Sponge Cake

I like vanilla cake. I know, I’m boring.

I wanted the chance to make a vanilla sponge cake, in the traditional style. Leavened with egg whites. Not baking soda.

I also really like strawberries and am super lazy about making frosting.

So I made this:

Vanilla sponge cake with strawberries and whipped cream frosting.  Yumm.

I took the recipe out of my favorite Williams Sonoma Essentials book. This cookbook is such a great reference for baking. I use it all the time. (Because, I can never remember what soft peaks vs. hard pearls should look like, so I check the pictures!)

Five ingredients in a cake.

Separate your yolks and your whites. Folks, I promise I pulled out the shell and the bit of yolk in the whites.

Sift the flour.

I love these measuring spoons, I added a dash of salt.

Beat the egg yolks with half the sugar, plus the vanilla.

 

Stiffen the egg whites with the rest of the sugar.

Fold yolk mixture and whites mixture together very, very carefully so you don’t over mix.

Sorry, forgot to take pictures of the layers in the tins or cooking.

I made some whipped cream for frosting.

Some strawberries in the layers.

I served it up for Father’s Day.

The layers were a little tough, not a lot of moisture. It absolutely needed a cake syrup of some kind, or different frosting. I also probably got the egg whites a bit to stiff.

I will absolutely make a sponge cake again!

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Cake

June was “cake month”. It was a great because it was my dad’s birthday on June 7th and Owen’s birthday on June 11th. They gave me some excuses to do some baking!

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(Fun Fact: Owen didn’t want cake or cupcakes for his birthday. Instead he wanted banana bread muffins. I loved it.)

First, I tried a white cake with vanilla buttercream frosting.

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It actually turned out really well. I’m not a big fan of white cake (why waste calories on something that isn’t chocolate??) but relied on Thad’s rave review. It was relatively quick and easy to make, too.

The frosting was SO good. I only used about half of the recipe for the cake and it was hard not to eat the leftovers with the spoon.

Instead, I decided to try chocolate cake to use up the rest of the frosting:

This recipe was also from Cooks Illustrated. It involved melting bittersweet chocolate (I only had semi sweet and used that instead) with coffee (I was thankful for the Keurig at this point!). It also used Dutch-processed cocoa. TBH, I’ve never really understood why I can’t just use the cocoa I find in the store…pretty sure neither Toll House or Hershey brands are “Dutch processed”…or at least it doesn’t specifically say that on the box.

Anyway, the chocolate cupcakes were SO GOOD + buttercream frosting…it took everything I had to only eat one.

One last cake: Cheesecake.

Thad and I had a weak moment at the grocery store a few weeks ago and thought we should try the Oreo O’s cereal that we remembered being so delicious when we were kids. Turns out they weren’t so delicious. Thad suggested making a cheesecake with the leftover cereal crumbles.

Then I found a basic cheesecake recipe online to fill it.

It was a delicious way to end cake month.

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Biscuits

When I think of biscuits, I think of three different things: strawberry short cake, biscuits & gravy, and Red Lobster biscuits. It turns out, there are two main types of biscuits: rolled or dropped.

I kind of dropped the ball in May (as you can see, this post wasn’t done until June 3) and only had one day of baking. I did try three different recipes, but they were all of the dropped biscuit kind…

First, Short Cake.  This comes from the Chesley Family Favorites cookbook. My sister made these for Christmas gifts one year and has added on to it as necessary. It was such a great gift!

As far as I know, these biscuits are only made for one purpose: strawberry shortcake.

So first you add in all the dry ingredients and then add the wet ingredients. And then divide the dough into four different parts. I did double the recipe.

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They were great and strawberry shortcake is one of my favorite summer desserts!

Second, cream biscuits. I got this recipe from Cooks Illustrated (obviously). They are called “Quick and Easy Cream Biscuits” so it was an obvious choice.

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Whisk 2 C flour, 2 t sugar, 2 t baking powder, and 1/2 t salt.

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Add in 1 1/2 C heavy cream to the dry ingredients and mix with wooden spoon until dough forms (30 sec).

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Turn dough out onto lightly floured counter and knead dough briefly until smooth. Shape it into a 3/4 inch circle.

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Cut dough into rounds with 2 1/2 inch biscuit cutter or wedges on baking sheet with parchment paper.

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Bake for 15 minutes at 450 degrees.

Finally, buttermilk drop biscuits, also from the Cooks Illustrated.

