at our friend Emily's beach house in Santa Cruz, CA. It was a lovely, relaxing trip, although we were in an unfamiliar kitchen and had to improvise a few things, including cookie cutters. We used the can pictured above and the top of a container of lip gloss for the smaller circles.

Lots of leftovers, but they made great bread sticks!

Egg wash time... almost ready to go into the oven.

Our fears that they would collapse were unfounded. Each and every one puffed up, though not necessarily evenly... Once filled with our olive tapenade, mozzarella, and tomato filling (yum!!), they looked beautiful, and were a big hit among our friends.

The September 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dobos Torta, Almost

Erica and I have had quite the busy August (she went to Bali! I worked a lot!), so we're not baking until Friday, August 28th. But we don't want to be cut off from blog-checker, so we'll re-post that day!

The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful
of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos
Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite
Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Mallow Delight

The July Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Nicole at Sweet Tooth. She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of the Food Network.

After last month's success with the Bakewell Tart/Pudding/Quiche, we were delighted to find another exciting recipe on this month's challenge. Homemade marshmallows, chocolate and cookie? Sounds like a perfect summer treat.

This summer has flown by for both Erica and me, and we were lucky enough to have a perfect social venue for this month's challenge (between summer jobs, journal responsibilities and vacation, it's been difficult to find time to do much of anything!). But this month, we were having an actual party, and it proved to be a great time to show off our baking skills.

We had originally planned to do both cookies, but our usually plentiful supply of eggs left something to be desired - so the mallows-only it was!

Making the marshmallow provided an opportunity to *finally* use a xmas stocking stuffer - a candy thermometer! I had decided I needed one after the caramel sauce incident, but this was our first time using it.

But despite the fancy thermometer, a bottle of two-buck chuck substituted for a rolling pin.

We had a little bit of stickiness when it came time to make the marshmallows, but some fast spinning on the kitchen aid did the trick.

Piping the marshmallows reminded me of one of my favorite recipes (and food blogs!).

After our first dunk, we realized that they looked rather... well, you can supply the term (and shiny wasn't what I was thinking of).

So we decided to spruce it up a bit, trying the fantastically eighties splatter art featured above, and the oh-so-classy powdered sugar option shown below.

Glad we've gotten back in the groove of things!

~ Sara & Erica

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Bakewell... quiche?

The June Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Jasmine of Confessions of a Cardamom Addict and Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar. They chose a Traditional (UK) Bakewell Tart... er... pudding that was inspired by a rich baking history dating back to the 1800's in England.

Is it pudding or is it a tart? The consensus last night was that it looked more like quiche. Whatever its name, it was delicious. We were happy to find Daring Baker success again, finally.

We wanted to eat the frangipane with a spoon. Wow!

Perfect crust, no mishaps.

A thin layer of apricot preserves so as not to offend Sara's anti-cooked-fruit sensibilities.

In went the frangipane, though we were sure to reserve a little to make sure it was still good...

When we pulled the pudding-tart-quiche out of the oven, we knew we had a hit. It was beautiful.

Once again, delicious.

[Thanks to Jenna for her helping hands.]

Sunday, March 29, 2009

For some there was lasagne....

For others, there was a green pile of goo.

Similar to some other daring bakers, when I think of baking, I don't normally think of lasagna. I mean, yes, it bakes in the oven, but it doesn't strike me as a bakers dish. But, we both like lasagna quite a bit, and had the perfect opportunity to make it.

As second-year law students, we were required to take something called the "Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam," or the MPRE. It's a 60 question multiple-choice test about your ethics. Much like the bar exam, you have to pass it to become a lawyer. The test is surprisingly tricky, but because you can take it as many times as you want until you pass, there's little incentive to study. Erica and I trekked out to Walnut Creek for a morning of fun, and thought to reward ourselves and some of our law school friends with lasagna.

After going back and forth on whether to steam the spinach first (we ultimately did), the dough was beautiful - bright green, pliable, and ready to be rolled. I have a handcrank inherited from my mother (it still has the JC Penny's receipt inside from 1983) that we used for this project.

Look at those flakes of spinach! So beautiful.

As mostly vegetarians (and with a friend who is a strict vegetarian), Erica and I opted for a meatless lasagna courtesy of one of my favorite cooking blogs: 101cookbooks. Her thousand layer lasagna looked simple and likely to show off our homemade pasta.

We threw together some simple tomato sauce to complement the bechamel.

And then we started layering - tomato sauce, bechamel, cheese and pasta. Note that we had two pans - with seven of us eating dinner, we knew we had to make a lot. As you might also note, that pasta looks mighty un-cooked. It was. We figure that boiling the pasta ahead of time was unnecessary - that while in the oven, the pasta would cook. I've made lasagna this way before with hard noodles, and its always turned out just fine. Plus, boiling our big, wide noodles seemed a difficult task. This was a Big Mistake.

Tray one was delectable, or so I hear. Thinking that we had two trays of pasta, I served up four of our guests, and they set in. Complements around. Will, Cat and I waited for the second tray to be done. We waited and waited. I'd stick a knife in and it would come out gooey. Not just gooey with cheese, but gooey like paste. So we stuck it back in, and had some salad.

Sadly, the second tray was not meant to be. We eventually resorted to cooking it in other ways. In a skillet:

On the stove in boiling water (really bad idea, in retrospect, but hey - because we hadn't boiled the pasta, we figured we try it at this step):

And under the broiler:

It all tasted like paste. Why the difference between the trays? No clue - some slightly different tomatoes, and a slightly different tray, but I would have never expected perfect lasagna from one and paste from the other.

Thankfully, we didn't starve. Leftover soup, also courtesy of 101cookbooks, came to the rescue.

I'm hoping for complete success on the next go around....

The March 2009 challenge is hosted by Mary of Beans and Caviar, Melinda of Melbourne Larder and Enza of Io Da Grande. They have chosen Lasagne of Emilia-Romagna from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper as the challenge.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tuiles AKA Epic Fail

Oh well... it had to happen eventually...

We were defeated by the Tuiles.

It seemed like it'd be easy. We'd serve these crispy little sweet things with a fruit salad. Piece of cake. We spent the afternoon with some friends and the AFC Championships on a big screen TV, enjoying homemade hot wings, nachos and pizza. Then we went to battle in the kitchen with this recipe, and much like the Ravens--*tear*--we lost. Oh how we lost.

We should've known from the batter. Something wasn't right. As Sara put it, it tasted like slightly sugary paste.

Yet still we persevered. Had we not had batter problems in the past? And in spite of these, had we not produced beautiful DB creations? Lady Luck was not with us in this case, however. As we tried to spread the goop into our butterfly mold, it just didn't cooperate. Our cocoa-flavored "decorations" were similarly disappointing.

Nonetheless, into the oven they went.

And then out the came - thick and tasteless and utterly disappointing. We tried to fold them, and the butterflies slowly broke in half. We tried to roll our circular tuiles with homemade chocolate syrup, and they broke, too.

Of course, we ate them anyway! We (and our friends - what good sports) just slathered them in chocolate syrup so we'd feel a little better than if we'd poured syrup directly from the bottle onto a sheet of parchment paper and then ate it with our fingers. Oh wait - we did that, too!

So in the end, it wasn't so bad... And we hope next month will be better.

This month's challenge is brought to us by Karen of Baking Soda and Zorra of 1x umruehren bitte aka Kochtopf.
They have chosen Tuiles from The Chocolate Book by Angélique Schmeink and Nougatine and Chocolate Tuiles from Michel Roux.