Kit Bakes Everything: Chocolate-Sour Cream Pound Cake

It is possible to screw up cake such that your household won’t eat it, y’all! They were eating the Entemann’s someone brought home! A store bought cake! In preference to a homemade chocolate one!

In all fairness, if I could eat the store-bought one, I probably would have been too. I don’t know if it’s because I subbed Greek yogurt for the rest of the sour cream when we ran out or if it’s just the way these cakes are supposed to come out, but the texture was awful. I ate some of it because it was chocolate cake and I’ve been sick with the flu, but it was dense in a very bad way– heavy and muddy and just weird. I’m not sure what caused the problem, though I’d also be willing to go with “this is a cake texture some people prefer” or “this is the texture of a sour cream cake”.

It was probably some kind of mess-up in the execution, though, because looking over here at The Cake Blog‘s comparison pictures, that is not at all what my cake’s crumb looked like, though I don’t think that one was a pound cake either. Also, I don’t have a lot of experience baking with real dairy. Since my partner’s away visiting relatives I thought I’d give real butter and sour cream a shot.

One might also blame the oven, or the Bundt pan, or any number of variables that go into a cake. Or maybe pound cakes just shouldn’t be chocolate. I’m probably not going to try it again to figure it out, though; there are plenty of cake recipes still to go, and some that I’ve tested that everyone actually likes (not to mention scores of other cookbooks), so troubleshooting this at random is kind of a low priority– if I do enough with similar cake recipes that I start to have a targeted idea of what was wrong with this one, I might come back and give it another shot. But without the “double it so you can use a tube pan” this time!


Kit Bakes Everything: Devil’s Food Cake and Rustic Bread

Protip: look in all the cabinets before you decide you don’t have springform pans.

Which is to say, I made a layer cake! Only I didn’t find the springform pans, so it turned out very oddly because I baked them in differently-shaped regular pans and turned them out on top of each other. I’m not really sure what differentiates Devil’s Food cake from other types of chocolate cake, unless it’s the texture– this was unusually dense and moist. It was actually pretty tasty.

I learned how glazes work! And now I’m going to tell you all. The heart of a glaze seems to be that it mixes up liquid, goes onto the cake liquid, and then solidifies into what’s basically a hard sugar shell. So one of the things you need to do when you put it on is that if you want your glaze to be thicker across the cake is you need to wait for it to dry and put it on a second time, because if you try to dump all the glaze on at once it pools around the side of the pan– though they’re not like icing; there’s not necessarily a reason to put on a particularly thick layer. This doesn’t count as another recipe since it’s still a variant of the same Lemon Glaze recipe I was varying in my last post, but it’s something I’ve figured out.

One of my new roommates also cooks things. We will call him Chef for blog purposes. I think he may actually be a more technically accomplished baker than I am, which is interesting when you take into account that I consider myself a pretty good baker and he considers himself more of a cook than a baker. But he somehow gets a smooth top on his cake, and then carefully mixes up the icing and carefully frosts it and trims his cakes. Actually, the differences in our cooking styles may be summed up by some variant of the “Technician Versus Performer” thing on TVTropes– though not as intensely as the page will describe, since he does do creative cooking and I occasionally work on my technique. (Really, this entire blog series can be construed as an attempt to work on my technique.) But he’s been making souffles for days trying to get them exactly right before he does any bold experimenting with the recipe, while I tend to start at bold experimenting with the recipe and let any technique I learn grow out of that.

Anyway, there were two cakes in the household for a while, my enthusiastically glazed chocolate cakes and his much prettier beet cakes.

