Monday, September 19, 2011

Sometimes you've got to fail to succeed

I was hoping I wouldn't have to write this post, or at least that it would be another couple months before I'd have to. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. So here I am today  to write about my most recent "epic failure" in the kitchen. This isn't going to be pretty.
This past week was a little atypical in terms of my baking. Instead of just baking a treat and bringing it into work, I had planned a girls night. And this time was a little different, because I offered to cook the entire dinner. I love hosting dinners, and had planned a fabulous three course meal. On the menu would be: homemade foccacia bread and roasted red pepper hummus for starters, a no-bake vegetable lasagna as an entree, and a mocha cake to finish off the night. I wanted a lighter menu since I was serving three courses, so I found some healthier recipes that used fresh ingredients. I thought it would be perfect!

In this perfect world I was going to test out all these recipes beforehand, but of course that didn't work out! So as a sort of compromise, I decided to pre-make a lot of the meal the day before, so if anything went wrong I would be able to handle it without an audience. The night before I planned to make the hummus, bread and cake. Then the day of the dinner I would just need to make the lasagna and play hostess.

Since this is a baking blog, and because all the other recipes are available online, I will just post the recipe for the mocha cake. It's from the Better Homes and Gardens Cook Healthy Today cookbook and here it is:
Mocha Cake
Makes 12 servings

3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp instant coffee
3 oz. semisweet (or bittersweet) chocolate
2 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup all purpose flour
5 egg whites
any topping you'd like: whipped topping, icing sugar, fresh fruit


1.     Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper, and lightly coat the inside of the pan with PAM (or another nonstick cooking spray). Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2.     In a medium sauce pan dissolve sugar and espresso powder in water on medium-low heat. Stir in the chocolate until melted and remove from heat.

3.     Place yolks in a bowl and gradually whisk the chocolate mixture into the eggs. Make sure you pour the chocolate in slowly initially (while whisking the eggs quickly) so you don't get scrambled eggs! Stir in vanilla.

4.     In another bowl sift together cocoa and flour. Stir the flour and cocoa into the chocolate mixture until smooth.

5.     In a large bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form (the tips should stand straight). Stir a small amount of egg whites into the chocolate mixture, then fold the chocolate mixture into the remaining egg whites. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

6.     Bake for 30 minutes or until the top springs back when lightly touched.

So I started off my prep day by making the bread. The recipe can be found on the allrecipes website here:
Right out of the gate this is where it all started going downhill. The recipe called for active dry yeast, and I thought that was what I had in my cupboard, but apparently I thought wrong. For some mysterious reason, we only had bread machine yeast. And let me tell you an interesting fact, we don't own a bread machine. Anyways, I decided to use the yeast anyways, foolishly thinking it would be ok, but it wasn't. Boy was it ever not ok! I have never seen or tasted a more dense bread in my life. At various points in the recipe you are supposed to let the dough rise, and if anything my compressed into a tighter ball. So there was epic fail #1 - it went straight into the garbage.

I decided to make the cake next since baking's my thing. I could redeem myself with this cake cause it seemed simple enough. And really, it was! It came together with no problems and I put it in the oven to bake. I usually check my desserts a couple minutes before the end of the suggested bake time (in case my oven's too warm), so at 25 minutes I took the cake out. It looked and smelled done, I touched the top of the cake and it sprang back like indicated - so that was perfect! I set it out to cool, feeling accomplished, and went to tackle the hummus next.
This recipe also seemed straightforward. It's from the allrecipes website as well and you can find it here: All you do it put the  ingredients in a food processor and blend. What can be so hard? Turns out nothing! I did change the recipe slightly by adding about 1/3 cup of roasted red pepper, and it turned out tasty! So I had two wins in my pocket and only one fail!

I decided to remake the bread, since it was bugging me that I didn't get it right. So I went out, bought the right yeast and remade it. I guess the baking gods were feeling sorry for me, because the bread turned out fantastic! I sprinkled the top with a little parmesan, dried oregano and dried basil before baking and it gave the bread nice flavour.

Feeling tremendously accomplished, I decided to pack everything up for the night. This is where epic fail #2 reared it's ugly head. As I went to move the cake from the cake pan to it's tupperware, the whole thing fell apart. It literally melted in my hands. Turns out I didn't bake the cake long enough and it was a goopey mess. Unfortunately it was past 10 o'clock and I didn't have the ingredients to remake it, So I went to bed, feeling like I failed as a chef and baker. All I wanted to do was order pizza for the girl's night and save myself the humiliation.

I woke up the next morning determined to prove to myself that I am a good baker, so I decided to remake the cake right after work. Thankfully, it turned out devine and so did the whole dinner party that night! The lasagna was the easiest thing to prepare and turned out delicious! The recipe is from Martha Stewart and I followed it almost to a tee (I just added thinly sliced peppers to the zucchini). Here is the recipe: (Sorry the picture of the lasagna is so blue, I took it right in front of the window and it threw the colours off)
Overall, despite the hiccups in the beginning, the dinner party was splendid and went smoothly. I thought all the food was delicious and light, and I think the ladies agreed with me. By the way, if you want a sinful dessert that is only about 150 calories a slice, that cake is heaven. And I have never made such a quick or more simple lasagna. Literally, in the time it takes you to cook the noodles, you can cook all the vegetables. My whole reason behind writing this post is to show you that no one (especially me) is perfect, even at the things they are the most passionate about. Baking especially is a learning process and you can't let epic failures get you down (at least not for too long!)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ethics in baking?

