Tag Archives: baking

year of cake (+ the january cake)

23 Jan

For far too long, we as a society have been eating terrible cake. Dry cake. Cake with canned frosting. Cake that has no flavor. Frosting that is so sweet it rots your teeth upon contact.

And I won’t stand for it any longer! I won’t!

Thus, I have declared 2020 to be the Year of Cake. As I did with the Year of Pie in 2019, I am committing to baking a new (to me) cake every month. (Maybe more, if I’m feeling frisky.) (Probably not.) (But a girl can dream.) And like the 2019 Year of Pie, I can’t guarantee that I’ll tell you about all the cakes here, because…well, I just can’t. (However, it’s inevitable that I will post about them on the Insta, as the kids say. Or is it the ‘Gram? I have no idea what anyone says these days. I don’t even know what I’m saying right now, for the love of all that is holy. And WTF is Tik Tok?)

You’re welcome.

Not sure what for, but you’re welcome.

But wait, there’s more

I’m not just here to tell you what I’ve declared 2020 to be. I’m also here to tell you that I’VE ALREADY MADE MY JANUARY CAKE.

AND IT WAS GOOD.

Here’s how this magical moment happened: On New Year’s Day, we did our usual Salonica breakfast/Powell’s Bookstore trip, and it was while perusing Powell’s that I came across a Maida Heatter cake cookbook. I’ve been lurking in baking circles for long enough to know that Maida Heatter is Not To Be Questioned. And that her cakes Are Where It’s At. So naturally I grabbed the book and ran up to the counter, threw money at the clerk and ran out the door screaming, “IT’S MIIIIIIINE!”*

And then last week, some friends were coming over for a visit, and I thought, what better time to make a cake than when I can pawn the leftovers off on unsuspecting friends because otherwise my children will harass me to eat nothing but cake for the next 12 hours until I give in and then have to somehow explain to myself, my husband, and my God that said children are crabby and hysterical because they’re crashing from sugar so high it would make the Sears Tower weep. After a quick flip through the Maida Heatter book, I came across her recipe for orange chiffon cake with chocolate whipped cream frosting and thought to myself, “This looks delicious and mildly terrifying. I think I’ll make it for my guests.”

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Nudie-tudie cake.

The mildly terrifying experience of cake making

If you’re wondering what, exactly, makes a cake mildly terrifying, I shall tell you.

  1. It’s made in a tube pan, which comes in two parts, which in my head posed the risk of cake leaking out the bottom, and thus stinking up my kitchen with the smell of burned cake batter. (None of which happened.)
  2. It involves whipping egg whites to a stiff peak, and then whipping them a minute more because THE ENTIRE FLUFFINESS OF THIS CAKE RESTS ON HOW WELL I CAN WHIP THE DAMN EGGS. Also, you don’t want to whip them too much, lest you dry them out, which I didn’t even know was a thing but apparently it is and OMG how do you know if egg whites are too dry and this is how I end up staring fixedly at my mixer as it goes round and round and round and round in the egg whites and OMG it’s a cake, get a life, lady.
  3. It also involves hanging the pan upside down on a bottle immediately when it comes out of the oven, and you just let it…hang there…until it is completely cool. Fun fact: Every bottle in my house was too wide for me to hang the tube pan on, and I feared my cake was doomed until Swede grabbed some blocks from our toddler’s train set and we were able to prop the cake up that way.
  4. The instructions for getting the cake out of the pan read quite complicated and involve shoving a knife between the edge of the cake and the pan on both the outer rim and inner tube, and then under the bottom of the cake, which then becomes the top of the cake. It seemed the perfect storm for me to do something stupid, like somehow manage to saw a chunk out of the cake somehow, or manage to leave a wodge of cake stuck to the pan, a la most of my bundt cakes. (Miraculously, neither of these scenarios played out, and the cake came out easy peasy.)

It was just a little stressful, okay?

