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. 

A Sweet Weekend

It’s funny how when autumn comes to the NW, people really get good at holing up inside in the best sort of ways. Movies, too many library books, and of course, tasty food. I am totally guilty of this. I think I have about 4 library books right now, which is way more than I can read in 3 weeks. Good thing now I have a lot of treats to go with. Hmmm…

Ok time to be serious. One thing Seattlites are good at this time of year (at least some of us) is sharing what we have.
Today I got to take part in Will Bake For Food, the second annual even to help raise money and nonperishable donations for the Seattle and King County Emergency Feeding Program. It was very successful, and it was even more fun.
There were so many amazing bakers and bloggers in attendance, and of course a lot of very kind patrons. Some of whom were so excited to get there and get goodies that they were lining up well before 11 o’clock, the official start time of the event. We got to schmooze and check out each others wares before the public started to show up, which The Jennys (from here and here) finished up organizing and getting everybody set up. And, at the end we got to swap out any leftover treats from the ones we had been eyeing along the way.
This was not leftover. It went rather quickly.
I tried way too many goodies, and I might have come home with more than I started with (well maybe not that much considering I brought 4 dozen cookies and a whole bundt cake, but lets just say it was like a gourmet second Halloween). When the boys asked me if we could have dessert after dinner tonight, I almost couldn’t even answer I was so sweeted out. Good thing I had a big salad with dinner.  (Tomorrow I’m going to do even more balancing by taking a class at The Pantry to learn how to make amazing pizza a la Brandon Pettit from Delancey. Yay!)
Of the two things I brought, the one that most intrigued people was the Chai Spice Snickerdoodle cookies. The conversation I had with myself when I tried them (I had to eat the ugly ones, quality control) was pretty much this:
“Shut up. These cookies are awesome”
And then there wasn’t any more talking because I had told myself to shut up. Basically so I could, you know, eat more cookies.

That’s a wrap.


So here is the recipe, promised to a few lucky folks today who got to pick up cookies from me in person, and gladly shared with all of you. And no, drinking a cup of sweet, milky chai tea with these cookies would not be overkill. I promise.

Chai Spice Snickerdoodles
(makes about 2 dozen, using a # 30 scoop)

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temp
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract

for the sugar to roll the cookies in:

1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp each all the above spices, omit allspice

Preheat oven to 400ºF. This might sound crazy for a cookie, but it will allow the cookie to bake without getting too brown and crispy. Trust me. Put one rack in the top 1/3 and one in the bottom.

Whisk together all the dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar together until very light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla, mixing completely between each addition, scraping down the bowl as necessary.

Add the flour mixture in 2 or 3 batches, making sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl between each addition. Mix just until combined.

Scoop. You may need to chill your dough for a bit if, unlike me, your kitchen is actually warm.  Roll each cookie completely in the sugar mixture before placing on parchment lined baking sheets, just 6 to a sheet. Bake about 6 minutes then rotate and bake for 6 more, adding a minute or two to the end if they are still very soft in the middle. They will not brown very much, which is just what you want for them to stay chewy. Cool for a couple minutes on the pan before transferring them to a rack to cool completely. Or not, because you probably won’t be able to wait that long.