Category: food

Hurray for Second Chances: Return of the Bundt Cake

Last Sunday, Daniela and I made another foray into co-baking, and it ended with a pretty spectacular fail. (I should have taken a picture of it, in hindsight. Just imagine a half-baked bundt cake plopped upside down into another pan, and then baked again. It was bad.) I’d say it left a bad taste in our mouth, but that would be a lie, since we ate it the rest of the week, and it tasted incredible. This week, Daniela wanted to give it another go. Not with a new recipe. With the same one we’d messed up the week before.

I’m all about learning from my mistakes, so I readily agreed. For as bad as last week went, it wouldn’t have taken much for this week to go better, but it went pretty much perfectly. For one thing, we both knew what we were doing when we were making the cake. Last week was tricky, but this time, we already had it down to a process. The peanut butter filling also went off without a hitch. (We used chunky peanut butter this time, and these days we’re almost only buying the natural kind (the one you have to stir). I imagine smooth Skippy would make it even easier, though I did like the crunch of the natural after all was said and done.)

This time, we only filled the Bundt pan 2/3 of the way, and we used the leftover batter (of which there was a TON) to make 12 peanut butter-filled chocolate cupcakes. The cake was done in an hour, and the cupcakes were done in 20 minutes. When the cake was finished, we were both a little apprehensive. We used a wooden skewer to check it this time (much longer than a toothpick, to ensure we weren’t missing any pockets of raw batter), and we checked it about five times in five different places. Each time it came out clean. Picturing another mess, we steeled ourselves, flipped the cake out . . . and it was perfectly done. It cracked a little on the way out, but Daniela made a ganache to cover that up.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a real baking experience if we didn’t make a goof here or there. This time, it was that we forgot to get extra butter, so we didn’t have enough for the ganache recipe we usually use. Daniela decided to pull an audible, mixing oil and chocolate chips and milk in amounts that felt generally good to her. It seemed to have turned out fine at first, but it was done well before the cake was cool enough to put it on. Once the cake had cooled, it had solidified, and when she went to reheat it, the oil separated. It looked very (very) gloppy.

I tasted it, and it was super dark as well. We were also out of powdered sugar, and we only had about a half cup of white sugar left in the house. I threw caution to the wind and added all the white sugar we had left, and Daniela added some more milk, hoping that would fix it.

It did not. It tasted good, but there was no way it was going to turn out as a ganache. After some reflection, we decided to try whipping the heck out of it in the stand mixer, thinking that might be enough to mix the oil back in. A few minutes later, that turned out to be successful. We ended up with a (very) dark, smooth ganache that went perfectly over the cake. I’m chalking that up to divine intervention.

In any case, I was happy to have such a great object lesson to talk to Daniela about how to respond when things go wrong. Take some time away, think about what you could have done differently, and then try again, incorporating those changes. We still had to improvise, but the end result was delicious.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Adventures in Bundt Baking

Sunday, Daniela and I decided we wanted to make a cake for our Fourth of July dinner later that day. After debating the merits and proper “Americanness” of various cake and frosting combinations, we settled on a bundt cake (because we hadn’t made one before) that would be chocolate with a peanut butter filling. How hard could it be?

(Note: When you’re setting out to try something new in baking, the phrase “how hard could it be?” should usually tip you off that it will, in fact, be much harder than you think. Because “how hard could it be?” doesn’t actually set a limit, you know.)

Since it was Sunday, we were limited to using only the ingredients that were in our house already. We weren’t going to make a special trip to the store for anything. This made some problems for us, since the recipe we found that we really wanted to use was this one in the New York Times. However, that one called for cream cheese for the peanut butter filling, and heavy cream for the glaze, neither of which were in our fridge. So I called an audible and used the chocolate cake recipe from the NYT, and swapped out the peanut butter filling for this one (that I didn’t want to use the chocolate cake recipe for, since it was just a box cake, and who needs that?)

We got to work on baking. Everything went off without a hitch. It was complicated, sure, but nothing the two of us couldn’t handle. It came time to fill the bundt pan, and we hit a slight snag: we had too much cake batter. So much, that it filled the pan right to the top. I knew from experience that cakes typically rise, so for a moment, I was concerned this was too much batter.

“Maybe it just doesn’t rise that much,” Daniela pointed out. That seemed like a good enough answer for me. Into the oven it went!

