In my “if only I could write full-time” fantasies, part of my ideal day is dedicated not to writing, but to cooking. So, when I have a stretch of days off, especially during the holidays, I start flipping through cookbooks, looking for things that I’d like to try.
Of course, the downside of three out of four new recipes is that there are even more glitches than just trying one or two new ones. My usual “I suck, who do I think I’m kidding?” devil that likes sitting on my shoulderwhen I’m writing came dangerously close to hanging out for my baking adventures.
In the end, though, I’m going to say it was a success (not a huge one, and there was no delicious, moist cake), but a success either way.
I started with what should have been the easy stuff: peppermint bark. I mean, really, all you do is smash some candy canes to smithereens, melt dark chocolate, pour it onto a baking sheet, then melt white chocolate, pour it atop the mostly-dried dark chocolate, and sprinkle the obliterated candy cane bits over it while still melty.
And it would have been. Should have been. I had the peppermint smashy part down, and the dark chocolate melted and poured. That part went just fine, though I felt slightly guilty for using the melt-by-microwave rather than the melt-by-double-boiler method. Slightly.
The problem came with the white chocolate.
See, Ghirardelli white chocolate chips are not, in fact, actual white chocolate. Therefore, they don’t melt like white chocolate. Now, had I bought generic no-name white chocolate chips, this wouldn’t have surprised me. But, I dunno, I expected that Ghirardelli would be the real thing. Hence why I bought the white chocolate chips in the first place, and didn’t just go straight to the bars.
Nope. After a few short microwaving bursts, all I had was a lumpy mess of ick in my bowl, and rapidly cooling dark chocolate in the pan.
Thankfully, this could be salvaged. I had, in my cabinet o’bakey things, a single bar of real white chocolate. Half the amount I needed, but it was better than nothing. That melted and poured as it should have, though the pan looked a little sad only half-covered. Not that I’m complaining. I have leftover peppermint-flavored dark chocolate waiting for either a new use or simple gleeful consumption.
Then came the fudge. It’s probably also very much a beginner fudge, since it’s from the Never-Fail Fudge recipe on the back of the jars of Marshmallow Fluff. The woman who used to live next door to my parents made it all the time, and it looked easy enough. Which, really, it was. The hard part was getting the fluff out of the jar, and the line about “being careful not to mistake escaping air bubbles for boiling.”
Because of course that meant I spent a lot of time second-guessing myself: Is it really boiling? I think it is, but am I mistaking air bubbles for boiling? They wouldn’t put that on there if it wasn’t a common mistake, right? No, it’s boiling, I’m just being an idiot. Wait, am I sure?
Welcome to my head. In the end, it came out fine, maybe a little softer than I hoped, but it’s still fudge, damn it.
However, let me tell you, the fluff/evaporated milk goo that I sloshed over the side of the pot was not fun to clean up.
Sunday afternoon, I decided it was time to try my hand at biscotti. Something tasty to dip in my coffee in the morning, something not necessarily difficult, but at least a little complicated.
First off: hazelnuts. Fuck them and their impossible shells. I am not in the possession of a nutcracker, so the breaking open in the first round had to be done with a heavy-bottomed pot. Therapeutic, but loud, and if I went too hard on the smashy, I ended up with hazelnut bits that didn’t lend themselves to toasting, really. Then came the toasting, and I dunno. Something went wrong. The recipe said to stick ’em in the oven for 15 minutes, but when they came out, not only did the skins not want to come off, but the majority of the hazelnuts were over-toasted.
And the dough was unruly.
I followed the recipe exactly, but when the mixer got going, rather than forming “a stiff dough,” it remained at a cake batter consistency. At some point I stood there, spatula in hand, debating whether to add flour or just give up and bake it like a cake and see what happened.
Instead, I shoved the bowl of not-dough in the fridge and walked away, munching on over-toasted hazelnuts and fuming.
Yesterday, I pulled the bowl out of there, gave it a warning glare, and set it on the counter to come up to room temperature while I performed Hazelnut Massacre II. This time, rather than the poor pot, I used our meat tenderizer thing to break the nuts out of their shells. Easier to concentrate the smashy force that way. Thank you, Alton Brown, for teaching me that most kitchen tools can have multiple uses.
While the new nuts were a-toasting, I turned back to the dough to figure out how to fix it.
I didn’t have to. Somehow, overnight, it had gone from batter consistency to — gasp — dough. I’m still not sure how or why that happened. The Lovely Anna asked if maybe I’d overworked the it to start, which is possible, though I still maintain I didn’t. That sucker was never dough-like, at all. But after resting overnight, there it was, so, yeah. It was probably me, somewhere.
This time, the hazelnuts came out okay, and most of the skins came off without too much of a fight. I folded them into the dough, shaped it into logs before it decided to turn back into goo, and popped ’em into the oven for the first round o’baking. When I pulled them out and sliced them up, they actually looked like biscotti. And, sampling them after the second round of baking, I think they came out all right after all.
Thus, they’ve been dubbed The Little Biscotti That Could. I wish I’d taken pictures for you lot so you could see the progression from fail to kind of proud of myself.
(Though, my plan to be all fancy with them was foiled by the white chocolate fiasco above. That bar I had in reserve was supposed to be melted and the ends of the biscotti dipped in it…)
Needing to feel like I could get at least one thing right on the first try, I made a batch of plain ol’ chocolate chip cookies, too. Success! Though, I’ve noticed that my “rounded tablespoons” tend to get bigger towards the end of the batch. Not that I end up with monster cookies, but my batch ended up being 32 cookies instead of the 50 the recipe said I’d end up with.
I’m okay with this.