Little Things

On Wednesday I woke up to a gorgeous sunrise.

OK, well to fair I woke up about an hour before the sun even did and then after lying in bed with a cuddly kid and a cuddly cat and a cuddly husband for a while I got out of bed to see that there was a gorgeous sunrise afoot.

So while Joe showered I got Lilli and I up and dressed lickety-split and out we headed into the freezing morning to greet the day as a day should be greeted…with a lot of mirth and a tiny bit of cursing about how damn cold it is.

Since we were already out there, we let the chickens out in the beautiful pre-dawn light, which was probably the highlight of Lilli’s day because she loves to be outside and she loves those chickens. Then we came in and made some breakfast and went about out business, which included a trip down to Cash and Carry to buy a humongous bag of sesame seeds for $5 because I had a plan.

A few weeks ago we were shopping in Pike Place Market and we stopped in to browse at Cost Plus (World Market) where they always have things I didn’t know I needed. This time was no exception, as waiting for me at the checkout counter–the land of impulse buys–was a barrel with little packages of Loucks Sesame Snaps,  one of my all time favorite impulse buys. (Which I have since found out that almost nobody I know has ever even heard of them. What?)

These were different though. These ones had chocolate striped delicately across the top. Yum. Why did I not know about this before?!

I restrained myself and only bought one package because sesame candy is something I’ve been meaning to try my hand at making for a while. I knew they would be easy enough to replicate at home should the combination be what I expected it to be. In other words, perfect. Which they totally were.

I made them with a dark chocolate like the ones I bought, and they are probably not going to last very long here in our house. Joe even said that they were quote “Good for a sesame candy, if you don’t like sesame.” Which he doesn’t. (Then we went on a date!)

Those little things made my Wednesday, just like getting to see the sun in it’s full cycle with Lilli did. They made it even sunnier and brighter and more productive and fun that it would have been on it’s own. And more tasty. Which was so good because Tuesday was a one way ticket to Lame-Town. Anyway these little candies will get you on the tracks to Awesome-Town if you decide to make them, especially if you follow up your snappy snack with another trip to the park, this time to view the sunset.

Toasted Sesame Snaps with Chocolate Drizzle

2 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp lemon juice
1 1/3 cup sesame seeds
1/4 tsp salt
4 oz dark, milk or white chocolate, your choice. Either chip form or in small pieces

Toast the sesame seeds by baking on a clean baking sheet in a 350ºF oven for 20 minutes, stirring every 7 minutes or so.

In heavy saucepan, stir together sugar, water, honey and lemon juice. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook without stirring. Brush down the sides of pan with pastry brush dipped in cold water, about every 5 minutes. The mixture will cook until medium amber in color and a candy thermometer reaches 310ºF, about 15 to 20 minutes. But just in case you need to know, I accidentally cooked mine to like almost 350ºF and it still turned out pretty good. Of course, I happen to like almost burnt stuff, so you know, just a warning.

Stir in the sesame seeds and salt. Immediately pour onto greased baking sheet, spreading with greased spatula. Mine didn’t quite fill my standard 1/2 sheet size pan. Using greased knife, score into 3″ squares, and then score each square diagonally in half.

While the snaps cool, melt about 4 oz of chocolate–either over a double boiler or in the microwave in 30 second intervals (Stir between each 30 seconds. It’s the lazy way to go…which is why I did it that way.) When it’s melted all the way use a fork to drizzle lines over the whole sheet of snaps. It’s OK if they’re not completely cool when you do the chocolate.

Let cool completely, and making sure the chocolate is completely set (pop it in the freezer for a bit if it’s not and you’re impatient like me), break along the score lines into triangles.

Like other hard candies, these will get sticky in very humid weather, but in a super air tight container they should keep for at least a week.

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Those Neglected Things

December can be rough. It can be busy and lonely and hectic and joyful and forgetful and cold and dark and rainy and bright and sunny and ecstatic all at the same time. Without even trying.

It’s this way for me, at least.

I got into the swing of things and was all full of holiday cheer for the most part, but it meant that some things fell by the wayside. There were posts I started to write that never went anywhere. Pictures I took for posts that will probably never even get started, and post ideas that never got pictures.

There was also the small matter of relicensing my small business, Infamous Pastries. I was *supposed* to do this before the deadline of December 31, or else have to pay an extra fee for doing it late. When I remembered that I still hadn’t done this last night just as I was falling asleep, I wept. The tears were tears of both sadness and relief. 

I’m going to be honest here when I say that I don’t think I am cut out to run a business as a self-starter. I am an incredibly hard working person, and I could run a business probably without many hitches if I’d been going down that path for a while with the same job. But I am not an entrepreneur, it turns out. 

I love what I do. I’m a pastry pro at heart. I love the chemistry, I love flavor, and I love pushing the limits of both. I do pretty good with trial and error. I work incredibly well under pressure and even though I generally dislike working with the public at large I seem to be pretty good at it when it comes to helping brides choose wedding cake flavors, etc. I’m bossy enough to get people to do what they need to do, and nice enough that they still like me later. I love to eat and to share that sweet little something with others. I love baking.