I did something today that I'm not proud of. It went against every moral bone in my body, and now I won't be able to sleep tonight. And what was this heinous act, you ask? I used something in a recipe I vowed I would never use... shortening.

I know, I can hear your gasps of shock. Shortening. The white blob used to fry chicken. And me, the girl who doesn't like really sweet things and loves finding healthy alternatives, used vegetable shortening in her baking. There is something about solidified fat that just makes me cringe... Hmm, I should probably stop talking about why I dislike shortening if I ever have a hope of people reading this post.
Since I didn't have to worry about baking for a peanut allergy this week, I decided to venture in to the delicious world of nutty baked goods. And I just so happened to get an email from Martha Stewart (well, her automated cookie of the day email address) a couple days ago for Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies! I had never made a whoopie pie, but what could be wrong with a cake-like cookie and some sweet filling? Well now I know. Shortening.

(I don't want to give you a bad impression, these did turn out wonderfully, I just have a moral obligation to hate them because of the shortening). Here's the recipe:

Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies
Adapted from Martha Stewart. Yields a whole lot of Whoopie (I'll explain later)

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup granulated sugar (I used slightly less)
1/2 cup packed dark-brown sugar (I used slightly less)
1 large egg
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line as many large baking sheets as required with parchment paper; set aside. Sift together flour, cocoa, and baking soda into a small bowl; set aside.
  2. Add butter, shortening, and sugars to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; cream on high speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add egg; beat until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add half the flour mixture, then the milk and vanilla; beat until combined. Add the remaining flour mixture. Beat together, scraping down sides as needed.
  3. Drop slightly rounded teaspoons of batter 2 inches apart on each baking sheet. Bake the cookies in the upper and lower thirds of oven, 10 minutes; switch the positions of the baking sheets, and rotate each one. Continue baking until the cookies spring back to the touch, 2 to 4 minutes more.
  4. Remove from oven; let cookies cool on baking sheets, 10 minutes. Transfer with a metal spatula to a wire rack; let cool completely.

Peanut Butter Filling

2/3 cup natural, creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar


  1. Cream peanut butter and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on high speed. On low speed, mix in sugar until combined, then beat mixture on high speed until fluffy and smooth, about 3 minutes. Use immediately.
  2. Spread 1 scant tablespoon filling on flat sides of half the cookies. Top each with one of the remaining cookies, flat side down, and gently press together.
Ok, my only issue with this recipe (besides the shortening) is the way it was written, it makes HUGE whoopie pies. I guess maybe it's my whoopie pie naivete, but how can one person eat so much whoopie? With the recipe I followed, I made about 24 cookies, and sandwiched together I would have wound up with 12 fist-sized whoopie pies. I've decided to serve them as 'open-faced sandwich' cookies or 'sandwich cookies folded in half' to make their size a little more bearable. When I placed the dough on the cookie sheet, I did heaping teaspoons of batter (the recipe originally called for slightly rounded tablespoons), but I would suggest just doing a teaspoon. And probably a level teaspoon at that!

Besides my cookies being monstrous, the pies turned out pretty well! The cookie has a nice texture, though not a lot of flavour. The peanut butter filling more than makes up for that though, and if anything it's nice not to have competing flavours. The recipes say to use the filling immediately, and that the cookies are best served on the same day as they are made, but I'll be handing mine out tomorrow, so we'll see how well they last.

I was so tempted to replace the shortening in this recipe with butter (as I've done in many other recipes), but upon reading some reviews, apparently the cookie's consistency comes from the shortening. If I had used butter, it probably would have melted more easily and my cookies would have been puddles. I am a little sceptical about whether this is true, but now that I've had a 'true' whoopie pie, I can try substitutions and see the results. If there is one thing this recipe has done for me, it's that I can try and make whoopie pies again (without shortening) and try to get myself back on the 'moral' path!

Monday, September 5, 2011


As much as I dislike the idea of getting older, I do enjoy birthdays. Not for the presents or the nice dinners out, but for the time you spend with the people you care about. And I'm not just talking about my own birthday, I also mean other people's too. I love being able to show people how much I appreciate having them in my life by celebrating the next milestone in their life.
This week was one of my friend's birthday. I have known him since high school and we have stayed closed in all the years since. To make his birthday a little extra special, I offered to make him his all-time favourite birthday dessert (you know, that dessert that you would just absolutely die for!) However, when I asked him, he simply said a vanilla cake would be good. I'm not going to lie, I was surprised! I was offering to make him anything he wanted, cheesecake, croquembouche, pie, eclaires, but he just wanted a simple cake. I asked him why and he would appreciate anything I made him, so something easy was fine. That really spoke to me of his selfless character and I knew I couldn't do a boring vanilla cake (no offense to people who like vanilla!)

After chatting with him some more, I found out 3 important things: he likes the color red, he loves berries (raspberries being his favourite), and he does like cheesecake. Immediately, an idea came to mind. I was going to make a layered red velvet cake, with a raspberry jam in the middle, and covered with a cream cheese frosting (to represent the cheesecake aspect).