This recipe used buttermilk and butter instead of cream. We used them for biscuits & gravy.

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I had a little helper for my day of baking.

So, that was biscuits. I determined that I need a biscuit cutter. I also want to try the next recipe in my Cooks Illustrated Cookbook, “Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits”. There is a add on for parmesan cheese. I think they would be great as a side dish for dinner.

Cookies Galore

I’ve made so many cookies this month. I’ve made snickerdoodles, double chocolate, and chocolate chip cookies.

I even had a good helper at one point!

The snickerdoodle recipe came from the Cooks Illustrated cookbook. They were good. They were easy. I hadn’t made them before, and I’m not sure when I’ll make them again. But I think it’s important to have a variety of good cookie recipes up your sleeve.

The double chocolate cookies were a request from my husband. I was super surprised for a recipe that was chocolate based, but I was more than happy to make these for him. Until he made an additional request…that I make them using chocolate cake mix…You should have seen my face. I generally don’t use mixes and he knows that. So I went to the store, bought a mix that was on sale, and set out to make these cookies. They were quick, easy, and … delicious. They weren’t my favorite right out of the oven, but the next day they were so good. I’ll definitely be making them again.

Finally, I’ve set out to find my favorite chocolate chip recipe. Growing up, I loved my mom’s chocolate chip cookies. They are a Betty Crocker recipe. Her cookies are the best, and all of my friends and family agree. I’ve never had a go-to recipe, and honestly, I’ve never been really good at making chocolate chip cookies. I’ve always just let my mom do it 🙂

So for this challenge, I tried four, yes, four different recipes. See below:

  • Cooks Illustrated: This cookbook always (literally) steers me in the right direction, so it was a natural starting point. I made them for our family’s Easter gathering and people ate them, but I was disappointed. They were more cakey than I like.
  • Hannah Jones Secret Cookie Recipe: One of my bridal showers was a recipe shower, where each guest brought one of their “tried and true” recipes. My favorite cousin, Hannah, brought a recipe for chocolate chip cookies. These had a lot of potential, actually. They were super easy and had a good consistency, but I thought they had too much sugar. In the future, I might go back and try it again, but cutting down the sugar.
  • Betty Crocker: I asked my mom to send me her recipe. I KNEW this would be the winner. It was not. Similar to the Cooks Illustrated recipe, they were too cakey. Again, disappointment. I’m not sure what happened. My theory is that good cookies are based on more than just a recipe. You still have to have some skill and practice (obvi). I’m wondering if I did something a little off, like mixing too much or too little or something like that.
  • Nestle Toll House: Well, I figured I better try the standard recipe. These were my favorite. They were crispy but soft. They were exactly the standard basic chocolate chip cookie. They were not extraordinary or something people will rave about, but they will work. They will not last long at my house.

I did learn one thing–to use regular size chocolate chips. For one of the recipes, I just used mini chocolate chips and some chocolate chunks. The chocolate chunks were great, but the mini chocolate chips didn’t provide enough chocolate in each bite.

I really, really want a recipe like my moms, where everybody thinks my cookies are the best. But I’ve kind of given up. I can have the best of something else, right? There are like 11 more months of this baking challenge.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

The following is a review of an extremely scientific experiment designed to determine the better of two chocolate chip cookie recipes.  Through rigorous testing and detailed observations, I determined my new go-to cookie recipe.

Just kidding.  I (with an assistant) baked the cookies, and then ate them.

Chocolate chip cookies are the best, right?

My Mom and Grandma always used the Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, and they were never really my favorite.  They were fine, but ended up too crispy and dry for my taste.  I started using the Triple Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe out of my Williams Sonoma Baking Cookbook, and decided to pit the two against each other.

A few weeks ago, my Mom offered to assist (and my Dad offered to taste test).  So she whipped up the Tollhouse recipe.

Creaming the sugar and butter.

Adding the eggs and dry ingredients.

And, of course, I forgot to take a final picture.  What resulted was a thin, crispy cookie.  Still a good cookie, but just not my favorite.  The cookies still got eaten, but I didn’t take many home.

While we were cooking, my Mom and I took a hard look at the two recipes.  Here they are side by side.

They’re pretty much the same, as most standard chocolate chip cookie recipes are.  Mine adds more chocolate chips.  The Tollhouse recipe about 5 dozen cookies, mine only made about 30, so I doubled it for easier comparison.

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temp
  • 1 cup golden brown sugar
  • 12 tbps granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • Chocolate chips.