An hour later, and the cake had not, in fact, flowed all over the oven. It had risen a little, but mostly it had puffed up in a ring around the middle. We took it out and tested it with a toothpick. The recipe called for baking at least an hour, so I was skeptical that it would have been done already. However, no matter how many times we put the toothpick in, it always came out clean.

“I guess we should just dump it out and see what happens,” I said. Daniela concurred. (Note: “Dump it out and see what happens” might not be the best approach for baking, but we’d been baking for a while by then. We were tired.)

We got out a cooling rack, I paused for a moment, and then turned the bundt pan over in one fell swoop.

Reader, the top two or three inches of that cake (the bottom of it, once it was turned out) was done to perfection. The peanut butter filling was great. But the part that was beneath the peanut butter filling? That was still molten cake batter. It oozed right through the cooling rack and spread out in a puddle all over the counter.

If I had been left to my own devices, I think I would have given up then. The beautiful bundt cake we’d worked so hard on was more of an amorphous cake-like mass. There was no way it was getting back in the oven in anything remotely bundt shaped. Denisa, quick thinker that she is, sprang into action. “Just put it back in a regular cake pan and finish baking it,” she said. “It’s still hot.”

That seemed like a ridiculous idea. Keep baking it? How do you bake what’s rapidly turning into a raw pancake with some chocolate and peanut butter cake heaped in the middle of it? But it was better than my idea of just giving up, so we let Denisa give it a try. We scooped up pieces of the cake, stuck them in a new pan, and then she used a spoon to get as much of the batter in as she could.

Back in the oven it went.

Twenty minutes later or so, the cake was finished. It looked about how you’d expect it would. Spots of it still had ridges from the bundt pan, and other parts looked like someone had just sort of thrown cake batter around and hoped for the best. In short, it looked like a disaster.

The taste, however . . . The taste was just right. Chocolate and peanut buttery goodness we’ve been enjoying since. When it’s dark and you’re watching a movie, it’s not like you need to look at your cake to enjoy it, you know?

In hindsight, we should have filled the pan only two thirds of the way, and cooked the rest of the batter in cupcake form. We think there was just too much batter for the heat to really get everywhere it needed to. But despite how big of a pain it all was, I think Daniela and I might give it another go at some point.

It really is a good tasting cake . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

My Orange Juice Approved List

Call me a purist, but when it comes to orange juice, there are only a few ways that I think you should consume it. In fact, it would be easy to assume a post like this doesn’t even need to be written. But then I come across people who are using orange juice in decidedly unapproved ways, and I just can’t remain silent. It is my obligation–no, my duty–to speak out.

Case in point: Saturday, I came into the kitchen to see one of my children eating granola. Nothing wrong there. Good old fashioned crunchy goodness, right? Except they were eating their granola . . . with orange juice. I realize a number of you still don’t quite grasp the horror. After all, multiple sugary cereal commercials reminded us all growing up that orange juice is part of a complete breakfast, right? Nothing like having some granola and maybe some sips of orange juice from a glass next to your granola.

Except this child was eating orange juice with granola. Meaning, taking a nice bowl of granola and milk. Now take out the milk and replace it with orange juice. I apologize to those of you with weak constitutions, but that child isn’t the only one with such flagrant orange juice violations. On my mission in Germany, one of my companions would make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches . . . and then dunk them in orange juice.

No, my friends. This sort of food abuse simply won’t do. What’s next? Pouring orange juice over pizza? Spaghetti and orange juice? Chocolate cake with orange juice? A tuna fish orange juice smoothie?

Not on my watch. If you want to safely consume orange juice, here are the approved ways to do so:

  • In a glass. By itself.
  • In some sort of a smoothie. This smoothie may contain fruits and possibly some vegetables if you’re feeling particularly healthy. No solids shall be added to the smoothie that is not fruit or vegetable based. Additional juices or milk is allowed, but don’t go crazy.

And that’s it. It’s a short list, so it shouldn’t be that hard to master. Any time you’re tempted to veer off the list and add something funky to your orange juice, don’t. End of story.