I am also an artist. I have been painting and creating art since I was very small, and I even went to art school for a brief time. Turns out, art school didn’t suit me very well (too commercial for me, ironically) so I came home and found a way to create and express that I never really connected to being creative and expressive before. Through food. I went to pastry school and I loved it. I would go back in a heartbeat.  I love the 3 dimensional aspect of a cake as sculpture, and I love to get the flavors just right, layered they way paint is layered on a canvas. 

But artists are notoriously bad self-starters and have for the most part terrible PR skills. That’s why there are so many artists who make no money doing what they love. And I guess I am doomed to fall into that category for now.

Reflecting back on 2011, it was like December on crack. It was every possible emotion and then some. I started a business and decided subconsciously to let it flounder when I found a way to express myself that matched my lifestyle better and came more naturally (blogging). I watched a baby grow into a little girl and grow even larger in my heart as a result. I fell even more in love with Joe, while still feeling like I was somehow growing apart from him because of the things going on in our lives. 

I hope I haven’t neglected too many other important things this past year that were important, because I had a lot of other things to do. Go for walks in the rain with a toddler, make pies for people I love and laugh out loud at silly things. 

I know that there is one thing for sure I didn’t and then did neglect: these marshmallows. When they were in the house we kept nibbling them before I could even give any away, and I had to hide the rest to stop us from finishing them all up. I finally gave some away, then I forgot about them because there were cookies and tarts and cakes. There are a few still hiding in the back of a cupboard somewhere. 

They are simple to make if you have the right tools and you can add pretty much any flavoring you want, so long as you don’t add too much liquid. I had a girlfriend over to make them and we made three batches, all different flavors. We had a blast, and she was glad to do it with me because “I got her through” chemistry class, or so she claims, and wasn’t sure she would have been able to do it without me. They’re easy to make, but I did give her a lot of info that she wouldn’t have learned just making them out of the book. Don’t be frightened of candy making–it’s not even as hard as just plain living.
Basic Marshmallows
Adapted from The Professional Pastry Chef, by Bo Friberg (best textbook I ever bought)
Makes one 9×12 pan, about 3/4″ thick, or spread into a high sided sheet pan for thinner mallows

You kinda need a candy thermometer for this recipe. It’s not a big deal, I promise. 

Cornstarch or powdered sugar
3 Tbsp (18g) unflavored gelatin powder
1 cup cold water, divided
1 lb granulated sugar
2 ounces light corn syrup
4 egg whites (about 1/2 cup)
optional flavorings

Prepare the pan you will put the finished marshmallows in by lining it with parchment paper and dusting lightly with either the cornstarch or the powdered sugar. 

Sprinkle the gelatin in a wide bottomed metal or glass bowl and pour 1/2 cup cold water over it. Stir it with a chopstick to make sure all the gelatin gets moistened, and set aside to soften. Once it’s all softened, put it over a pan of simmering water so that it gets warm and leave it there until you need it at the end. You need it to return to the liquid state of water, but you don’t want it to be too hot.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of your stand mixer with the whip attachment.

Combine the sugar, corn syrup and remaining 1/2 cup of water in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat. This is where the thermometer comes in handy. You are going to boil the sugar to 245ºF. But wait! Once it reaches about 230ºF, you should turn the mixer on high and start your egg whites. They need to be whipped to stiff peaks. Watch closely because the sugar will get very hot very fast starting now. When it reaches 245ºF, turn off the heat and lower the mixer speed to about medium. Very slowly and in a thin, steady stream down the side of the bowl (not over the whip or the syrup will fly out!) very carefully pour the sugar syrup. Once the egg whites start to look pretty glossy and there is a lot of steam rising out of the bowl, you can pour a little faster but do not just dump it in there or it will not be pretty. (Just take my word for it.) After you’ve got all the syrup in there, and with the mixer still mixing, pour in the gelatin, making sure to scrape out all the last bits of it with a spatula. Mix it for a second and then turn the mixer back to high speed. Let it whip until it’s got a nice fluffy texture and smells amazing. 

Add a little (tsp or so) vanilla or other extract now if you want and whip for a second longer. You can also fold in crushed just about anything, like we did with candy canes in one batch and Daim candies in another. About 1/2-3/4 cup per batch should do you right.

Pour it out into the prepared pan, spread with an offset spatula or the back of a clean spoon and sift more powdered whatever you chose over the top. Let set completely before cutting out of the pan. With a knife dipped in hot water, slice cleanly around the edges of the pan. Invert it onto a cutting board or other clean surface, and cut into desired sizes. You should dip your knife and wipe it on a clean cloth each time you make a new cut, for the best results.

* I made a chai version here, and to do that I steeped 2 chai tea bags in one cup of boiling water and then let it cool before using it in the marshmallows. At the end I added about 1/2 tsp of allspice and 1 tsp of ginger. It was awesome, and they are really amazing in homemade chai lattes. Just saying.