Rustic Bread was my foray into the yeast-bearing part of the book. I’ve now done this a couple of times, because my household is a very bread-loving place and my roommates are most enthusiastic consumers of it. I’m still not sure how “shape it into a boule” is actually supposed to work– it’s already in a boule shape when you put it to rise! Is there something else I should be doing to get it into a boule? It’s been baking up just fine…

I’ve also only made one attempt at the oven-safe skillet to make the oven full of steam thing, mostly because the oven here is terrible and if you put the cast iron thing in it never really gets up to temp. It’s not having that much effect on the crust, though filling the oven with steam is supposed to do… something… to the crust. I think it’s supposed to make it browner or crisper. I have also learned not to put things on the bottom shelf of the oven because they get brown very fast there. (Our oven is terrible!)

And yes, my roommates are getting Blog Nicknames. Mostly because as often as people apparently cook for each other in this apartment, the new roommates are likely to become regular cast members here.

Kit Bakes Everything: Honey-Spice Cake with Buttercream Icing and Gingerbread Part II

Hey guys! It’s actually been a while since I did the cooking I’m discussing here– I’ve been moving! I’m so very glad to have moved (there are TWO CATS in my new apartment!), but wow has it been exhausting and I’m still not unpacked yet. So I’m going to post here about cooking done a while ago.

First thing’s first: I love bundt pans! I get to make a fancy cake while putting almost no actual effort into cake decorating. I really need to get one of these for myself! (Though it did lead to a slightly overbaked cake because I’m not used to working with these things.) I did Honey-Spice cake, which is a pretty neat cake. It’s fairly dense and thick, because it calls for whole-wheat or rye. I used white whole wheat, and we also substituted some kind of dark beer for the coffee so as to have a caffeine-free cake. It was pretty tasty!

Since I had a bundt pan and had made a fancy cake, it occurred to me that I should also ice it, especially since I have a whole chapter of icing at the end that I’m going to have to do!

I went for the Not-Too-Sweet Honey Buttercream (a variant of Not-Too-Sweet Vanilla Buttercream), and I need to do more experimentation with icings, because it didn’t come out that well. It was grainy and it never really thickened, and it wasn’t sweet but it didn’t have any other flavor either, really. It was just kind of this… vaguely buttery thing.

I think maybe buttercream is one of those things where butter-versus-margarine actually matters. Though that my not be all of it, because of the next recipe. A few weeks after that cake (see? I’m behind on writing these up!), I got together with my metamour, who’s low-gluten but not totally gluten-free, and I decided to see how a low-gluten version of that cranberry gingerbread from New Year’s worked– remember I was speculating it would do well gluten-free? There’s gluten in my egg substitute, so it wasn’t completely gluten-free, but there were perhaps four tablespoons of flour in the entire cake. It came out kind of sandy–even in a cake there’s no true substitute for flour– but respectable. I bet you could use real eggs to make it a completely gluten-free cake and have it come out less sandy.

But I digress. Since I’d already done that recipe once and the goal is finishing the book, I wanted to do a new recipe to go with it… and cue the icing. The Lemon Glaze recipe has a number of variants, including a Cinnamon Glaze which the gingerbread recipe specifically calls out as being good with the gingerbread. So I made that, still with Earth Balance instead of butter, and it came out fine. The major difference between the two, actually, was that we’d run out of confectioner’s sugar when I was halfway through making the buttercream, and rather than powder more in the food processor I attempted to just use straight turbinado. For the cinnamon glaze, we powdered a whole bunch of sugar and it worked better.

So let this be a lesson to remember to powder your sugar for icing!


Arisia 2018 Con Report

I went to Arisia this weekend! Some of you may have even seen me.

We got there later than intended on Friday, and just about the only thing I did programming-wise was visit the Princess Bride fight that my partner was doing. Well, that and the neurodiversity meetup. Friday night is almost always mostly running around greeting friends and getting excited and wearing the stellar outfit that one can’t stand wearing for more than brief periods at a time because it’s uncomfortable– or at least, I would have been doing that, but I had this problem with my corsets. (Sidebar: there is nothing to make you freak out about your body like discovering you can’t fit your corsets. Mind you, one of these corsets was acquired when I was sixteen and one when I was 20 or 21, they’re both the same size, and I’m now 26, so perhaps freaking out about this isn’t really warranted, but.)