One thing that struck us was the difference between the ratios of butter and sugar to flour.  Less flour would result in a crispier cookie.  Too much flour makes it too dense and thick.  The amount of sugar can make it too sweet.

The other thing was the amount of baking soda.  Baking soda is a leavening agent which makes cookies, cakes, and other yummies rise.  My theory was that the added flour and baking soda would make a bigger, thicker cookie.  Maybe even softer.

So I made the double batch, and did some tasting.

I definitely preferred the second cookie.  I surveyed a few others. Chad said he liked this type, so did my Dad.

So – there you have it.  Chocolate Chip Cookies – don’t trust that Tollhouse.

Edit – My Mom just popped in my office to tell me that these are definitely better than the Tollhouse.  Yay!

Ready, Set, Bake!

Well, we’ve Mastered the Essentials, to a certain extent, and we’re ready to start on the next challenge.  It’s only been a month in between challenges this time!

In April we’ll be setting of on our next blogging adventure.  Similar to Mastering the Essentials, we’ll be doing monthly categories instead of weekly.  Though 52 Weeks of Cooking was an amazing learning and cooking experience, it got a little overwhelming by the end.

And the topic of the next year’s challenges?  Baking!

Inspired by our mutual love of baking, and mutual love of the Great British Bake Off (please tell me you’ve watched) we’ve picked out 12 months worth of challenges.  Each month, we’ll both bake our challenge and make a post.  Our goal is to get really good at baking things we know, and try out the things we don’t.

We will be on more of a posting schedule this time around.  You can look for posts in the 2nd and 4th week of each month.

This leaves the 1st and 3rd weeks of the month open for guest blogging, which we, of course love.  If you’d like to post let us know!  We would love to have a million guest bloggers!

Here are the topics, by month:

  • April: Cookies
  • May: American-style biscuits
  • June: Cake
  • July: Yeast Bread
  • August: Pastry
  • September: Scones
  • October: Sweet Rolls
  • November: Pumpkin
  • December: Shortbread
  • January: Tart
  • February: Baguette
  • March: Pie

So…Ready, Set, Bake!!

 

Ma, the Meat Loaf!

My family has a 100% tried and true meat loaf recipe.

It looks a little like this:

Can you read that?  It’s my Grandma Eleanor’s handwriting.

My Mom makes this recipe (Eleanor was her Mom).  My Aunt on my Dad’s side makes this recipe.  I’m sure my Mom’s other siblings have made it before, too.  I love it.

I’ve made it once before, during mashed potato month to very mild success (I forgot the Rice Krispies, a key ingredient, tried to add them like, 10 minutes into baking time, things got weird).

My problem with meatloaf is that a recipe like this, calling for three pounds of meat, makes a huge meatloaf.  Which I can’t really eat all by myself.  Lisa, in her great wisdom, suggested I try the meatloaf muffin route.  They probably freeze quite well, and it would be easy to portion out a few in bags to take out one by one, as opposed to half a meatloaf.

I decided to run with her suggestion.  I also decided to halve the recipe, not sure how many muffins 3 pounds of meatloaf would create.

The original recipe calls for 2 pounds of ground hamburger and 1 pound of ground pork.  I couldn’t quite find a half a pound of ground pork, so I went with a meat loaf mix.  That included pork, ground beef, and ground veal (weird).  It was a little under 1.5 lbs, which I think reduced the size of the muffins a touch.

A trusty assistant, Chad, showed up to chop the onion for me.  Chad also informed me that his family meat loaf recipe uses oatmeal as a binder, where we use Rice Krispies.  Lisa, I think uses bread crumbs?  Anyone else out there have an interesting binder they use?

There are no pictures of me mixing up the meat, mostly because I go for the ‘hands on’ approach.  I will say, the Rice Krispies do the whole “Snap! Crackle! Pop!” thing while being mixed, and it is funny.

Then I balled the muffins up, starting with a half a cup measuring cup to get the size right, but reduced the amount of meat from there.  This is where I would have liked a little more meat to make larger muffins.  Chad suggested I press the top of the meat muffins with my thumb, like when we made burgers.

My googling told me a few different cooking times. So we started with 15 minutes at 400.  Then we did it in increments of 7 minutes a few times before the muffins hit 160.  All told it was closer to 30 minutes.  This could be my oven, so I’d def try the incremental approach.