Friends don’t let friends abuse orange juice.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

An Ode to Mac & Cheese

Yesterday I told the world just how bad Grape Nuts really are. The response on my Facebook wall was lively, to say the least. It seemed like every Grape Nut aficionado in a thousand mile radius somehow sensed someone had thrown down the gauntlet, exposing to the world just how awful Grape Nuts really are. Unbeknownst to me, there must be some sort of Grape Nut pact people sign when they decide they like the taste of kitty litter for breakfast.

“These are my Grape Nuts. I must defend them.”

Not many people came by to say they didn’t like Grape Nuts either. (Can you blame them? They would have been trampled by the mob of Grape Nutters.) But today, I thought I’d perform an experiment. Yesterday I focused on a disgusting food I didn’t like, and it brought out all the people who like it. I wondered what would happen if I focused on a food I love, which many find disgusting. Will it bring out all the people who will tell me just how disgusting it really is, and how I’m wrong? Or will it attract all the people who also love it? My guess is that it will bring out the people who disagree with me, but there’s only one way to find out!

I’m speaking, of course, of macaroni and cheese. Not the homemade stuff. No, I’m focused right on the boxed variety. And not even the high end boxed mac & cheese. Kraft is way too high brow for me. My sophomore year of college, I pretty much lived on one meal. I would take brand X mac & cheese and make it, leaving out the butter (because who has time for butter), but putting in a can of tuna fish instead.

Denisa called it the Yellow Death. To me, it was (and is) pretty much the perfect food. Allow me to elucidate.

First, it’s dead simple to make. If you can boil water and operate a can opener, you’re good to go. Within ten minutes, you can have a warm meal. Better yet, it’s an easy cleanup as well. You make the dish and eat it out of the pot you boiled the pasta in. One bowl to clean up, and that’s it.

You’ve got your basic food groups covered. Carbohydrates? Check. Dairy? That’s what the cheese and milk are for. Fruit and vegetables? Overrated. Meat? Fish! The healthy meat! As an added bonus, it comes with built-in portion control. Once you’ve made up a single box, you’ll be way too lazy to want to make another. And the food is delicious enough that there are hardly ever leftovers.

But that brings me to an added bonus. If you thought warm mac & cheese with tuna fish was delicious, just wait until you’ve tried it cold. It’s like a whole new dish! Kind of like pizza that way. There were plenty of times that I would just stick the leftovers in the fridge (in the same pot still) and pull them out the next day for lunch. No need to microwave it or anything! (You don’t want to wait too long to eat them, though. After a day, the mac & cheese gets a bit . . . grody.)

Finally, there are enough preservatives in there that you could buy in bulk and be good for at least a decade or so, I’d guess. Smart shoppers could wait until tuna and the boxed mac & cheese were on sale. Talk about winning!

I know there have been other innovations in mac & cheese cuisine over the years. Hot dogs or chili were often cited as superior, but to me, tuna fish will always reign supreme.

Now if I could just convinced Denisa that it’s vegan . . .

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Favorite Holiday Recipes?

I’m about ready to get into some holiday baking. There comes a point where you decide to throw diets and avoiding sugar to the wind and just revel in as much chocolate, peppermint, and egg nog as you can, until you wake up in a random gutter on New Year’s morning, groggy and not quite sure why you’ve got maraschino cherry stains all over your shirt. (Don’t tell me that’s only just happened to me!)

So as I get ready for this round of baking, I was wondering what recipes you consider your “must bake” each year. What foods make it so that the holidays are the holidays?

For me, I absolutely must make chocolate fudge. It’s not an elaborate recipe: just the one found on the Marshmallow Fluff container. I think it’s something very similar to this one. Boil butter, evaporated milk, and sugar, add chocolate and fluff, then let it cool. Simple and delicious.

I’ve made peppermint bark the last few years as well, though again, I just melt chocolate, add some peppermint extract, and then put it in a mold and sprinkle crushed peppermints on top of it. Caramels are another favorite I try to make every year, though they’re trickier. I can never seem to get them to just the right level of hard but still a bit gooey. (Probably because I’m lazy and never use a candy thermometer . . .)

Denisa bakes a ton of cookies, which are always delicious. And I typically make some orange rolls, but I make those throughout the year, and they’re not necessarily “Christmas” food.

What do you make, however? What are your go-to recipes that the holidays just wouldn’t be complete without? I’d love to get some ideas for other things to try this year. Because present-me always assumes that future-me will have way more time than past-me.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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