The fight was pretty neat. Really. I hang around with these people and watch them fight on a regular basis and it’s *still* pretty neat. They did not recreate the fight from the Princess Bride, but instead talked about and demonstrated techniques from the various swordmasters that were mentioned in the dialogue. I think the most interesting was probably the one that involved an elaborate diagram on the floor depicting places to step.

After that there was running around seeing friends and I went to the neurodiversity meetup, which was also neat. I got a matched set of buttons that I can swap out as needed: a green one that says “Socially awkward human desires conversation” and a red one with a stop sign that says “Non-Verbal, no interaction desired.”

On Saturday, “Edges of Community” was an awesome panel. It’s so fascinating to sit there and listen to people talk about not really belonging to communities they feel like they should be able to belong to. As a biromantic demisexual woman in a relationship with a man, I often feel isolated from the LGBT community (despite the acronym, bi people often aren’t really welcome there), so it was nice to get to listen to other people who have similar problems not fitting. (Most of the panelists were biracial and talked about that, but some of it is applicable to any community.)

“SFF Relationship Goals” wasn’t nearly as engaging, but that might just have been how out of it I was; I did not do nearly as well as I should have at meals over the weekend.

Somewhere in there was a costume panel, but I can’t remember which day that was. It wasn’t nearly so exciting– it was billed as “practical tips for beginning costumers” and what it actually turned out to be was “how to get over your nerves about trying costuming for the first time”. The problem I have isn’t nerves, it’s sewing skills!

On Sunday there were more panels. I think I went to the most actual con programming on Sunday– highlights of that include “Policing Diverse Creators” and the late-night sex panel which I was not intending to actually be at the con late enough to see, but as it turns out daytripping, and therefore sleeping in a real bed every night and not babysitting, works wonders for my energy levels. As does grapefruit. (It’s hard for me to find fruit I can eat, and every time I do add one I end up with a massive energy boost, which is just further evidence I have nutritional deficiencies. I’m working on it.) The sex panel is fuelled by audience questions written on notecards, and so it apparently various wildly in tone from year to year, depending on what people ask. This year it was mostly light and fun and funny, with occasional touches on heavier topics. Apparently in past years it’s been really heavy.

Other amusing con highlight: at the “Explicit Representation in SFF” panel, I had this moment of “representation I didn’t know I wanted”: dietary restrictions. I have a lot of dietary restrictions, and I hadn’t even realized until N. S. Dolkart mentioned it that I desperately wanted a book that reflects that experience– though I had a rather tortured metaphorical subplot in the first-draft of something I was working on in which the lead character can’t comfortably eat fae or mortal food because she’s part-Sidhe, which should maybe have been a hint. (Seriously, it was tortured— partially because I am well aware that you can’t be an action hero when you’re so dizzy from not being able to eat anything that you can’t stand upright for long, and here I was trying to write an action hero who suffers from something like my issues anyway.) I went up to Dolkart after the panel and was like “I need to read your book!” Bearing in mind that at that point I didn’t even really know what his book was about, just that it was some stripe of SFF. It’s one of the ones that has migrated to the top of the to-read pile, to be read just as soon as the giant pile of library books is back at the library.

I got the most wonderful corset jacket at the Cloak and Dagger sale! (And Partner was deathly bored, as both of his girlfriends got deeply absorbed into trying on corsets simultaneously. Isn’t polyamory fun?)

And I bought some art. More of the kittens-with-dragons art, because I love the whole kittens and dragons line, and some hand-knitted fingerless mittens. There was a beautiful necklace in the art show that had already been sold or I would have bought it– it was a skyscape with a big brass thing around it, and I kept looking at it and thinking “I would actually wear that jewelry”.

Goals for next year: get enough of my beaded-feather-jewelry done that I can put it in the art show.

As ever, I was baffled by the party-hopping, but that may just be because I end up standing in a corner awkwardly, even with my “Socially awkward human desires conversation” button on.

