Monday, August 30, 2010

The Bleary-Eyed Baker

I've mentioned that I have a day job.  I've also mentioned that this time of year brings a twelve-day marathon of advising and orienting and whatnot.  Because of this, I generally have a no-cake policy for the end of August and beginning of September.  I've yet to keep this policy.

Compared to the two hundred fifty cupcakes I made for a friend's wedding last year, this year's exception is negligible.  Someone I know asked me to make a small sheet cake for a retirement party.  Easy-peasy. 

It really is a small order.  Of course, I should have baked on Sunday.  I did not.  Here's how it went...

5:07 Leave day job.  Lament to colleagues that a cake must be made.
5:43 Arrive home.  Change clothes.  Make chocolate batter.

6:00 Make raspberry filling.  (I make really good raspberry filling; I'll post the recipe separately.) 
6:22 Make frosting.  (I make really good frosting; I will not post the recipe.)
6:38 Walk dog.  Put out raspberry seed feast for squirrels and chipmunks. 

7:15 Put cake in the fridge to cool. 
7:27 Eat crab melt bagel in front of Food Network in a stupor.
8: 45 Fill and crumb coat cake.
9:16 Decide "Bleary-Eyed Baker" would be a funny blog post.  Turn on computer and begin writing said post.
9:57 Decide it's time to actually finish cake.
11:02 Finish cake.

11:09 Shower.  Do token yoga stretchy-type things.
11:22 Give up and get into bed.
11:26 Remember that ballet class starts tomorrow.  Swear.  Get up.  Find ballet slippers in the depths of closet.
11:33 Get back into bed.

6:20 Wake up and complete getting ready nonsense.
7:39 Squeeze leftover frosting from pastry bag directly into mouth.
7:53 Deliver cake.
8:21 Arrive at work.
8:22 Decide it's a venti iced coffee kind of day.
9:32 Post account of glamorous goings-on of a part-time baker and hope others are amused.  Wonder how many clever lead-ins there are for...

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Everything's Better on a Stick

I grew up in Louisiana, where there are more fairs and festivals than days of the year.  My hometown boasts the Jambalaya Festival.  Although a lot of fun, it never seemed to amuse my Yankee friends as much as the Morgan City Shrimp and Petroleum Festival.  I think it's the logo: a shrimp wearing a hard hat on an oil rig.  (I'm happy to see that, despite the recent goings on in the gulf, it's still on this year).

Louisiana festivals are synonymous with food on a stick.  Fried pickles on a stick.  Frozen bananas on a stick.  Alligator on a stick. We like to put food on a stick almost as much as we like to fry it.

I now live Syracuse, home of the Great New York State Fair.  "The Fair" is ten days of food and animals and rides and games and all of the things that make living in New York so cool.  There is, in fact, an entire building devoted to all things dairy!  I try to go at least two or three times just so I have more opportunities to eat.  You have to pace yourself, you know.

My first installment of Literate Baker goes to the fair is a tribute to food on a stick.  Although I think there is a booth at the fair that serves alligator, this is a baking blog and I want to stay on topic.  My treat of choice?  Why, that would be frozen cheesecake on a stick!  I get it dipped in chocolate for good measure.

Cold.  Creamy.  Better, dare I say, than ice cream.  A seriously good start to eating my way through the fair and the perfect on-a-stick way to...

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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Ain't No Shame... The Art of Good Enough

It's the start of the semester at schools and colleges across the country.  In my neck of the woods (a.k.a. Syracuse University), that means twelve days straight of welcoming, registering, and advising new students, returning students, and more than a few parents.  Aside from the fact that we do it for twelve days without a break, it's great.

Yesterday, we had the new student picnic.  Noshing on burgers and hot dogs with close to four hundred students can be a lot of fun.  It can also yield a ridiculous amount of leftover brownies.  At this moment, there are four trays in my office that look just like this:

Sure, they aren't the best brownies I've ever eaten.  But they are moist and boast a thick layer of fudgy frosting.  I feel a little guilty eating them, though, like they're somehow beneath me.  Like eating a Little Debbie cake in the car, then getting out of the car to dispose of the wrapper so no one you know sees it.

