Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Green Tea Mille Crepes: An Experiment Based On Somebody Else's Experiment

Update (4/22/2013): I tried this recipe for a second time and got better results.

I'm not the only baker who gets a type of recipe stuck in their brain and then has to make multiple versions of it.  I am also susceptible to food porn: pictures of somebody else's food creation that is so beautiful, you must try the recipe yourself.  Take a look at this:

Matcha mille crepes (from Zen Can Cook).
It's a green tea crepe cake with orange pastry cream filling.  This is the third mille crepe version that Zen blogged about.  He got the same "must make different flavors!" bug that I get.  Of course I had to make this cake.

Every European culture has their own version of crepes.  In my father's family, we eat blintzes, which are basically crepes filled with a sweet cheese mixture and then fried.  We also eat the classic French version of crepes, especially since there are a bunch of crepe restaurants in Berkeley (Crepes A Go Go, Crepevine, etc.).  These are more on the American side of what a crepe should be: larger and with more fillings than you'd get in France.  I'm an American so I don't complain.

So I'd been eating crepes for years but I'd never tried to make them.  I knew from the start that there would be a serious problem: I can't flip anything in a pan.  Pancakes and omelettes become smashed messes when I try to flip them.  I also don't have a crepe pan, which is a thin frying pan with a completely flat bottom and almost no outer rim (see this for an example).  I didn't know if the pan was necessary or not.  This entire thing was going to be an adventure, and if it didn't work I would hopefully have some delicious, smushed crepes to eat at the end.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Beer and Baking

When I was in high school, my father told me that if I drank enough beer I would learn to like it.  I spent the next five years or so doing my best to drink "enough" beer.  It never worked - beer is disgusting, bitter and nasty.  For the next ten years after that, I just thought that I was deficient in the drinking department.  There are very, very few alcoholic drinks that I like, and those are only the ones where you can't taste the alcohol.

I put this down to having an undeveloped/immature tongue.  Our parents used to tell us that we would like different foods when we got older, like eggplant and arugula.  But I never started liking any of those types of foods, and I just assumed that my tongue was the Peter Pan of my anatomy, doomed to be child-like forever.

I was complaining about this to a food guy, who looked at me like I was nuts (and to be fair, he may be right) and said, "You're a supertaster.  There's nothing wrong with you."

Supertasters are more sensitive to bitter tastes than normal tasters.  The wikipedia list of foods that supertasters hate is pretty true to my experiences, except that I like the more mellow types of green tea.  It also explains why I had such a hard time taking quinine and threw up afterwards.

So now I take a different approach to cooking, baking, and which ingredients I choose to use: if it's for other people, I use ingredients that are on the list because normal tasters like them; if it's for me, I only use ingredients that aren't on the list or which I know will have their taste covered up by something else.  The good news is that the taste of beer can be covered up easily in a lot of baking recipes so that it only comes out as a faint aftertaste.

That's good news because beer is one of the best liquids to use in baking.  It has both carbonation and gluten, and lifts dough and batter up to be light, moist, and fluffy.  Some people call beer a secret ingredient, but there's nothing secret about it.  Humans have been baking and cooking with beer for literally thousands of years.

Friend B's husband R is a beer guy, so if I have a beer-containing recipe that I want to try I just wait until there's an occasion in honor of R.  My thought process goes like this: "This recipe may turn out horribly, but R likes beer so he'll like it anyways!"  R is too polite to say, "Jesus Christ, this shit is terrible!  Not even beer can rescue it!" about a cake that somebody has made for him.

R's birthday was last week, so he got my second try at making a beer cake.  The first try was for something last year (Honey Spice Beer Cake) and this try was supposed to go along with the Italian-themed dinner party (Chocolate Stout Cake).  Both cakes turned out great, and the recipes only needed a little massaging.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Holiday Parties Galore: Mojito Doughnuts

Now that it's January and I'm looking back at the holiday season, I'm still convinced that work holiday parties are horrible.  It's not that I don't have friends at work, it's that either I've got work that needs to get done and I don't have time to waste or I usually hang out with my friends at work while we're at work and I don't need to do that with hundreds of other people as well.  I'm a total Scrooge and there will not be a Tiny Tim coming by to change that anytime soon.

By the time I got to the last holiday party in the Week Of Seven Holiday Parties, I was clearly in need of something alcoholic.  So why not make something sweet and boozy?  I've forgotten exactly what combination of words I put into google to find this recipe, but I'm sure that it included "yummy", "alcoholic", "sweet", and "doughnut".  Mojito doughnuts!  What a perfect and brilliant idea.

Of course, there were several setbacks, including my lack of a doughnut pan and the fact that one of my old roommates had a serious drug and alcohol problem and had secretly stolen all of my cooking booze (except the arak - even alcoholics won't drink the arak).  So I bought rum and with its help constructed a doughnut pan out of tin foil and a muffin tin.

Between the rum and the rest of the week, I was at the point where I didn't care if the recipe worked or not.  That's why it turned out to be one of the best recipes I'd made in 2012: recipes only work perfectly when you don't care anymore.  Martha Stewart should do a show about this phenomenon.

What's a slightly drunk girl with no doughnut pan going to do when she tries to bake doughnuts?  Construct one!  I just expected that it wasn't going to work and I would have oddly shaped, solid doughnuts, but it actually worked like a charm.  Who knew?  Definitely not me.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Holiday Parties Galore: Fantastic Holiday Party Cake Recipe

Having two jobs means that I've basically got double of all of those job-related things that crop up in life - specifically, I had three job-related holiday parties to go to.  If they had been spread out through the month of December, it would have been fine.  But not only were they in the same week, they were also in the same week as four other holiday parties that I had already said I'd go to.  To be blunt, the second week of December kicked my ass.

I wasn't planning on going to both holiday parties for Job 1, but I miscalculated: when you bake cakes that people like, they want you to come back for other potluck parties.  I got ambushed by the secretary to the Deputy Director a couple of days before one of the parties, and while I was making excuses about why I wasn't going, the Deputy Director popped up and said that he'd loved my cake last year and would I please bring it again this year.

This would normally be complimentary, but I'm pretty sure that the Deputy Director of a federal agency the size of ours doesn't know me from Adam and certainly didn't remember what cake I'd brought to a potluck party with hundreds of people that happened a year earlier.  But his secretary remembered and he's a good boss who tries his best to keep her happy, so I got commanded to show up with the cake.

They got a bit of a surprise when I mentioned that it was a lime-zucchini cake.  Zucchinis are a secret baking weapon: full of water to make cakes moist but they have a weak taste that can be overridden by any citrus fruit.  Lime-zucchini cakes just taste like lime, and nobody can tell that there's zucchinis in it.

Zucchini cakes are just like carrot cakes, where a mild tasting vegetable that holds a lot of water is used to produce a very moist cake.  If the idea of a zucchini cake freaks you out, just remember that lots of people love carrot cakes and don't think that there's anything wrong with using carrots in a cake.