Archive | August, 2011

Make your own Vanilla Marshmallows

29 Aug

Some marshmallows, sitting in some Van Houten chocolat chaud

Have you ever reached for a bag of store-bought marshmallows, popped one in your mouth, and wondered if there was a better, less artificial-tasting alternative? I don’t know about you, but I have on many an occasion! Let’s just say Jet-Puff’s aren’t my favorite unless that fake taste is masked by scorching them to a crisp and nestling them between graham crackers and chocolate.

So when my boyfriend had a few friends over for a Mexican-themed dinner (quite gourmet!–pix later!), I decided I would make a tiny contribution by bringing over some chili/cinnamon hot chocolate and homemade marshmallows.

I’m not going to lie, candy-making type endeavors have always intimidated me, and looking back on the past, it’s easy to see why… OK here’s a little story for your entertainment:

Background info: Being the intellectually encouraging person that she is, Mom made us ask questions every night before we went to bed.

Young Ann & Sister: Mommy, what happens when you cook sugar?
[These were the types of questions we liked to ask. Not “How does food turn into energy?” or “How is light a wave AND a particle?” Instead, we asked questions like the aforementioned, and “How are Barbies made?” etc. Can’t say we responded too well to her teaching techniques. Anyway, I digress…]

More Background info: Being the intellectually encouraging person that she is, Mom liked us to test out our questions and theories.

Mom: Well, why don’t we see what happens, girls?!
[All three run to kitchen, put pot on stove, put sugar in pot, put water in pot. Heat long time. Forget about the sugar.]
[As smoke begins to fill the apartment, Mom tackles the pot while Ann and Sister are forced to flee outside the door… and I was in my Belle costume. Neighbors proceeded to stare.]

… So there was this event. Then there was also the time in my frugal college days (which haven’t actually ended) when I “compromised” a lot of my recipes for want of kitchen tools, and I almost destroyed my roommate’s saucepan trying to make caramel topping. All in all, I had good reason to fear working with sugar and using candy-making methods.

However, in the past few months, I had recently obtained a candy thermometer, so there was no reason to run from the challenge! Then I started researching marshmallow-making techniques. It didn’t seem so bad at all, and truth be told, they’re actually pretty easy! A candy thermometer is not even required, and one could make these by just eyeballing the simple syrup that is heated to over boiling. Just make sure you are aware of the different stages to look for.

Assessing Syrup Stages
The first step is to drop a tiny bit of your syrup into cold water. Then evaluate using these guidelines:
1. Soft Ball/235-240 degrees F: Syrup will form soft ball that flattens in your hand.
2. Firm Ball/245-250: Syrup will form a malleable ball that maintains some of its shape.
3. Hard Ball/250-265: Syrup will form threads from your spoon as you drop, and will harden completely in the water. Malleable only when you apply a lot of force.
4. Soft Crack/270-290: Forms flexible threads in the water that break upon bending.
5. Hard Crack/300-310: Forms hard, brittle threads in the water.

On to the recipe!
*Note: If you use a candy thermometer, use a narrow pan so that the level of syrup will be higher and the thermometer can be more submerged to get a better reading.

Vanilla Marshmallows
1 c. powdered sugar
3 1/2 envelopes of unflavored gelatin
1 c. cold water, divided
2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. light corn syrup
1/4 tsp. salt
2 egg whites
1 tbsp. vanilla

1. Sprinkle the gelatin over 1/2 of the cold water, and let stand.
2. Heat the granulated sugar, corn syrup, and other 1/2 c. of water over low heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves.
3. After it dissolves, increase heat to medium, and boil the syrup to 240 degrees F, or Soft Ball stage, without stirring.
4. Meanwhile, whip the eggs whites to soft peaks.
5. When the syrup has reached the right temperature (about 12 minutes), remove from heat and mix in the gelatin.
6. Add vanilla to the egg whites, add the syrup to the egg whites and immediately start whipping them with your electric/stand mixer until it has mostly cooled and tripled in volume (this took me about 10 minutes with a handheld electric mixer… If you do the same, I give you permission to count this as your deltoid workout of the day).
7. To make a pastry bag with which to pipe your marshmallows, place a large plastic Ziploc bag in a tall glass, with the tip at the bottom and the zipper part open and cuffed around the edge of the glass. Transfer the marshmallow mixture to this bag. Seal it, twist the top, and cut off the tip.
8. Pipe the marshmallows onto a cookie sheet dusted generously with powdered sugar. Sift powdered sugar (also generously) over the top.
9. You can let these set for 1 hr/overnight, or place them in the fridge to speed up the process. You can also toss them around in a bowl with powdered sugar so they are fully coated and won’t stick to each other.