But in the end, it was worth it. The cake was loverly, and had a fantastic orange flavor. In truth it may have been overbaked slightly, but honestly I don’t think anyone much cared because we were all too busy falling in love with the chocolate whipped cream frosting.**

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Chocolate whipped cream frosting is where it’s at. 

Interwebers, I’m going to give it to you straight: that frosting is like the ranch dressing of desserts. I want to put it on everything. And it makes an enormous amount. So much that as you’re slathering it on the cake, you’ll inevitably think to yourself, “Surely this is too much frosting. It will without a doubt overwhelm the cake.” To which I say, “No. No it won’t. And also, when has too much frosting ever been a problem?”**

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The ideal cake-to-frosting ratio. The tiny human shoving her face in the background agrees. 

Cake, ho!

So, my friends, to sum up:

  1. I made a cake in January.
  2. It was delicious.
  3. I still don’t know what constitutes dry whipped egg whites.

I don’t plan on every cake I make this year to be a Maida Heatter cake, though I’m not opposed to it. I actually have a list of cakes I’d like to make, but if you’ve read me for any length of time you know that I adore making lists but when it comes down to actually following them I also adore throwing them out the window and going down a completely antithetical path. I guess we’ll just see what the next 11 months bring. But for now, January Cake: SUCCESS.

 

*It possibly was more civil and more restrained than that IRL.

**It possibly was just me and my 3-year-old who were falling in love. And by love I mean we were not above licking clean the bowl in which the frosting was made.

***When the frosting is shitty, that’s when. But that is not a problem in this scenario.

what pie is this?: a 2019 reflection

16 Jan

As you may remember, I declared 2019 to be the Year of Pie. I was hellbent on making a new pie every month, and sharing it with you all. Well, sharing the experience of it with you all. It’s not like I was going to show up on all of your doorsteps, pie in hand, though that would have been pretty amazong (which is a step above amazing).

And, Interwebers, I did it. Mostly. For 11 out of the 12 months, I made a new pie, and I shared it with you. Okay, not here, because, well, whatever, I just never wrote about it. But I’m pretty sure….goes and checks Instagram…nope, no I didn’t. I didn’t even post about all of them on Instagram. Oh well.

Trust me, though, I accomplished my Year of Pie that I set out for myself. And I consider finishing 11/12 of this goal as good as if I had made 12 out of 12. The only month I missed completely was October, and I’m not entirely sure why. It is my spirit month, after all—you’d think I’d have been reveling in All The Fall Baking at that point, but no.

And though there were some misses—LO! WERE THERE MISSES—there were some definite winners as well. The February pie comes to mind, as does the April topless pie (re: tart), the September pie (which I never wrote about here) and the November tart (same). I’d make all of these again, and in the case of the April tart, I already have, and don’t any of you be surprised if you come to my house and it’s in a regular rotation of dinner party desserts. YOU’RE WELCOME.

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The November topless pie, a chocolate raspberry tart. I never wrote about it, but believe me when I tell you it was Full of Yum. 

Year of Pie, I learned so much from you. I learned that making a crust from scratch isn’t as terrifying as I thought. I learned that I shouldn’t try to make up my own recipe, lest I’m left with a weird pie amalgamation that defies all pie rules, but not in a good way. I’ve learned that pie is delicious. Wait, no, I didn’t learn that, I already knew that. I learned that having a reputable source is key to making a good pie. I learned that I owe Sally’s Baking Addiction and King Arthur Flour many several thank yous for their delicious recipes. I learned that I am very picky about my pies, because no one should eat bad pie, and people, there are a lot of Bad. Pies. out there. Occasionally, those Bad Pies are made by me.

Year of Pie, you were marvelous. Thank you.

2019 Pies 

January’s Pie: Chocolate cream pie from King Arthur Flour

February’s Pie: Creamy Lemon pie from Sally’s Baking Addiction

March’s Pie: Fudge Bottom pie from Kitchn

April’s Pie: Brown Butter Raspberry Tart from epicurious

May’s Pie: Salted Honey Pie from David Lebovitz

June’s Pie: A terrible amalgamation of the crust from the March Pie and a twist on the filling from the February Pie. Don’t ask.

