Archives for the month of: November, 2011

I’m including that video not to brag that I was actually there when they filmed this concert in Las Vegas. No, I wouldn’t be so shameless as to drop names like that. My title just reminded me of The Divine Miss M, and I thought I’d drop that in here so that this post wouldn’t be a total waste.

See, I have a confession to make: I have never made a successful divinity. *facepalm*

Ever! It’s true!

This afternoon, I made another attempt. Even as I write this, waiting to see whether the stuff will set or not, I am filled with suspense and maybe anxiety because I don’t feel great about it. However, that’s a great video. Enjoy it. Look at my food pictures. If nothing else, we will have spent a glorious three minutes together, and I’ll never regret it.

I started with this divinity recipe from Allrecipes. If you’re new, allow me to explain now that I almost never go exactly by the recipe, which might be why I have so many “interesting” results.

Anyhoo… As I was getting out my ingredients, I saw something in my cabinet and had a brilliant idea:

I rarely get to use this mortar and pestle I purchased for a chocolate class that I taught. It’s useful AND cathartic for those high-stress days.

Mmmmmmacerated M&Ms!

I laid them all out with the intent of creating a coating around the log o' divinity.

Moments later, I realized that I’d be pouring near-scalding sugar onto this colorful wreck, and that resultant plastic melting could occur. So I promptly created a wax paper set-up similar to the above, but lessening the likelihood of meltage.

And I started on the divinity recipe in earnest.

Sugar, corn syrup, hot water, and salt.

See the sugar crystals forming on the side of the pan? You don’t want those. Crystals really like each other, and if there are crystals within reach of the sugar mixture, they’re all going to clump up and form a crunchy clique. This is not what we want for our divinity. That’s why they instruct you to stop stirring as soon as the sugar dissolves, and to take care of those unsightly crystals with a damp brush.

Aight?

This next part might be why my divinity tends not to work: I don’t have a candy thermometer. My fudge turns out great, though, and I can make hard candy. And other confections. So why does divinity hate me? Excuse that digression (and possible spoiler). Moving on…

Get a little sample of the mixture...

To test for “doneness,” you drop a bit of the syrup into a cup of cold water. This forces it to set up almost immediately. We were going for the hard ball stage.

Gooey. Not even at the soft ball stage yet.

Time passes…

Looking better.

It's standing up on its own!

Now that it’s nearly there, it’s time to start on the egg whites.

Mixing, mixing, mixing...

Stiff peaks!

Time to put it all together. You have to slowly pour the syrup in a thin stream. Otherwise, you’ll end up with scrambled eggs, which are fabulous. Just not for dessert.

Streaming patiently.

After we add all of that, it’s time for…

My favorite!

I don’t ever measure vanilla. I just pour until I can smell it. Then I mixed the divinity for a long time, until it cooled down somewhat.

I carefully poured the mixture out over the crushed M&Ms.

At this point, I was thinking, “This is not going to set up correctly. It’s too dang runny. The mixture started to spread, so I looked around for things to dam it in. You know what worked perfectly?

An Olivander's Wand Shoppe box. Don't tell Daphne. She would not approve. Note the nosey cat staring at the neighbor trying to walk his dog. And the Cake Wrecks book, also damming.

You know what this white pool of goo is missing? That’s right: chocolate.

Problem solved!

I wrapped it all up into a roughly-tube shape to put into the refrigerator. I didn’t like how runny it was, plus I saw a stinking cat hair in it! (I removed it once the stuff set up.)

When I removed it several hours later: 1) I realized that I should have greased the wax paper. It was a tasty, sticky mess. 2) It was too runny. 3) Did I mention that it was tasty? It’s really rather delicious. But it looks like this.

Goo in a box.

From the outside.

So. Another fail. Make no mistake: This WILL be eaten. However, I can’t take a big bag of goo to play practice tomorrow night. Even if everyone gets their own spoon, it’d be a mess. Guess we’ll try divinity another day. Any suggestions?

There was a fabulous chili recipe I’d found online recently, and I was so excited to finally get to use it this weekend for a chili contest. I hadn’t even really noticed until I was shopping for the ingredients that this is a vegan chili (that’s right; I totally ignored the URL; I was fixated on the ingredients).

First things first: The recipe for this fabulous chocolate chili can be found at Vegnews.com — and don’t laugh! I used to live in Las Vegas. My mind doesn’t default to “vegan” or “vegetarian” when I see “veg.” So. As usual, I wanted to put my own spin on the recipe, so I did a couple of things slightly differently than how they were written… And, actually, I did one thing a LOT differently than how it was written, though not on purpose. But we’ll get to that later.

Since this was for a charity event, I doubled the recipe. It looked something like this:

Garlic, onions, and carrots cooking down in olive oil.