A colleague and I have had many a conversation about that which is "good enough."  Often, this refers to letters, presentations, or other documents that serve their purpose just fine as is.  Yes, there is room for improvement, but given the time and energy required for said improvements, the call is made: they are good enough.  And they are.  And that's okay.

As a baker and lover of most things baked, I know that there are times when I, too, need to embrace this mantra.  Cookies that aren't perfectly round but taste phenomenal?  Good enough.  Brownies from the school catering department?  Most definitely good enough.  On day seven of twelve here in the Whitman School of Management, they're the breakfast of champions, the afternoon pick-me-up, and most definitely the easiest way to...

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Fashionable Baker

I have a confession.  I want to be Donna Reed.  Okay, I don't actually want to be Donna Reed.  What I want is to bake fabulous things and serve them to duly impressed house guests while wearing a dress, heels, and a frilly apron.  I suppose it's a domestic goddess thing.

I technically could orchestrate this, although I rarely bake without wearing a good bit of whatever I'm baking.  The fact of the matter is that I'd be certain to ruin a perfectly good dress with buttercream and I'm a lot less graceful in heels than I'd like to be.  For the most part, I've resigned myself to t-shirts, flip-flops, and (per the Onondaga County Health Department code requiring adequate head covering) bandannas.

But surely there is something more?  Some harmonious balance of functional and feminine, ratty and refined?  Yes! Yes, there is!  It is...

The cute apron.

I've always known about cute aprons.  I've seen them in shops.  I've browsed them on Etsy.  I've positively drooled over Jessie Steele's hostess line.  I'm particularly attached to Cherry Cupcakes and the Josephine Pink and Brown Polka Dot.  Yet, I own no cute aprons.  Well, that isn't entirely true.  I have one that has all the Loony Toons characters making a pie, a fun striped one from Williams Sonoma.  What I'm sorely lacking is a girly apron.

I think I'm stuck on the idea that I can make a cute apron.  They aren't terribly complicated; a couple of hours of work could easily yield something fabulous for half the price of buying one.  I could do it.  Aye, there's the rub!  Anytime I think I can do something, I have a hard time allowing or paying someone else to do it for me.  Considering my entire business is based on having people pay me to bake things they could theoretically bake themselves, perhaps it's time to get over it.

Looks like I have some shopping to do.  Good thing that's one of my preferred non-edible ways to...

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I Spy... A Sweet Blog

About a year ago, I discovered CakeSpy, a ridiculously fun blog filled with recipes, bakery reviews, and tales of sweet adventure.  The creator is also an artist; she has a line of adorable cupcake art for sale on the site and in her Seattle gallery.  (I have a serious envie for Cuppie with Diet Coke.) 

CakeSpy was one of my primary inspirations in starting The Literate Baker.  Head "spy" Jessie Oleson is witty and in possession of a killer sweet tooth.  She balances the uber gourmet, such as a travelogue containing stops at patisseries in each and every arrondissement of Paris, with the kind of guilty pleasures most of us keep to ourselves, one of my favorites being the recent installment on Kitchen Sink Cinnamon Rolls.  The only thing about her blog that I don't like is that I'm over a thousand miles away from most of the bakeries she reviews!

Even if you're not in the pacific northwest, you should definitely check out the eye candy and cool giveaways that have made CakeSpy one of the top ten cake blogs.  A word of warning, you'll likely leave hungry.  Keeping sweetness in everyday life?  Yes, ma'am Ms. CakeSpy, you definitely know how to...

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Seize the Salt

Several years ago, my dear friend Annie (former Food Network producer who currently runs hot shot production company Actual Industries with her husband Brad) gave me a gift.  Small and unassuming, it was a glass jar that looked like it may have once held jam.  It was a treat much bigger than jam; it was fleur de sel.  I was thrilled.

Fleur de sel (for anyone who is obsessed with neither French nor food) translates literally to "flower of salt."  It's a French sea salt that is hand gathered and prized for its bright, clean flavor.  It's sort of the original designer salt.