July’s Pie: Blueberry Pie, with filling from Sally’s Baking Addiction, and crust from King Arthur Flour

August’s Pie: Peach Streusel Pie from King Arthur Flour

September’s Pie: S’mores Brownie Pie from Sally’s Baking Addiction

October’s Pie: No pie. Bummer.

November’s Pie: Chocolate Raspberry Tart from…you know, I cannot remember. I think maybe Martha Stewart?

December’s Pie: Cranberry Pear Crumble Pie from Sally’s Baking Addiction

 

may i have this pie

5 Sep

I told you about the April pie. And the June pie. And about the July pie. And now that I’ve reminded you about these pies, you’re probably thinking, “But she never told us about a May pie. Clearly she has not been successful in her Year of Pie, and the pursuit of goals has run amok and life as we know it is not worth living without her pie updates.”

And that is where you would be wrong, Interwebers.

Because I DID make a May pie.

I just haven’t gotten around to telling you about it until now. Also, I like to keep you on your toes.

You’re welcome.

Anyhoodles, the May pie goes something like this: My friend Jen gave me this recipe, and she got it from David Lebovitz (not, like, personally, I don’t think. I think just from a blog or a cookbook or an Instagram post or some such). So my feeling on the outcome of this pie was pretty much if it sucked, we can all blame them. Granted, if it sucked, there was a 112% chance that it sucked because of baker error rather than anything my friend Jen or David Lebovitz did, but honestly, I can’t be held accountable for my baking after I’ve spent the evening introducing my parents to the best Chinese restaurant in Chicago and stuffing ourselves silly with bao and a pork dish that we didn’t actually order, among other delicious dishes.

Because that’s exactly how this pie came into being. Stuffed with Chinese food, and home by 7 pm on a Saturday night, what else is a girl to do? Some people, I realize, go clubbing on Saturday nights. I like to bust out my best jammie pants, put my hair up in its messiest bun, put on the most perfect pair of slippers, and go baking.

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Behold! A pretzel crust! 

Just kidding. I don’t have slippers. I wish I did, though.

I used Lebovitz’s salted pretzel crust for this pie, rather than a traditional crust, because back when I made it I A) still hadn’t located my rolling pin, and 2) hadn’t purchased my new rolling pin, and III) was still frightened of making a pastry crust, even though it turns out I am stellar at it. For the honey I used whatever honey we had on hand, and in truth, Interwebers, I think this may be where I went wrong.

Because I didn’t love the pie.

I say this, and I say it with the recognition that I’m not a huge fan of honey in general (though I adore this candle because it smells like my kids after bathtime), but I just didn’t think the pie was all that great. Definitely not a standout for me. Interestingly, I brought this pie to dinner at our friends’ house, and the friends absolutely loved it. It’s entirely possible that they were putting me on, and just being polite. It’s also entirely possible that my bias of feeling “meh” toward honey-flavored things is at play here. I am happy to report, at least, that in the actual making of the pie, it came together quite easily, and despite being completely watery when I poured it in the crust, it set nicely.

Perhaps if I had used a specialty, high-quality honey I would have liked it more. Perhaps I should have added more honey to flavor it. Or perhaps this pie, while technically fine, and while other people enjoyed it, was simply not my cup of tea.

Lesson learned.

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I should love everything about this pie, from its delightful pretzel crust to the flaked sea salt on top. Who doesn’t love flaked sea salt on pie, amirite? And yet, I did not love this pie.

bye, bye miss july pie

8 Aug

You guys, I did it. I finally made a pie crust from scratch.

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Pie crust! Made from scratch! With a rolling pin!

And then made a pie with it!

What? Who? How? What is this madness you speak of! You finally found your rolling pin! Where was it?

No idea.

Oh.

I sucked it up and bought a new one from Amazon. Which, it turns out, I like a lot better than my old rolling pin.