I mixed it up by using several different bean types.

Aren't they beautiful?

This would have been a lot of mincing. I love modern technology....

Unsweetened chocolate; I put 1.5 times the specified amount.

Two great tastes that taste great together!

Adding the strong coffee.

Time to simmer!

I let this sit and simmer for a bit, then transferred it to a crock pot to cook for a few hours. The house smelled amazing. When I decided to taste the chili before taking it to the competition, this is what it looked like:

What I want to write here is a glowing description of the amazing wonderfulness that was this chocolate chili. Unfortunately, I cannot. I took one bite and that sucker was so hot, here is what I looked like:

Still, some people like that kind of thing, so I took the chili in, anyway. I did feel remarkably betrayed by the recipe, which didn’t even wink about being spicy. The chili DID win “spiciest,” and a couple of people really seemed to like it. Everyone else saw it as a novelty, and I don’t tend to spend as much time and effort creating novelties.

It wasn’t until I got home this afternoon that I realized what I’d done. See, the recipe calls very clearly for “2 canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, minced,” but I read it as, “2 cans chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, minced.” Huge, ridiculously important differentiation. D’oh!

At some point, I will make the chili again. It smelled terrific, and was so pretty. The day wasn’t a total bust, though. Michael and I ate at The Bavarian Grill, where the food was terrific as usual, but the service was lousy. They were fairly busy, but Michael postulated that perhaps we were being discriminated against because of our 1980s wear. We were headed down to a skate party featuring Dallas party band Live 80, and stinking roller-skating break dancers! I kept picturing myself trying to do some of those moves and kicking out my teeth. Fortunately, that happened to no one on our watch.

Exactly 250 people positively RSVPed to attend the Jen Yates’s book-signing at A Real Bookstore in what is called “Fairview,” but I would consider Allen. Daphne, two of her female cousins, and I showed up just over an hour early and were able to sit on the front row to wait for the event to start.

Exactly as she’d explained on her blog, Jen was talking to people while her husband, John, set up for the slide show and talk. We asked for Epbot buttons, which Jen had said online were available but that she didn’t have enough just to hand them out blindly.

Then we watched with excitement as Gretchen from Savor the Moment bakery brought in several fabulous cakes, cupcakes, and what they call “cake truffles,” but I refer to as “cake balls.” Because I like the word “balls.”

Veteran-loving naked baby carrot jockey riding an actual carrot cake.

"Truffles." Psshhh.

Banana cupcakes with caramel icing. I wish I could have tried these, but I was disciplined. ­čÖé

Sweet fall Red Velvet cake with cream cheese filling/frosting.

White cake beautifully decorated.

There was a slide show running the few minutes before John and Jen were scheduled to begin speaking. The girls cracked up constantly; many of the cakes were new to them.

John was talking to the front row, and Jen walked over and rubbed his back before joining the conversation. So cute.

Jen talking with a boy from the only party in "Dallasish" who showed up in Steampunk regalia.

John, working the front row again.

When seven o’clock rolled around, they opened up with this video. “Is it a cow-duck with horns… and a goatee?”

Then, John and Jen came out to talk. First of all, I have to say that they are just as darn cute in person as I had expected them to be after readin Jen’s blog(s) for years, and then especially this precious entry from early fall. They have been married thirteen years (which means she was 20ish when they wed; good for those young ‘uns, making it work and staying in love) and were so complimentary and courteous to each other.

John's shoes totally matched Jen's outfit!

Jen said that she and John owned a faux painting business and that she worked for him for about ten years; then just as that business was drying up with the economic downturn, Cake Wrecks started taking off. They showed slides of some of their favorite wrecks, and they told some stories about the original book tour, and took a few questions.

One interesting thing John pointed out was something that happens at the 45-second mark here… See if you can see it.

Yeah… I didn’t see it either, and I took of the correction sticker that came on my book because I don’t like stickers on my books! John said that he looked at that book hundreds of times and didn’t notice it until they got a hard copy in the mail and one of their friends asked, “Did you misspell that on purpose?” He said it was not a fun day, even though they could sort of laugh about it now.

After a lot more laughter and gasping at horrific decorations, we got to get our books signed fairly quickly… Jen was accommodating and generous with the writing. She even posed for a picture, although she says she doesn’t like them (which is why her author picture, mandated by the book publisher, is a bit obscure).

Side note: John took this picture of her. They recreated the carrot jockey cake by decorating a Fed Ex box after having unsuccessfully attempted to purchase a cake from Costco without a membership. He said that he took about 600 pictures. In the program, Jen showed a slide of John modeling the Cake Wrecks apron in their kitchen at 4 AM. He was holding a whisk and obviously tickled. They said that she had him wearing a suit at one point, had him crawling at her like a tiger, told him to put a rose in his mouth, etc.