And there you have it–delicious homemade marshmallows that literally melt in your mouth from their pure, light, airy, goodness! They’re so small, reachable, and darn delicious that it’s easy to pop 10 in your mouth and still go back for more. Float them in your hot chocolate, skewer them and roast them on the fire, decorate a cake, make popcorn balls, or just eat them straight out of the tupperware. :) They should be kept in the fridge for no more than a couple days, but they go so quickly that I am sure you’ll have no problem with that! To me, the Jet-Puffs will never compare.



“Irish Car Bomb” Cupcakes

25 Aug

While the name of these cupcakes is certainly politically incorrect, the taste is quite irresistible. The rich, full-bodied combination of chocolate and Guinness beer in the cake combined with the creamy sweetness of the frosting is downright wonderful. I hope you make these soon so you can taste their awesomeness! Make them for your Friday night get-together with your friends!

I made them for my friend Bryson on his birthday, per his request. Bryson was one of the first people I met in college, as he was suitemate to my boyfriend during our freshman year! In the four years since then, I’ve come to know Bryson as a kind, forgiving, fun-loving, faithful-till-the-end friend. He’s also very much the manly-man! Tha BF and I visited him at his home one summer, and found that his brother, his dad, and he had built a MAN-CAVE in their yard, complete with a motorcycle workshop, minifridge with frosty mugs, and a gun safe. Oh yes, I kid you not! So I agreed that these cupcakes, inspired by a guiness/bailey’s/jameson drink, would be perfect for his birthday. (SHOUTOUT, BRYSON!)

I got the recipe from the wonderful Annie of Annie’s Eats. Yeah, I gotta admit that I wanna be like her! She’s a loving wife, mother of 2 (gorgeous) kids, M.D., and blogger extraordinaire, and I can’t imagine her feeding her family anything not homemade. Check out her blog! You will love it!

“Irish Car Bomb” Cupcakes
Guinness/Chocolate Cupcakes
1 c. Guinness stout
2 sticks unsalted butter
3/4 c. unsweetened cocoa
2 c. all-purpose flour
2 c. granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
2 eggs
2/3 c. sour cream (I used vanilla yogurt)

1.  While your oven preheats to 350, line two cupcake pans with paper liners.
2.  In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter with the stout. Whisk in the cocoa powder until smooth, then remove from heat to cool.
3. In a large mixing bowl whisk/sift the flour, sugar, bakingsoda, and salt together.
4. Beat the eggs and sour cream until well blended, then add in the stout and butter mixture.
5. Pour in the dry ingredients and mix gently until just incorporated.
6. Fill each cupcake liner with the batter until 2/3 full. Bake them in the oven for around 17 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

Bailey’s Irish Cream Frosting
1 stick (1/2 c.) unsalted butter at RT (room temp)
3-4 c. powdered sugar
4-8 tbsp. Bailey’s Irish Cream

1. Cream the butter with your mixer until light and fluffy.
2. Gradually incorporate the powdered sugar
3. Mix in the Bailey’s. You can play around with the amount of Bailey’s and powdered sugar that you add, until it’s your desired consistency.
4. Frost your cupcakes!

Do these strike your fancy? Would you like to make these for someone one day so that you can have your own batch of rich chocolatey, Guinness-y, Bailey’s-y goodness?! Who would you make these for? Even if you’re the only one eating these, let me know in the comments below!

Goodbye, Summer…

20 Aug

My friends, summer is swiftly passing us by. If you’re like me and LOVE summertime, I urge you to make this pie as quick as you can and savor the last sweet blueberries of the season! Also, ignore the unsightly uneven crust edges. It’s what I like to call “Artisanal.”