Well, that’s okay, I guess. A little lazy and over-consumer-ish when you could have just sucked it up and taken 12 hours to dig through your basement and crawl space to find your old one. But whatever.

Stop judging me. I did it for the pie, okay? And for personal growth of finishing something I started.

Tell it to your therapist. Now tell us about your pie.

Gladly. But I feel this pie experience would be best expressed as a litany of Thank Yous.

How very Alanis Morissette of you.

Thank you, Indiana. Thank you, blueberries. Thank you, thaaaankk youuuu pie play-aate!

OMG. I can’t even with you.

You’re my inner voice, you have to with me.

Get. On. With it.

Right. Thank you….

…Indiana, for the blueberries. Everyone always touts Michigan blueberries, but Indiana is rife with berry patches as well. Plus, it’s marginally closer than driving to Michigan. Sadly, Indiana didn’t get the memo that the weather was supposed to cool off the weekend we picked, after three days of insane heat in Chicago, and after 10 minutes of picking we all looked like we’d jumped in a pool.

…my children, for not melting when Swede and I made them go blueberry picking on the aforementioned hotter than F day, even if Toddler McSwedolish, at one point, sat down in the middle of the blueberry patch and announced he didn’t want to pick anymore, and that I should fill his bucket with blueberries. If we started picking at 11 am, this statement was declared at 11:05.

…rain, which rolled in juuuuust as we were finishing up our picking. My God, I have never been so thankful for a cool breeze and playing on a jungle gym (which was at the front of the berry patch, and which is how we bribed Toddler McSwedolish to not run away while picking berries) in a steady rain.

…my children, again, for forgetting the hardship that was picking blueberries and happily “helping” me make, but more so eat, the pie. (No “helping” about it when it came to the eating, I should add.)

…King Arthur Flour, for the delicious and so-simple-why-was-I-avoiding-this-for-so-long? pie crust recipe.

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So much butter! All for the crust! I love you, butter! 

…Sally’s Baking Addiction, for the pie filling recipe. It’s different—all the blueberries stay their individual selves, rather than get kind of mushed together (in a good way) as in other blueberry pies I’ve eaten. Plus, I like the dash of cinnamon added to the filling, for the depth of flavor it provided.

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And more butter in the filling! 

… King Arthur Flour (again) for not getting upset that I didn’t use their blueberry pie filling recipe. (I only had 6 cups of blueberries left over after Swede made a dozen jars of blueberry liqueur!) This is most likely due to the fact that they don’t know I didn’t use their recipe, so don’t tell them.

…my own brilliance for using all brown sugar, instead of white sugar for the pie filling, as Swede had used all my white sugar in the aforementioned blueberry liqueur. If/when I make this pie again, I will keep using straight brown sugar. Though I may try an experiment of one pie with white sugar and one with brown, to see how the tastes differ. Project!

…self, for getting over yourself and putting your new rolling pin to work. Was that so hard? No. No, it was not.

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Look at that goddamned gorgeous finished pie. PIE! 

And blueberry makes 7.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

when my best intentions go south, or, the june pie

1 Aug

When I started my Year of Pie, I wanted to tackle this escapade because I wanted to challenge myself, sure, but I also wanted know more about the ins and outs of making pie. One half of a year into the project, and I can safely report that I know very little more now than I did when I started. Case in point, the June pie.

I was feeling daring. I felt like I’d had enough successes, even with my sloppy, messy—YET DELICIOUS—March pie, that I could successfully step out of my comfort zone of following a recipe and create my own pie. Kind of.

I started out thinking about what I liked about some of the pies I already created. The March pie, while a failure* had a delicious, cookie-like crust. The February pie, which I considered quite successful given that there was little to none left once our party guests left, was delicious and easy. But then I took the February pie one step further, and wondered if, instead of lemon, I could use orange instead.

And then I will have a pie that essentially tastes like a creamsicle.

And I love creamsicles.

YUUUHHHHSSSS.

