Monday, July 23, 2012

Icing roses.

This past weekend, we "kids" threw a surprise birthday party for my mother-in-law. I offered to make the cake, and I'm very happy with how it turned out:

If anyone is interested in specifics on the cake (it took me 8 hours, all in), just ask and I'll share the details, but what I wanted to talk about today was how to make icing roses. They aren't exactly easy, but they're not as hard as they look and they definitely class-up any cake.

To make these roses you will need:
  • buttercream or royal icing (of a medium-stiff consistency)
  • a flower nail
  • a #104 tip and a #12 tip
  • a piping bag with a coupler (optional, but highly recommended)
  • some wax paper squares
 I was lucky to benefit from some one-on-one training with my mom, but I also found the following YouTube video helpful:

Also helpful was the Wilton resource page on roses.

Outside of what I learned there, here are a few things I learned on my own:
  1. If you are getting frayed edges on your roses, like this:
    it's because your petal tip is crimped at the thin end. I thought this was normal, but when I brought my tip in to the store to compare, I noticed the difference. Once I bought a new tip, I didn't have the same "frayed" look on my petals. I've also found distortions with a few other tips. It's to be expected since they're punched out of a mould.
  2. The standard Wilton buttercream recipe, with 2 tbsp milk, will give you a medium consistency. For roses and the like, I would recommend using only 1 tbsp milk to achieve a stiff consistency. It also depends on the temperature. The warmer the room, the softer the icing. It's easier to add more milk than it is to add more icing sugar, so err on the side of too dry.
  3. Vines and text require a thin consistency, so I added an extra tablespoon of milk.
  4. You can stuff the candles right into the cake, but it will leave unsightly holes afterward, and the wax will drip onto the cake (it's edible, but so what?). What I did was make stars all over the cake just before presentation and pushed the candles into them. That way the frosting (which has already dried and hardened) won't be disturbed.
  5. You really have to wing-it and squeeze out the icing. When I was timid, the roses didn't turned out. When I just went for it, they looked full and pretty.
That's all I can think of for now! If I think of anything, I'll add it as an edit.

Monday, July 16, 2012

To sift, or not to sift . . .

. . . That is the question. Whether 'tis nobler to make the effort or to just bung it all in there and hope it all works out . . .
                   -- What Hamlet would have said, if he were a baker.

I used to not sift my ingredients. Then my husband got a mouth full of baking soda in a banana muffin. It's ok if it happens to him, but since I didn't want it happening to someone else, I started sifting my leaveners (baking soda, baking powder) and spices. The reason I sift my spices is because I grind my own whenever possible (more on that later), and the coffee grinder isn't perfect.

More recently, I also started sifting my flour. This was because I had a coupon for a free bag of flour (we're talking the BIG bags here) and I had to use it before it expired, which resulted in a bag of flour sitting in my basement since January (I don't bake THAT often). I live in Canada. It's humid here. So the flour became a little clumpy. How clumpy?

You don't want to eat that.
So should you take the time to sift your ingredients? The real question is; Does your ingredient need sifting? If you think it might, do yourself (and others) a favour and take the extra 30 seconds. You can measure straight into the sieve over your bowl and be no worse for wear.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The benefits of a kitchen scale

To my knowledge, of all of the people I know, I am the only one who uses a kitchen scale and I'm not sure why. Anyone who knows me has heard me go on and on about how a kitchen scale will change cullinary experience and yet, no one has ever adopted my suggestion. I think they must not believe me, or they're underestimating the effect it will have. *shrug* Either way, I will lay out my arguments for you, and leave it to you to decide whether or not you will take my advice
Stolen from the internets.

Benefit #1: Accurate measurements.
Did you just transfer your flour from the bag into the container? Or has it been sitting for a few days/weeks/months? In either case, the standard scoop and sweep method will yield completely different results. This is magnified with things like cocoa powder and icing sugar. How much does each pantry staple weigh? I've listed some of the common ones below, and you can keep it on your fridge, but after a while, you'll have it memorized, and will only have to multiply or divide by 2 or 4 to figure out the value. (You may ask why I've listed the numbers in ounces, when I'm a Canadian girl and, therefore, normally operate with grams. It's because there are less significant digits in the ounce amount which makes it easier to memorize.)

Item"Weight" per cup
AP Flour5 oz.
Cake Flour4 oz.
Bread Flour6 oz.
Whole Wheat Flour5 oz.
Granulated Sugar7 oz.
Brown Sugar7 oz.
Icing Sugar4 oz.
Cocoa Powder3 oz.
Butter8 oz.
Crisco7 oz.

Benefit #1a: Consistent measurements.
Do you know how that recipe you have for banana bread calls for 3 ripe, heavily speckled bananas? The one that tasted AMAZING last time? Did you use 3 small bananas, 3 regular bananas, or 3 jumbo bananas? And what does that look like, anyway? Any recipe like this that I've developed will say "12 oz. ripe bananas (approx. 3 large)" and it always comes out tasting great. No guess work.

Benefit #2: Speed and cleanliness.
No matter who you are, whether you're Gordon Ramsey or someone who's never baked a day in your life, it's significantly faster to turn on your scale with the bowl on top (this will tare the amount) and dump your ingredients directly into the bowl than to measure it out and transfer it. It will also reduce the amount of ingredient that ends up on your counter top and yourself.

Benefit #3: Less dishes.
If nothing else, if you don't care about accuracy, or speed, or cleanliness, you should care about the clean-up afterward. Using a kitchen scale will GREATLY reduce the number of dishes you produce. You won't need your 1/4 cup, your 1/2 cup AND your 1 cup measuring cup. You won't need that knife you use to sweep off excess ingredients. And you also won't need that spoon to scoop the ingredient INTO the measuring cup because the measuring cup won't fit directly into the ingredient container. These things add up and I'm sure my husband (who is a 4th order black belt dishwasher) is grateful for my mess-reducing economy.

Disadvantage #1: N/A
There aren't any disadvantages.

So if I've succeeded in convincing you, which scale should you buy? I went looking for an online photo of the scale I have (a wedding present), but it's so old that they don't sell it anymore. But it works fine, so I'm not about to go out and buy a new one just because. But if I were? I'd buy the OXO Good Grips Stainless Food Scale with Pull-Out Display. I like the idea of a pull-out display for when you're working with large bowls. Whatever you buy, just make sure that it has, at minimum, a 1g or 1/8oz resolution and a 5 lb max.

[1] Wolfram Alpha - Don't know how much your ingredient weighs? Start your search here.

Do you use a kitchen scale? Will you make the switch? Comment below!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Refocusing my efforts

I know that my viewership is few and far between, but I'm sure the occasional person has wondered by here via a Google search, or what have you, and wondered why there aren't any recent posts.

This is because, when I started this blog, my intention was to take a recipe, rework it, make it my own, and then post it. The problem with that is, sometimes a recipe is good as-is, and sometimes I just don't have the time to experiment until perfection. I *am* a grad student, and I can't be spending all of my time online.

Anyway, to make a long story short, I'm changing the focus of this blog to documenting my adventures in the kitchen and to sharing my large wealth of culinary information. Posts will be significantly shorter, but hopefully very useful and with plenty of resources.

Wish me luck!