The recipe is SPOT-ON, and with good reason! The crust and the filling recipes both came from one of my favorite cookbooks, Chez Panisse Desserts, by Lindsey Remolif Shere. If you haven’t heard of Chez Panisse before, it is the restaurant founded by Alice Waters, who started the California Cuisine movement earlier in the 70’s. Ms. Shere was the pastry chef at Chez Panisse and wrote this book for the great benefit of our tastebuds, and to the detriment of our lovehandles :)

This image is from a while ago, when I still lived in my apartment at college. Every Tuesday we’d have Bible studies at my place, and this is one of the treats I baked for the occasion. My guests were definitely fans! Make it soon, for your parents, your neighbors, your book club! They will feel like they’re eating dessert at one of the best restaurants in America.

Blueberry Meyer Lemon Cream Pie
1 c. Pastry cream (Halve this recipe)
2 1/2 c. Milk
– 1/3 c. Flour
– 6 tbsp. sugar
– 6 Egg yolks
– 1-2 tbsp. unsalted butter
– 1-2 Meyer Lemons
1. Scald (heat to just under boiling) the milk
2. In a separate heavy saucepan, mix flour and sugar
3. In a third bowl, beat the egg yolks until thick and light-colored
4. Whisk the hot milk into the flour and sugar. Cook this over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture has boiled for 1-2 minutes.
5. Whisk a little of the milk mixture into the eggs to heat them up (I have learned that this is called tempering the eggs, and will prevent the hot milk from cooking the eggs into solid lumps in your custard). Then stir all of the eggs into the cooking mixture.
6. Cook, constantly mixing, until the pastry cream begins to hold a slight shape. If you have one, a thermometer works well to monitor the cooking. It should cook to 170F. (Ms. Shere notes that you should not undercook the cream, otherwise the enzymes in the egg won’t be cooked, and your cream will break down. You should also never let it boil.)
7. Remove from heat, stir in the butter and grate in the Meyer lemon zest.
8. Push through a medium-fine strainer to remove the lumps, and whisk occasionally while cooling to prevent a crust from forming. Then, chill this in the refrigerator.

Notes: Beating the cream after it cooks will thin it out, so if you over-cooked it, this will help to return it to the right texture. The cream should look shiny, and mound lightly. When I made this cream, it took less than 15 minutes.

Short Crust Pie Shell

Don't be afraid if it doesn't look like dough. Just have faith and press it together!

This was supposed to be a tart shell, but I put it in my glass pie pan, and called it a pie. I’m a rebel like that.
Makes 9-inch Pastry shell
– 1 c. Flour
– 1 tbsp. sugar
– 1/4 tsp. salt
– 1/4 tsp. grated lemon zest
– 1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold
– 1 tbsp. water
– 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Mix the flour, sugar, salt, and lemon peel together.
2. Cut the butter into 1/2-inch slices and work it into the dry ingredients with a pastry blender (or your hands, or 2 dinner knives), until the butter is in small cornmeal-sized pieces, and coated in flour. This technique, “to cut in the butter,” makes a non-homogeneous mixture where the butter remains in small chunks throughout the dough, ensuring a flakiness to the pastry crust.
3. Separately mix the water and vanilla together, then work it into the dough until it is blended and will hold together if you press it. A good crust should not be too shaggy looking, but should definitely not be too wet either. I prefer to err on the shaggy side, however!
4. Gather the dough into a ball and let it rest for 30 minutes. This period ensures that the gluten proteins in your flour have time to relaaaaax, and that your crust won’t shrink in the oven.
5. Press the pastry evenly into a 9-inch pie pan and bake at 375F for around 25 minutes, or until it is lightly golden brown.

Blueberry Topping
      – 1 pint blueberries
– 2-3 tbsp. strained raspberry, red currant, or blueberry jam (I used boysenberry because that’s what I had. Still yummy!)
– 1/2 tsp. Kirsch, optional
1. Wash the berries and make sure there are no stems, leaves, or bad ones in the mix.
2. Pick a saute pan that is large enough to hold the blueberries in 1-2 layers on the bottom. Cook the jam in this pan until it is slightly less runny.
3. Toss the blueberries and the Kirsch in the jam over high heat very briefly, until they are coated and just barely warm.

Put it All Together
1. Smooth out the cooled pastry cream with a whisk, and spread it in the pie shell evenly.
2. Set the blueberries over the pastry cream with a spoon. Serve immediately!
3. Take a bite, close your eyes and envision you’re still in summer. MMmmmm

Who do you know that would enjoy this pie? :)

Big Bear Cookies

15 Aug

This is one "Papa Bear" cookie, about as big as my hand. It will probably take 5 cups of tea to finish him.