So I went ahead and did all of those things, creating a Frankenpie of my own dreams. I made the pie crust from the March pie. I made the filling from the February pie, but subbed in orange juice instead of lemon.

It was obvious then, that I was a pie genius in-the-making. This, despite my doubts as I put the pie in the oven, as the pie in its pan was thin, watery(?), and a very unappetizing color. No matter, I assured myself, things change when they bake, because of all the heat and sugar and science and magic. It would be fine. It was going to be delicious.

Interwebers, do I need to tell you that what I had hoped would be the pie to end all pies was, in fact, a piestrosity?

Because it was.

I’m not entirely sure where I went wrong, except maybe being too in love with my own personal grandeur, and for the millionth time ignoring the little voice in my head as I was making the pie that something didn’t seem right. I certainly overbaked the pie, but I’m not sure if I had baked it less it would have been any better. There were, in my opinion, several things wrong with the pie, but for brevity’s sake I will share with you the top three:

  1. The pie never magicked into an appetizing color. The crust and the filling both stayed an unappealing beige, though the filling did have a sort of yellowish, almost ghoulish underlying tint to it. Not that that helped anything.
  2. There was little-to-no orange flavor. I guess when baked orange is just not as strong as lemon? Perhaps I should have added orange zest? I just…I don’t really know how to explain it. But the filling was creamy(ish) (if overbaked) and tasted like baked condensed milk. Not…terrible? Certainly not good. (IMHO.) But not at all what I was going for.
  3. The crust and filling switched places. I repeat: THE CRUST AND THE FILLING SWITCHED PLACES. I wish I could say I’m joking about that, but even more I wish I could explain how that even happens. (I mean, I know baking is half done by magic, but this seems a trick beyond compare.) After I pulled the pie out of the oven and let it cool, I cut into it, and realized that no…no, my eyes were not playing a trick on me—the crust had definitely somehow sort of floated to the top and caramelized over the filling. Underneath was a softer texture—what was meant to be the filling. I wish I had taken a picture as proof, but the pie was so ugly I couldn’t bear the thought of having that image captured. As it is, I can never unsee it.

I was so disappointed that the pie was such a flop that I didn’t even bother decorating it with piped whipped cream as I’d planned. I didn’t even bother eating more than a bite of it—I didn’t think too highly of the flavor, though my Swede said it tasted pretty good and ate a whole slice. And I didn’t even bother taking a picture of it. So just believe me when I say that it was not good.

I should probably take “Pie Developer” off my resume. May have been a little preemptive in that addition to my skill set.** Excuse me while I go make some edits…

On to the next pie!

*In my personal opinion.

**Though if someone thought, in my line of work, that pie developer was an asset of a skill to have, well. It would be a whole new ballgame.

such a tart

3 May

You should know—and perhaps you’ve already noticed—that my photography skills—the little that I had—went to pot fast here on McPolish. I’d like to blame camera phones, Instagram, dirty politicians, and cheap gin, but really it’s because I’m too lazy to pull out my big, fancy camera and do a proper photo with good lighting, photo editing, etc, etc.

And because of this, I realize in my quest to achieve Pie Greatness this year, I’m not giving you very appetizing shots of the pies I’ve made.

Well, Interwebs….

Prepare to be disappointed again, friends!

But what April’s featured pie lacks in photogenic-ness (?) (it’s a word now), it makes up for in taste. And know that I at least attempted to get you some better photos this month, friends. I may not have succeeded, but it’s the thought that counts.

I should also prepare you to be twice disappointed because technically I made a tart, which is not exactly a pie, but it’s not not a pie. As I mentioned on The Instagram when I made this brown butter raspberry tart from epicurious, tarts are similar to pies in that there is crust and there is filling, so it counts. And, and, when I looked up just now whether it should be tart or tarte, The Wikipedia says this “tarte” is a French word that can mean either pie or tart, “as both are mainly the same with the exception of a pie usually covering the filling in pastry, while flans and tarts leave it open.”