Lots of fans!

Signed books in hand, we got to sample some of Gretchen’s excellent cake. The girls all got red velvet, but I went with the carrot cake. It was so beautifully-spiced, and both cakes were moist and held up to the fondant well. They asked me for seconds, and I heard the baker telling people that’d be okay, but there were so many people waiting in line that we limited ourselves so that they could hopefully enjoy the bounty as well.

Carroty!

Red Velvet and a fondant pumpkin.

As I’ve mentioned before, my only attempt to do anything with fondant in the trailer was an epic fail, resulting in okay cakes, but they were what I’d call “pity cakes:” Salvaged from a grander attempt, but not even close to what I’d originally planned.

Today is Daphne’s birthday party, and she wanted to have sponge cake. Her clever joke is that the cake itself wouldn’t be a sponge cake, but that the cake would actually look like a sponge. That way, when she told people she was having sponge cake for her birthday and they were not impressed, she could surprise them with a yummy slice of whatever we ended up making.

My idea was to make a large, thin sheet cake, then ice it, and cover it with a mottled fondant to look something like the sponges we have here, which have abstract patterns on the scrubbing side. This would involve making a successful fondant, though. Could I do it in this small space and with three extremely nosey cats?

The first step was to make two yummy cakes. Daphne wanted both chocolate and white. We used the chiffon cupcake recipes from Good Eats (and AB’s latest book of the same name). The batters were amazing, and the cakes baked fairly flat, so I didn’t have to trim off too much.

As I have also mentioned, though, my oven tends to burn the bottom of whatever I’m cooking. My mom got me some SilPat sheets, and that helps, but still, we ended up with this:

I was able just to take the edges off and slide the knife up under the shiny burnt part of the bottom of the cake without removing too much of it.

And, yes, I saved the edges for Daphne to sample. No part of the cake is wasted in the Van Down By the River.

Next, I made a buttercream frosting from the Good Eats 3 book; it’s not online that I can see.┬á

Technically, when you’re icing a cake, you’re supposed to put down a crumb layer first. A crumb layer is a thin initial layer of icing that will probably pick up cake crumbs, but you don’t care, because once it dries, you really ice the cake with a thick layer of clean icing, and the crumb layer holds in the crumbs. However, this icing was exceptionally thick and difficult to spread (which I wanted for structure and to hold up to the fondant without sliding off of the edges of the cake), and the cake was very light. I didn’t want to fight spreading the thin layer, and, besides, I knew that the fondant would cover up the crumbs. If you look at the big picture, you’ll see what I’m talking about. If I were just making a cake with regular frosting, this is what the crumb layer would look like. THEN the cake would be properly frosted.

After the cakes were covered, I made fondant using this recipe. It is the best fondant I have ever made, and I’ve tried quite a few recipes. I had no luck with the marshmallow-based fondant and would not recommend it. I also don’t recommend buying prepared fondant at the store, as I have heard it is pretty much inedible.

As far as homemade fondant goes, there are two camps: One (which is the camp in which I am firmly entrenched) is “YUMMY! Fondant!” The other is “Whoa! That’s too sweet.” I don’t believe anything is “too” sweet (although I could see it being too much, as in “I ate too much of that really sweet thing.”), but I get that other people do. Even if you don’t like the taste of fondant, it has the benefit of acting as plastic wrap to your cakes. If you cover a cake in fondant, you scan store it in your laundry room for a couple of days and the cake will still be moist when you’re ready to eat it.

One important tip: NEVER EVER WRAP FONDANT-COVERED CAKE IN PLASTIC WRAP! The fondant will soak up the moisture from the icing, and there’s nowhere for it to go, so it will get sticky. It will air dry if you leave it out, and it will protect the cake. Trust me.

I made the fondants two different colors. I really do like the sort of tie-dye look here. If I ever want a solid fondant, I add the food coloring before mixing in all of the powdered sugar. This is not how most instructions read, but I find it easier to mix and get an solid, dark color.

The pinkish one...

Color starting to show through after rolling and folding and rolling and folding.

It's like the painted desert of fondant!

Thought I'd see if pre-spreading made any difference.

Folded into thirds...

... for a fondant color burrito.

Flatten and prepare to roll.

Love the purple!

These were the covered cakes. Normally, you’d want the fondant to go down and cover all of the edges to the table. However, these are supposed to be sponges, so we only need the fondant along the top of the “sponge.”

Pretty rectangles. Wish I had a cleaner cutter or a better cutting system. Will work on that.

Mmm... a cross-section of the chocolate sponge.

Beautiful twins

So here we have it: Stacks of cleaning supplies…

Happy birthday, Brookie!