I took it home and tucked it away, saving it for a special occasion.  I thought about it every now and then, promised myself that I would find a recipe worthy of its awesomeness.  I never did.  I won't bore you with my philosophical musings on the ant and the grasshopper, but I will say this: I'm trying to be more of a grasshopper.

So, last night I was enjoying a quiet evening at home and decided to play in the kitchen.  What to make?  What to make?  From somewhere in the depths of my subconscious came the answer--caramel.  Little jar of fleur de sel, your time has come.

This is another gem from Fleur de Sel Caramels.

Cook the sugar until GBD (golden-brown and delicious).
Add cream, butter, and salt and cook some more.
I finished the caramels with a pinch more fleur de sel.

The ingredients are few; the results are amazing.  Dear readers, seize the day.  Use the good dishes, drink the good wine, eat good caramel, and remember to always...

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Monday, August 23, 2010

All the Leaves Are Brown

Okay, all the leaves aren't brown.  They aren't even hinting at yellow and red yet.  We've had a day and a half of rain, though, and temperatures in the 50s and 60s.  True, I'm not quite ready for tights.  That said, that's pretty much the only thing holding me back from whole-heartedly flinging myself into all things fall.

By all things fall, I technically mean all things.  I just bought a couple of cute cardigans and fun new scarf; I can't wait to go apple picking.  I'm trying to decide whether to make gumbo or black bean soup.  That said, my mind is really on dessert.  Sure, my mind is rarely not on dessert, but I'm referring to a specific breed of baked good now.  I'm talking about pumpkin.

Pumpkin bread, pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin bundt with a maple bourbon glaze.  The thought of these things makes me a little giddy.  I have fantasies of sitting in the kitchen with a cup of tea and a big slice of something, watching the leaves dance around the back yard.  I confess that I have a handful of recipes that I always rely on to satisfy my pumpkin cravings.  This year, I am committed to trying something new.  Perhaps I'll try my hand at pumpkin roll (because cream cheese makes everything better, right?). has a Pumpkin Roll Cake with Cream Cheese Filling that looks pretty tasty.  I'll give it a whirl let you know.

So, love of sandals aside, I'm ready.  You can keep your California dreamin', because this girl wouldn't trade New England for anything.  It's almost fall, my absolute favorite season to...

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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Cobbled Together

It's the height of peach season here in the northeast.  They are the perfect balance of sweet and tart, so full of juice that it's impossible to eat one without some dribbling down your chin.  When the peaches are this perfect, my thoughts turn to cobbler.

If I'd gone to culinary school, I'd probably know the official difference between a crisp and a cobbler.  And a crumble.  And a betty.  Since I didn't go to culinary school, I rely on the bits and pieces of knowledge I've cobbled together. (Yes, I succumb to food puns.  So does Alton Brown, and look how far he's gotten.)  Between books, magazines, way too much food network, and culinarily-inclined friends and family, I manage.

Anyway.  Crisps and cobblers.  Generally, it seems, crisps employ a crumbly topping while cobblers rely on something from the dough family.  A recent trolling of recipes online has yielded an abundance of biscuit-topped variations.  Some look quite tasty.  Yet...

Maybe it's a Southern thing.  I grew up on peach cobbler.  Peach cobbler made by dumping a mess of sweetened peaches on top of a fairly runny batter that magically rises to the top during baking.  The resulting deliciousness is crispy on top and the perfect balance of dense and fluffy below.  It is sweet and buttery and peachy all over.  Is it a cobbler?  Well, I think so.  So does my Mamaw's Gonzales, Louisiana  Junior League Cookbook.  And that's good enough for me.

I made this one last night and plan to have it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner until it's gone.  If you're in town, feel free to stop by. We can sit out back with a big bowl and two spoons and you can help me...

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Friday, August 20, 2010

Triple Chocolate, Because Three is Better than Two

I used to be very intimidated when I'd hear chefs or cookbook authors talk about "writing recipes."  It seemed like a blend of science and magic that went beyond whatever culinary mojo I had.  When I started toying with the idea of opening a bakery, I knew I would need recipes that were both awesome and consistent.  Consistently awesome.  Awesomely consistent.

