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Orange Bundt Cake (aka taking the training wheels off for a bit…)

This semester’s schedule has been considerably more demanding on my time than I had expected.  As a result, the allotment of time that I set aside for cooking experiments has been drastically reduced.  Can you tell?  Yes… I’m sure you can.

I’ve fallen into a rut with regards to my sense of culinary adventure and my methodology for generating a menu has been based solely on the simplicity of the dish.  As a result, the dishes have been modest (not in a good way) and unappetizing.  My taste buds are bored and I feel like I’ve plateaued at this stage in the game.  I really need to shake myself out of this!

Over the weekend, I took a step towards trying to climb out of this rut.  I decided to crack open Lewis & Poliafito’s Baked Explorations.  Now let me start out by saying that most of the desserts in this cookbook scare the shit out of me.  Almost every single recipe seemed so far beyond my level of experience that it is downright daunting.  Between the perceived level of difficulty, the lack of the necessary tools to compose the recipe, and the shortage of many of the ingredients, I was able to flip past 98% of the recipes.  I ultimately decided upon the olive oil orange bundt cake.

This recipe is one of the first on this site to get a medium level designation (as opposed to my many, many, many easy ones).  What about this recipe earned its pump in the rankings?  Funny you should ask!  Let me explain 😉

Throughout several points in the making of this cake, I had to scream urgently for the pelirojo.  I needed an extra pair of hands, and luckily he was around to oblige.  The other thing that bumps this up to a medium level is the (and please, I beg you, don’t laugh!) beating of the egg whites.  This was my first time beating egg whites to a peak and I wasn’t sure how long this usually takes.   The longer I let the mixer run, the more it felt like too long.  I finally gave up and decided it was close enough.

Thankfully, the fact that I didn’t know what I was doing did not ruin the cake!  It turned out light and delightfully flavored.  The recipe suggests dusting the cake with powdered sugar, but I wanted to taste the cake before I added more sugar.  In my opinion, the cake was sweet enough without it.

This olive oil orange cake is perfect as a breakfast treat or as an accompaniment to your afternoon tea.  Without a doubt, it’s a keeper kind of recipe despite its medium status.  Or maybe I just need to get over it and upgrade from T-ball to coach pitch.  What do you think? 😉

Hello 2011!

Well, 2011 is officially under way!  Epiphany has passed which means the holiday season is officially over and classes reconvened yesterday.  I suppose this also means that any resolutions should be implemented immediately, no?  And so begins the guilt ridden process of remembering what you promised yourself you would accomplish.  I actually made my resolution achievable this year: learn to cook more grains and eat more fiber.  Simple and inclusive of many other goals.  We’ll see how I do…

We brought in the new year with some great friends, wine, board games, and a pizza party.  Everybody brought fun toppings and we prepared different kinds of pizzas that were quickly inhaled.  After super, we played Apples to Apples (which I am horrible at playing!) and I believe Rebecca won.

I debuted my first attempt at a cheesecake for dessert.  I had found this recipe on allrecipes.com that had great reviews with numerous recommendations for altering the ingredients for jazzy results.  Given that those same reviews were also anxiety causing (everybody had suggestions for how to keep the cheesecake from cracking), I decided to stick to the exact recipe.

I crushed the graham crackers, formed the crust, and began the process of combining the cake part of the dessert.  I was very careful not to overmix the cream cheese and gently poured the mixture into the spring-form pan.

There were two suggestions from the reviews that I employed during this step.  First, I put some water into the tea kettle and set it to boil.  Once it began to whistle, I poured the steaming water into a pyrex that I placed directly into the preheat oven.  I positioned it on the rack below where the pan would sit.  Many reviewers had suggested cooking the cheesecake by using a water bath, but I was worried that the water would leak into the cake.  Instead, I placed the steaming water below and hoped that it would create enough humidity in the oven.  The second suggestion I took was to be very thorough in buttering the sides of the pan.  Apparently (I didn’t know this) during the cooling process, the cake will pull away from the edges in a fashion that often leads to cracking.  I carefully greased the pan, poured the batter, and into the oven it went for SIX HOURS.  One hour for the cooking, and five for cooling.  I still think this might have been excessive, but it worked!  My cake came out beautiful and it did not crack!

I served it with cherry pie filling (sweetened with splenda) and the end result was wonderful.  It was smooth and not too creamy (I don’t like cheesecake too creamy) and exactly how I wanted it to taste.  For next time, I did read that one reviewer substituted the milk in the recipe for Bailey’s Irish Cream.  Doesn’t that sound delicious?  I will need to try that.

Here’s to starting out a great year with a strong recipe!  Have a wonderful beginning to 2011 friends 🙂

The Making of Friendship Bread

I don’t deny my rookie status in the kitchen.  I still play things very safe because I haven’t figured out what works and what doesn’t.  So when Rebecca showed up with a bag of mix that required “smushing” and “feeding,” I was confused.

“I need to do what?!  And it sits out?  And doesn’t go bad??”