Weekend was fun!

Kit Bakes Everything: Double Chocolate Muffins and Chicken Pot Pie Cobbler

This seems to be the way to get me to actually post here, doesn’t it! We got whomped with a snowstorm, and in between hiding from my roommates (I, ah, don’t get on with my roommates) and reading, I managed to get into the kitchen long enough to do some baking. Posting here about it seems to be getting me to bake more, and baking more seems to get me to actually post here. Well, that’s a fun productivity feedback loop!

I started with Double-Chocolate Muffins. I think my turbinado sugar got left at my partner’s house, so I used what was left in the bag here and then some brown sugar, and I used semisweet chocolate chips instead of brown sugar. They came out pretty nice– they’re dense and chocolatey and tasty, especially right from the oven when the chocolate chips are still melty. It’s a pretty simple recipe to make, but muffins are supposed to be. You mix dry ingredients, you mix wet ingredients, you combine. And then you add extra liquid because you’re using an egg substitute. They didn’t poof like I picture muffins doing, but that may have been the lack of egg.

My coworkers thought they were great.

I now have a general curiosity about whether homemade muffins as a whole don’t poof. Is this because I’m using an egg substitute? Is this just a particularly dense recipe? Or is the poof with cap we usually associate with muffins a product of food additives?

I guess I’ll have to make more muffins to find out. How terrible for us all. (But seriously, there’s a whole bunch more muffin recipes in this book, all of which I will eventually get around to making.)

Next up was Chicken Pot Pie Cobbler. I’m not sure whether to count this for “Chicken Pot Pie” or “Chicken Cobbler with Corn and Chiles”. It’s listed as a variation under the cobbler, but it’s essentially a combination of both recipes: you make the filling from the Chicken Pot Pie and then you follow the cobbler recipe the rest of the way. I’ll probably count it for cobbler, since that was the broad technique and there are other interesting-looking variations under the chicken pot pie where there aren’t under the cobbler.

Anyway, the point of this project is to level up my baking skill, and that I am succeeding in. I cut up actual raw meat, y’all! (I know, that doesn’t seem like it’s a high-level skill, but I have wicked OCD.) This was easier than rolling out pie crust would have been, and it’s pretty tasty. It’s another one where I followed the recipe only in the general sense, since I can’t have carrots or onions. So I did it with broccoli, eggplant, and potatoes. Also I didn’t have thyme so I used herbs de Provence. (And really, Mark Bittman, who has fresh herbs lying around all the time? Who has the money to be constantly buying fresh herbs when no one ever uses one of those whole packages before they go bad? Why don’t all these recipes say “or X amount of dried herb,” since potency varies between fresh and dried? Not that I’m going to stick to the amount of seasoning the recipe says anyway, but still! Anyway, where were we?)

You cook all of the above in chicken broth on the stove and then once it’s cooked down you put in a casserole dish, put the biscuits on top, and bake. It came out a little thinner than I like my chicken glop, closer to a very thick soup with biscuits on top. I might put more flour in next time, or cook it down more on the stove. It thickened right up in the fridge overnight, though, and when reheated it was just about the right consistency. My day started with shoveling out my car, which I got clear right when I had to leave for work, so post-shoveling lunch was jerky and chocolate muffins eaten in the car. After work and then the trip home, it was lovely to come home to Real Food which could just be reheated with no actual effort involved.

Incidentally, I told my mother about all this baking– though not about the blog– and she asked if I had considered writing a cookbook. I pointed out that I bake by adding things until it looks right; I often end with no idea of the precise amount of half the ingredients. Also, I’m ostensibly doing all this from a cookbook.