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The uncooked tart, which is similar to pie.

The key word here is usually, people. When have I ever done anything “usually”? Do you see pastry lids on any of the three previous pies I’ve made this year? No. No you do not.

Ergo, this tart counts toward my Year of Pie goal.

It also counts because I say it does.

Anyhooters, once I nailed the browned butter part of this recipe (my first batch of browned butter burned, and I learned something then: There is nothing sadder than burned butter) (I learned, too, that it’s easier to brown butter in a pot with a light colored bottom, because you can actually tell when it starts to brown) (tell your friends), the rest of it came together beautifully. And instead of listening to the directions, I only cooked it for about 30 minutes, rather than 40, but it seemed done, so I pulled it out of the oven. But then about an hour later I was second guessing my decision, and was worried I’d have yet another fall-apart dessert on my hands when slicing it up that night for our guests (because yes, I all the goddamn time buck the adage that you should never make new recipes when you’ve got guests coming for dinner, because what if it all goes to shit) (answer: order pizza) so I threw it back into the oven for another ten minutes or so just to be sure.

Let the record show that Swede gave me A Look when I did this and then put a voice to my doubt over this choice. And let the record show that he also agreed with me when I said, “I may have fucked up the tart.”

And also let the record show we were both wrong.

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The finished tart, which is still similar to pie.

Next time I’ll probably just bake it for 40 minutes straightaway, rather than 30 minutes and then another 10 random minutes later in the day. But it obviously didn’t affect the taste, because the four of us—me, Swede, and our old next-door neighbors who came for dinner—killed that tart in one fell swoop. There was not a crumb in sight.

And tart makes FOUR.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

and here we have the march pie

26 Apr

There are five things you should know about this Fudge Bottom Pie, besides the fact that yes, I did in fact make a pie in March and that makes THREE MONTHS IN A ROW THAT I HAVE DONE SOMETHING I PROMISED NO ONE IN PARTICULAR I WOULD DO. SUCK ON THAT, PIE HATERS!

 

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One: While thinking about, and while making this pie, I sang about this pie. Specifically, I sang “Fudge bottom pie, you make the rockin’ world go ‘round!” a la Queen’s Fat Bottom Girls, because you just can’t not sing it. And now you’ll be humming it for the rest of this post. You’re welcome.

Two: This pie fell apart. REPEAT: FELL. APART. The flavors are delicious, with the whipped cream pillowed high on the cream filling piled on the fudge layer slathered on the crust—it all mingles together in a bite that is delightful. But it FELL APART. The cream layer never set properly, and it didn’t hold when sliced. Had I read the comments on the recipe, I would have known this was probably going to happen, but I didn’t, so I didn’t, and rather than a nice clean holding together slice, it was more like what you get when you mix cake and ice cream together. Which is not a bad thing, necessarily, simply disappointing.

Three: Baby McSwedolish enjoyed the pie, because giving pie to an at-the-time 7-month old is always a good idea. She liked it almost as much as she likes yogurt, which is saying something, because she likes yogurt like I like Diet Pepsi. Which is to say that someday she may say she likes yogurt so much she would smack her mama for it, which is mildly disturbing because I really don’t want to get punched in the face for yogurt. If I’m going to get punched in the face it should be for something really, really good, like two Diet Pepsis.

Four: The crust of this pie tastes like a cookie, and I would definitely make it again with a different filling. Perhaps a filling that actually holds together.

Five: Did I mention I’m three-for-three in pie completion? Oh, I did? I yelled it at the top of this post? Funny, that. Well, whatever. I’ll mention it again just in case there was a loud noise in the background last time and you didn’t hear it. THREE. FOR. THREE. And even if this pie wasn’t a rousing success (by my own personal standards) I’m considering the fact that I got it made a success in and of itself, because it’s all about the journey and blah and blah and insert inspirational Oprah-esque quote, blah blah, move out of the way while I pat myself on the back, YAY ME.

PIE.