The bag contained a mix of ingredients (I only know that there was yeast involved) and it came with beautiful instructions that Rebecca had put together.  The directions clearly stated what I needed to do on each day:

Day 1 – smush the bag / Day 2 – smush the bag / Day 3 – smush the bag / Day 4 – smush the bag

Day 5 – Feed the yeast!  (1 c. flour, 1 c. sugar, 1 c. milk)

Day 6 – smush the bag / Day 7 – smush the bag / Day 8 – smush the bag / Day 9 – smush the bag

Day 10 – Feed the yeast! (1 c. flour, 1 c. sugar, 1 c. milk) Divide the starter!

I took one look at it and thought, “I’m going to be killed eating this.”  (It wasn’t until later that my friend Deana pointed to sourdough bread as another example of this strategy in action.)

So apparently the milk that sits out for 10 days in this mix won’t kill you, who knew?  Well I didn’t!

Day 10 came and I prepared myself for battle.  That morning, Rebecca sent me an e-mail that simply said: “Seriously, 1 cup of oil and a box of pudding.  No freaking applesauce.  To hell with that hippie stuff.

Being a dutiful apprentice, I did as I was told.

As I began feeding the yeast and dividing the starter, I realized that this process was going to leave me with 3 new bags of this mix!  The point of this recipe is that you are supposed to hand them out to friends so that they can make their own friendship breads and then continue to pass out the starter bags to their friends, and so on, and so on.  The process is reminiscent of those chain letters that threatened “pass it forward, or else!,” but much tastier 🙂

After the bags had been divided and my starter had been dumped into a bowl, I added 3 eggs, 1 cup of oil, 1/2 cup of milk, and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla and mixed.  In a separate bowl, I mixed 2 1/2 cups of flour, 1 cup of sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and a box of chocolate pudding.  I slowly added the dry ingredients to the wet mix and stirred.  Lastly, I threw in a cup of chocolate chips and mixed.

By the time this was ready to go into a pan, I realized that there was a lot of batter.  So instead of splitting it into loaf pans, I pulled out my bundt pan and poured the batter in.  The pan went into a preheated oven of 350 degrees and sat for over an hour.  I had originally set the time for an hour, but it wasn’t quite done.  I’d say it was closer to 75 minutes (estimated) before the bread was ready to come out of the oven.

I was so skeptical.  I am such a fool.

This bread was phenomenal.  It wasn’t light or fluffy, but it’s not meant to be.  It was dense with flavor and texture, and both Ian and I had seconds before the cake had even had time to cool off completely!  The awesome thing about this recipe is that the possibilities are endless.  Instead of chocolate pudding, you can add lemon, or butterscotch or something else!  You can substitute the chocolate chips for nuts, or dried fruits, or diced apples.  You can really get creative with the starter.  The variations seemed too advanced for me initially, so I stuck closely to Rebecca’s instructions.  Next time, I think I may dip my toe in that creative pool and see what happens.

Apple Gingerbread Cake

I am not an adventurous baker (yet).  Before I started this blog last month, I had 2 baked goods in my repertoire:  a chocolate chip cake recipe, and a chocolate chip cookie recipe (taken from the back of the Nestle package).  I’m just not that into sweets.

Wait!  Did I just read that right?  Did she just say she’s not into sweets?!

Yes.  You did.  It’s strange.  I know.

Almost as strange as the fact that I don’t eat cheese or peanut butter… but that’s for a different day.

That being said, I really do enjoy subtle desserts.  I especially enjoy the bread-like variety (i.e. pumpkin bread, applesauce cake) but I just haven’t tried to make one again since my last flop.  As I mentioned yesterday, I recently acquired a cookbook titled 1,000 Vegetarian Recipes.  I found this recipe and decided I wanted to try it out.

After glancing through the ingredients, I wondered about the lack of milk.  I always thought it was necessary to bake with milk…but apparently I’m wrong!!  I had all of the ingredients on hand except for the whole wheat flour (which I have never baked with before) and the yogurt.  I stopped by the store this morning to pick them up and by this afternoon, I set out to BAKE!

  1. Preheat oven to 350 and grease one 8 inch square baking pan.
  2. Peel and dice apples.
  3. In one bowl, mix: flours, ginger, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.
  4. In a second bowl, mix: oil and egg.  Then add sugar and molasses and mix.
  5. Alternate adding the flour mix and the yogurt slowly to the second bowl.
  6. Stir in apples.
  7. Bake for 40 min.

40 minutes later, I pulled out the pan and let it cool.  The last touch was a simple sprinkle of confectioner’s sugar over the cake with a small mesh strainer.

The cake turned out surprisingly delicious.  (I don’t know why it’s surprising, but after having as many kitchen related FAILS as I do, I am always apprehensive.)  It’s another recipe for the binder!  This now makes 2 successful recipes from my new cookbook!  Hurray!

Very easy and very tasty.  It will go beautifully with my afternoon cup of tea tomorrow 🙂

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