Out of the oven.  Half this recipe made 12 small-ish muffins.  I think the full three pound recipe would definitely make 24+.

Final product.

These were stellar.  Definitely not overdone, in fact they kind of melted in your mouth.  They kind of cooked in the grease more, which I’m sure helped.  I will definitely try this avenue again, and maybe use the full 3-pound recipe for some leftovers.

That Ridiculous Alfredo Thing

For our final Alfredo-based post, Lisa suggested this: Bacon Chicken Alfredo Roll-up

At first I asked: “What is that?”

Then I watched the video. I was still pretty confused, but slightly intrigued.  See, you saw me rant a few months back about poorly written blog recipes and other internet-sources food preparation. To me, Tasty (the Buzzfeed recipe site) is the epitome of bad internet recipes.

But, it seemed ridiculous enough to be entertaining. Lisa’s Post from her Cook’s Illustrated cookbook taught us that Alfredo doesn’t re-heat well.  I decided I wasn’t in the mood for Alfredo Zoodles.

So, I asked Chad if he wanted to help me make This Ridiculous Bacon Alfredo Thing.  He said sure. (He actually said something along the lines of: ‘oh no, why would I ever want to make and help you eat something with bacon and Alfredo sauce?’ pretty sure that was sarcasm.)

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First thing I chopped the parsley.  That was easy.

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Then 6 lasagna noodles in the pot to boil.

Then, it was bacon time.

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I mean.  It was kind of fun.  The recipe called for thick-cut, so that’s what we went with.  I definitely think it was the right choice.

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Chad cooked up the rest of the bacon.

And on to the Alfredo sauce.  Things did not turn out super well.  Now, in my defense I was cooking on an unfamiliar stove.  But I’m not super impressed with Tasty’s Alfredo recipe. See, they were specific enough to give a cook time for garlic – a flavor enhancer.  But with the cream the recipe simply said “Add the cream, and bring to a boil.”

So the garlic gets a time limit, but the instructions for cream, the difficult and much more crucial aspect, is simply “boil?”  That irked me a little, and seems wrong.

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And it broke.

The sauce came to a boil, and the cream and butter got mad at each other and broke up.  But really, if you look in this less-than-appetizing pot, you can see that the cream has thickened to a near curdle, and the butter has separated itself.  There really wasn’t any saving this, unfortunately.

We improvised with something that may or may not have come from a jar.  I mean, I didn’t basket-weave that bacon for nothing.

I’m understanding, after this month especially, how sensitive cream-based sauces are.  They require a bit of finesse and focus, things I don’t always have.  I will absolutely admit the blame can’t lie fully with Tasty, I kept it on the burner too long.

To me, a recipe is more than just a list of ingredients and a list of steps. It’s clear, concise instructions.  There are specific words you use to mean something: like chop, dice, mince or simmer, boil, rolling boil, etc.  It’s disappointing, because websites like Tasty are fun, and include videos that can be super helpful or at least very watchable.  But, if you’re brought to the the recipe because someone’s Facebook friend liked the video, you may not be able to trust it.

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Alfredo + Chicken

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So in the video, you’ll notice that they used noodles without scalloped edges.  Chad’s theory was that they cut the noodles down to size with the bacon.  They left out this instruction.  Overlapping was a little difficult.

Cheese.  There was some spinach, too.

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It’s not overlapping super well.

Then the bacon roll.

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Done!

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The recipe called for ‘about’ 25 minutes at 400 degrees. Definitely went for 8-10 more minutes.  Could’ve gone longer.  Plus some broil time at the end.

Unfortunately I don’t have pictures of any plated versions, which called for more sauce to be poured on top.  The bacon separated from the noodles, and everything fell apart when it was served.  It tasted pretty good, though.  Very, very, very, very rich.

Chad whipped together the ‘classic’ Minnesota Doritos Taco Salad that Buzzfeed introduced us to, the one with French or Catalina dressing. Chad’s made it for us before. It was yummy as usual.

So I made something from a Tasty video.  A Ridiculous Alfredo Thing.

I guess the final question isn’t whether or not you can?  But, really, whether or not you should?  Haha.

I think Lisa’s got one more Alfredo post coming our way!

Fettuccini Alfredo

I’ve been loving my new Cooks Illustrated cookbook. It’s literally the first place I turn for all recipes. Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo was no different.

