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. 

The Goodies

Recently I decided that my plate wasn’t quite full enough and that I should take up a new hobby. One that people get obsessive over and do for ever and ever and love.


Yeah, I know. It’s kinda cliche and all that, but honestly, I have this little cutie who totally deserves to have all kinds of awesome things knitted for her, but not too many people to knit them but me. Things like this. Or this totally awesome berry pie hat, which by coincidence was just gifted to Lilli the same day as knitting club, a late birthday present from our friend Meghan.

The knitting club I joined is pretty low pressure if you can ignore the fact that we usually refer to it as a cult. It’s with people I was already well acquainted with, so I knew I would fit right in and be comfortable getting help. So far I’ve been to just 2 meetings, but there’s only been 3 since this group even started, so I’m off to a good start with the socializing part. The knitting part is going to take some time. At this Wednesday’s circle I discovered that I was actually knitting totally wrong but somehow came out with the right result. What can I say? I’ve got skills.

Last week there was some delicious white chocolate covered popcorn with cranberries that I ate way too much of. Especially considering that I was eating caramel corn every day. And the fact that it was covered in sticky melty white chocolate. Not exactly the best thing to have coating your fingers when you are trying to use them to hold onto yarn and knitting needles, but that did not stop me from eating too much anyway. There was also some ginger cookies made by the friend who started the group, and they too were addicting.

It’s a good thing I finally started that sit-up challenge this week, because I have been eating too much.

Anyhow, for this weeks meeting I decided that I should make a treat, since that’s what I do best. To get into the spirit of the season (most everybody else’s season, that is) I made delicious brownies. With, you guessed it, candy canes.

Normally my go to brownie recipe is the one from the cookbook put together by the founders of Chocolate Bar in New York, but I wanted to make a double batch and that would have required more eggs than I was willing to spare (eggs are in short supply around here lately, as most of the chickens are molting so they aren’t laying much).

I did a little searching and ended up basing them off of a recipe from the book Bittersweet instead. They are pretty much the perfect brownie, even without the addition of candy canes. If you like your brownies fudgy but not too moist or sticky, these ones are right on target, with an ever so slightly crackly crust and the right amount of chew.

I made them with Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa which I purchased out of curiosity. It’s responsible for the deep rich black color of the brownies, which I absolutely love. Somehow it just makes them taste better knowing that they look like a galaxy of candy cane stars.

In the end, I had to pull apart my scarf about 3 times over the course of the evening. One time for each brownie I ate. Oh well, at least I’m good at baking.

Peppermint Galaxy Brownies
adapted from the book Bittersweet by Alice Medrich
makes 16 roughly 2″square brownies, easily doubles

10 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup sugar (original recipe calls for 1 1/4 cups)
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder, any type is fine but I used this
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup crushed peppermint candy canes, plus extra for the top

Preheat oven to 325ºF, with a rack in the lower third of the oven. Line an 8″ square baking pan with parchment paper, letting it overhang on 2 opposite edges.

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter without browning. Remove from the heat and add the sugar and salt and stir until well combined. Add the cocoa powder and vanilla and combine till it forms a thick paste. Add the eggs one at a time, and beat with a wooden spoon or a spatula after each addition. Add the flour and stir until you don’t see any streaks of flour, then beat for an additional 40 strokes. About 20 strokes in add the crushed candy canes, and finish combining.

Spread batter in pan. Sprinkle on some more candy canes, as many as you like. Don’t go too heavy–you want there to be a balance of chocolate and peppermint. Bake about 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with some batter stuck to it, but not totally glopped on.

Cool completely on a wire rack. Use the edges of the parchment paper to remove from the pan. Cut with a sharp knife, wiping clean on a damp rag before eat cut.