Kit Bakes Everything: Buttermilk Biscuits 3 Ways and Cranberry Gingerbread

We went to a New Year’s party! And that means baking. I did 3 variations on the Buttermilk Biscuits recipe, all told, and Gingerbread with cranberries. Now, I’ve made a lot of buttermilk biscuits, but they’re usually the recipe from a cookbook called Ladle, Leaf, & Loaf, which I actually used to have memorized because I did it so often. (I don’t anymore.) I make fake-buttermilk for this, to deal with the cow-casein-allergic partner: a cup of almond milk mixed with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar gives you a cup of buttermilk. Similarly, I use Earth Balance or Smart Balance in place of butter. Those two substitutions are almost automatic for me at this point.

Doing a cookbook this way is causing me to spot some of its quirks: Mark Bittman is very light on add-ins by my standards. I made his gingerbread recipe, which was moist and gingery and spiced and perfect. It has a variation in which you stir in up to half a cup of cranberries, so I stirred in half a cup of cranberries and it was wonderful. It made lovely, lovely gingerbread that was very popular at the party. People were vocal in its praise. But everybody said it could have stood to have twice or three times as many cranberries as it did. I think it could have done that too; the acidity of the cranberries nicely balanced the heaviness of the gingerbread. (This is a very dense bread. I did it in the flat square pan instead of a loaf pan, and it did not take the half the time it says it should when you do that, which suggests that if you do it in a loaf pan it takes even longer than the stated 50-60 minutes, and is probably heavier.)

For the biscuits, I did three variations. The first one was half flour and half sweet potato flour, because we had run out of AP flour. Unfortunately, we had also run out of baking soda, which I discovered after I had already started the mix, so my partner had to run out for baking supplies, which included picking up AP flour, so I could have done these right if I’d read the whole recipe before starting. Then again, I maybe would have assumed we had it; baking soda is one of those things I consider a pantry staple. Let this be a lesson about checking to make sure you have everything before you start! (A lesson I have learned this way several times before and will probably learn this way again. This is one of the ways I got so good at substitutions.)

The second variation was one that was straight-up gluten-free and vegan but otherwise followed the recipe– I used Bob’s Red Mill 1-to-1 gluten-free baking flour. I didn’t try one of these, and they came out kind of… cracked and dry… but the gluten-free person at the party seemed grateful they were there. Either there weren’t as many gluten-free people at the party this year or this isn’t as good a recipe as the hypoallergenic bread I got from modifying a drop biscuit recipe in a different cookbook– the year I brought that to the party it was gone by the end of the night! I suspect it’s both, actually; one of the principles of substitution is that the fewer structural ingredients you have, the harder it is to substitute one of them and the closer the substitute needs to be to the original. What I did today is a very simple biscuit recipe; the other was a more complex one, which means there were more ingredients to take up the slack for the lack of gluten, and it was a drop biscuit recipe, which means there was more liquid in it to keep it moist. (I suspect the gingerbread would work well gluten-free; the batter was very thick but still very wet, which implies the flour is not the primary thing holding it together.)

The third variation I made this morning (New Year’s Day!) for today’s party, and it’s full-flour but one of the listed variations in the book: sausage, goat cheese, and parsley are mixed in before adding the “buttermilk”. There was another weird quirk related to mix-ins with that one, as it says to remove the casings from 3 or 4 sausages and use the meat. Now, “sausage” is not actually a standard size, and the sausages we got were so large there was definitely more meat in them than was a good idea. My partner suggested that by “sausage”, Bittman probably means the 12-to-a-pound kind, and what you actually want is the 8-to-a-pound kind. (Ours were 4-to-a-pound.) This is borne out by comparison with the cheese and the parsley, which he actually did give concrete amounts for: a quarter of a cup of each, which is not enough. I don’t know how much I put in exactly, because I looked at it as it was added, went “that’s not enough, and the meat’s too much”, and just kept adding things until it looked right. We used grated goat cheddar instead of the crumbled goat cheese the book recommends, and the one I tried right after they came out of the oven was just absolutely delicious. (My partner’s roommate also approves.)

Time to head out to the party and see what reception these get. Happy New Year!