I began playing around with recipes I found online, in cookbooks, and on little cards in my grandmother's handwriting.  I baked, I ate, I fed others, I made notes.  I repeated.  As it turns out, the key to writing recipes is...writing.  I've always been a tweaker, but never bothered to commit the tweaks to paper.  Apparently, that's all it took.

As promised, here's the recipe for my (and Much Ado About Cake's) Triple Chocolate Cookies:

1 cup butter (I never use unsalted butter.  I'm not sure why, I just don't.)
1 cup brown sugar
1cup white sugar
1/2 cup natural cocoa powder
1/4 cup dutch process cocoa powder
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups flour
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
1/2 cup white chocolate chips

Cream butter and sugars.  Add cocoa powders and blend until fully incorporated.  Add eggs and vanilla and beat until light.  Add salt, soda, and flour and stir until combined.  Fold in chips.  Drop by rounded teaspoons or tablespoons onto parchment-lined pans and bake at 350 degrees--12 minutes for smaller cookies, 15 for larger.  (They will look doughy; this is okay.)

Now, if this is more than you want to tackle, feel free to hop on over to to place an order.  I take PayPal, and I'll ship anywhere in the US.  Sadly, frosting not included.  (Although, if you're local, I could probably be talked into it.)  Either way, the cookies are fabulous and one of my favorite ways to...

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Doozy Kind of Day

It's been a doozy kind of day.  This could be worse.  It could be a doozy of a day, the kind that makes you want to get a little boozy so you don't have to think about it anymore.  A doozy kind of day is milder, filled with multiple minor vexations.  It's the kind of day that makes you want one of those "double doozy" cookie and frosting concoctions from a mall cookie shop.

When I was young, the double doozy always beckoned to me from the big glass case.  I'd like to think it was the calories, but it was more often the cost that prevented me from indulging.  Now that I've become a bit of a baked good snob, I'm not sure the experience would be quite the same.  The concept, however, remains flawless, and so today I made my own.

Two of my Ina-Garten-inspired triple chocolate cookies (I'll post the recipe tomorrow) and a very generous swirl of vanilla frosting.  To.  Die.  For.  (So good, in fact, that I'm virtually oblivious to the preceding fragments and dangling preposition.)  This is not everyday fare by any means, but, on occasion, it sure does the trick. 

Vexations?  What vexations?  Oh, and if a splash of chocolate vodka makes its way into the accompanying Diet Coke, well, there's no harm in that now, is there?  Cheers, y'all, and...

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Jimmy Chews

I had the pleasure recently of combining two of my favorite things: shoes and cake.  A client asked me to create a birthday cake for her fashionista sister's 40th birthday.  I'd been dying to make a sugar shoe, so I took that theme and ran with it.  

After constructing the shoe from gum paste, I spent a good deal of time contemplating a clever take on hot shoe designer names.  The best I came up with was "Jimmy Chew," which seemed more like a dog toy than a sweet pump.  Resigned and short on time, I gave up my quest.  I am, however, hoping to make many more a sugar slingback and will therefore spend a ridiculous amount of time thinking about it.  (Feel free to post ideas as comments!)

Oh, and for the record, this cake was part marble with chocolate ganache and part red velvet with cream cheese.  The fabulousness of red velvet will have to be a post of its own.  Until then...

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

If Julia Child and Jane Austen had a love child...

Well, sure, it would be weird.  For a moment, though, look past the weirdness and think of the marriage of big words and brioche, clever dialog and chocolate-dipped delights.  In a strictly theoretical sense, I like to think of myself as just that.  I love pie and prose in equal measure; good grammar and goat cheese both make me giddy.

I have a day job.  I also have a baking business.  In my free time, I dream of being a writer.  Since I clearly don't have enough to keep me busy, it seemed like a good time to jump on the blog bandwagon.  We'll see what evolves.  If you like cake and catchy turns of phrase, a good time should be had by all.  In the meantime...

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