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 C heavy cream
  • 2 T unsalted butter
  • Salt
  • 1/2 t pepper
  • 9 ounces fresh fettuccine
  • 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1/8 t nutmeg

Directions:

  1. Simmer butter and 1 C heavy cream. Reduce heat to low and simmer gently until mixture measures 2/3 C., about 12-15 min. Off heat, stir in remaining 1/2 C cream, 1/2 t salt, and 1/2 t pepper.
  2. While cream is reducing, bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add pasta and 1 T salt. Cook until almost al dente. Reserve 1/4 C water and drain pasta.
  3. Return cream mixture to simmer. Reduce heat to low and add pasta, Parm, and nutmeg. Stir to combine, until cheese is melted, 1-2 minutes. Add reserved cooking water as needed to adjust consistency; sauce will look thin but will gradually thicken.
  4. Serve immediately

The cookbook mentioned that leftover Fettuccine Alfredo isn’t great, so I called my parents to come over for dinner. I figured they wouldn’t judge me if it didn’t turn out great. It turns out, this is kind of a great meal to make for an impromptu dinner (provided you have the ingredients or can stop at the store quick). It’s a little last minute, because you have to serve it warm. But it doesn’t take long, it’s easy, and it looks nice.

I followed the recipe almost exactly, except I forgot to reserve some pasta water before draining the noodles. I didn’t really need it though, as the sauce was a perfect consistency (I think)

The recipe didn’t talk about any meat, so I just cooked some chicken on the side and we individually added it to the noodles.

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The cookbook did mention that freshly grated cheese is best, but I was having problems at the grocery store and just couldn’t find a block of Parm cheese. The pre-shredded cheese seemed to workout just fine for me.

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The recipe also called for fresh noodles. Next time, I’m going to find a recipe that doesn’t call for fresh noodles to see how they compare. These only had a cooking time of 2 minutes, which was a big plus.

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Overall, the recipe was great and I’ll definitely use it again. My next attempt will be with dry (instead of fresh) noodles.

Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo

Happy 2018!

We’re back!  I’m sorry Lisa and I went a little MIA between November and now.  It has been a crazy, crazy fall and winter.  But in an effort to get the new year off on the right track, I decided to just move on a head with January’s challenge: Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo.

I loved this pasta when I was a kid, though, it was usually from Olive Garden or the Old Spaghetti Factory.  It’s not something I will usually order at a nice Italian restaurant.  For my first attempt I decided to go for the classic, full – fat Alfredo recipe that every one loves.  I found this one on Foodnewtork.com  

Right off the bat I was making some small mistakes:  I picked the absolute wrong pot to boil a pound (instead of 12 oz) of noodles.  Instead of pulling out my big stock pot, I used a 2-3 qt saucepan.  It wasn’t a huge problem, but the noodles were overcrowded in the water and so they cooked a little unevenly, some over done, some al dente.

Once they boiled, I strained them and poured some olive oil over top.

While that was boiling I seasoned two chicken breasts with salt and pepper, then cut them up into 1/4 inch strips.  Into the pan with the melted butter.

The pieces of chicken were super uneven in size, which was frustrating for cooking time.  But cooking the chicken in smaller pieces left a little more fat in the pan to work with later.

Once they were cooked through I added the rest of the butter.  Here was another mistake: instead of simply melting the butter, I think it started to cook a little a little too much before getting the brown bits incorporated and then adding the cream.  The butter and cream didn’t want to combine together the way I thought they would.

Whisking the butter and the cream.

Adding the nutmeg.  I decided to forego fresh, and finally had the chance to use some #fancy nutmeg that I’ve had for awhile (and forgot about).   Then the cheese went in to melt.

Dinner is served, with some greens and a little olive oil vinaigrette.

I think my issues with the butter/brown bits/cream and caused some flavor and texture issues with the sauce.  I could be completely incorrect about this, but I thought that the browned bits of chicken would act like a roux or binder for the cheese and cream.  Because everything was too mixed together, when I whisked in the cream and then tossed the cheese in, it didn’t have anything to bind to, and the sauce got a little lumpy.

I did also made the mistake of doing pre-shredded instead of pre-grated cheese, so it was little more difficult to melt.  Next time, I’d cut the chicken into more even pieces for ease of cooking, I mean, in theory this was probably more photogenic, but let’s be real.

I’m not sure what I’ll do next time.  Maybe a ‘diet’ version with zoodles and a healthier sauce?  Let me know if you’ve got any suggestions!

And if anyone can help  us figure out the steps to this sauce we would really appreciate it!  See you next time!