Kit Bakes Everything: Brownies, Pretzels, and Bao

Hey guys! Long time no see. Which is fine, I suppose, since no one actually reads this anyway…

Anyway, I had this thought during my bout of All The Baking over the holidays. I should do Mark Bittman’s How to Bake Everything Julie-and-Julia-style, doing all the recipes in it at least once and blogging about it! I will note that I’m not handing myself any kind of time limit on this one, although I am going to try to post more often than I have been. It’s a massive cookbook with more than a thousand recipes. This is probably going to take me longer than a year. I’m also not going to stop my other blog posts– don’t worry, this isn’t suddenly becoming a cooking blog! I’ll post here about writing and my adventures in herbalism and whatever other strangeness I get up to.

General rules: I’m not going to stick 100% to the recipes. I often cook for people with food allergies, and I have many myself, so I do a lot of substitutions. I’m also a good enough baker that this actually works out okay as a general rule.

I did three recipes out of HTBE over my days off. The brownies were most excellent, although they came out more the consistency of fudge. It was a very thick batter, although I’m not sure how much of that is that my homemade egg substitute isn’t as liquidy as an actual egg. The resultant brownies were also very thick. I combined several of the variations into one– I put pecans in the batter, as one of the variation suggests, and drizzled caramel over the top. The pecans worked out very nicely. I think next time I’m going to put the caramel as a layer in the middle of the brownies rather than on top, because the edges puffed up as it baked and all the caramel fell down into the middle. I wonder if that might also have to do with why it was so fudgy in the middle. Not that there’s anything wrong with a fudgy brownie, although with praline Almond Dream over the top and caramel sauce over that I think there was a bit of sugar shock. (Seriously, that dessert is something right off a fancy restaurant menu, eaten at home for way less money. It can be done! Fancy brownie sundaes are not only the stuff of restaurant dessert menus that nobody ever eats a whole one of.)

The pretzels also came out pretty nice. I was somewhat hampered in this instance by an insufficient space to roll out my pretzels into a snake, so they didn’t get that nice pretzel shape when I shaped them and they came out more like oddly shaped rolls. However, they tasted good. I think next time I may double the recipe–there was plenty of boiling water left, and there’s no point wasting baking soda and malt powder when I could be using that water to boil up more.

I am, however, becoming extremely suspicious of some of the occasions in which this book calls for bread flour. The pretzels would have been softer and tasted even better with AP, I think, but they were mostly fine– but the bao were an absolute disaster.

First thing’s first, it does not take four hours largely unattended. It takes four hours if you completely discount the time spent working on the dough in between each rising and you have a very large steamer. It has multiple risings, and you have to manipulate the dough fairly heavily between each one, and then you have to steam each batch for 6 to 10 minutes while not crowding the batches in the steamer, and the recipe as written makes 30 buns which you then have to shape and steam. It took me ten hours, all told, from start to finish, and then the bao were awful. I choked one down for dinner, but most of the tray was tossed.

Full disclosure: I did not have actual bread flour, and I used a little white whole wheat mixed with AP. This has worked before in place of bread flour just fine (it was fine in the pretzels!). There’s no reason it shouldn’t have worked here. Except, of course, that bread flour has no place in bao in the first place. Having since looked up several bao recipes online, none of them call for bread flour, and one had a discussion about Asian versus American bread flours; apparently Asian bread flour is a very different beast, and most American flours are too high in gluten to properly make bao. If it’s a food product that explicitly doesn’t want high gluten (and the consensus of the internet is that it indeed doesn’t), the recipe has no business whatever calling for bread flour– it doesn’t say anything in the book about Asian bread flour versus American; just calls for regular bread flour. If I’d known anything about bao, I’d have known to be suspicious of the recipe right there.

I may well try to make bao again, but not from this book and not while my partner is around. (He’s understandably burned out from the ten hours of holiday spent on this. Also, I have a proper steamer and he does not.)

I suppose two out of three ain’t bad. And so very much more cookbook to go…