For a first post, this quite fittingly contains four things I LOVE.

1.) Bears:
The bear is the noblest of creatures! Not to mention, my boyfriend, sister and I are all bears, having graduated from a university with the bear as their mascot!

2.) Big Bear:
… Is one of the few skiing spots in So Cal, where it was tradition for my family to go for a couple days every winter. While learning to “make a pie, make a pie!!!” with my skis was frustrating in the beginning, after a couple trips, skiing quickly became one of my favorite pastimes. Big Bear is a wonderful place to make great family memories to cherish forever.

3.) Chocolate (and lots of it!)

4.) These beautiful people I get to travel with for the next few days!
Yes, I am leaving tomorrow with two families that I adore on a journey to the mountains! With this group of people, a trip inevitably means delicious food, belly-aching laughs, and an overflow of love. There’s nothing else I could ask for.

“Big Bear” Cookies
2 sticks (1 c.) of Unsalted butter at Room Temperature
1 1/4 c. Granulated sugar
2 Eggs
1/2 c. Cocoa powder
2 1/4 c. Flour (I used all-purpose)
1/4 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Baking powder
1 tbsp. Corn starch
2 1/2 c. (or as they say in Nor Cal, HELLA) Semisweet chocolate chips

Oooh baby...

Preheat your oven to 350 F

  1. Cream the butter and sugar together in a stand mixer or with a handheld mixer until light and fluffy.
  2. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.
  3. Beat the cocoa into the mixture.
  4. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, and corn starch. Or stir haphazardly, like me.

    "Baby Bear," smaller-sized cookies

  5. Mix the dry ingredients into the batter until JUST combined. Mixing too much after addition of flour releases gluten proteins from the wheat, which causes your baked goods to become tough. This structure-lending process is good for baking breads, but not for a delicate cookie. :)
  6. Mix in the chocolate chips. This might have been a bit too much for my poor handheld mixer, so I put my biceps to use and did it with a spatula.

    "Mama Bear," medium-sized cookies

  7. Place lumps of cookie dough on a cookie sheet and bake! Depending on how big you make your cookies, the baking time can vary. In my (weird, crazy, psycho) oven, I baked the Papa Bear (biggest) cookies for about 20 minutes. They were flexible when I took them out, but not wet in the middle. The Mama Bear cookies took about 17 minutes, and the Baby Bear cookies took 15.

I am bringing these cookies along for everyone to eat on the trip. Our pancreatic beta cells are going to be working overtime. ;)

At long last…!

14 Aug

Why, hello there! So nice of you to join me on this little project I call my blog. As many of you who are reading this may know, I have been wondering about starting a blog about baking for a very long time. A long time as in more than 2 years!

And for those of you who don’t know me, my name is Ann, I’m a recent college graduate and an adamant lover of biology. Oh, and shoes. Here’s a picture of me scarfing down the largest breakfast ever, easy.—>

Also, I love to bake even though I for sure am quite the amateur! There’s something amazing about gathering a group of random simple ingredients, and throwing them together with a little folding here or some kneading there, and finally creating a scrumptious treat! So amazing in fact, that it makes me want to share it with the world. Or at least the few random web surfers that happen upon this blog. :)

But here comes the special part (in my opinion!)… Admittedly, I would bake for myself and my own sugary pleasure without any excuse whatsoever, and have on more than a few occasions! But what makes baking million times more fulfilling and worthwhile for me is to bring the treats over to a friend’s house, or your study group, or your workplace, or tucked in your mailbox for the postman (anywhere!), and say, “Here, I want you to have this! I hope it brings you happiness!”

Maybe I love doing this because breaking bread together has always been known to create strong bonds between people. Maybe the gift of food is special because it fulfills a simple human need. Maybe it’s the homemade aspect of the gift that makes it special to me. Maybe people just love sugar! Who knows? All I know is that baking makes me happy, and sharing my baking makes me even happier.

So I hope you find this blog useful to you in any sense of the word–I’ll include recipes, links, photos (really bad ones, sorry), tips from what I’ve learned, and definitely some “How Not To Bake” pointers from my many failed attempts! Maybe you’ll even be entertained by my blundering ineptitude. :) Whatever the case may be, I’m so glad you’re coming along for the ride.


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