Advice you haven’t asked for, aka all advice ever [usually]

Here’s something: maybe don’t start a blog with the best intentions of faithful upkeep if you are in the final throes of graduate school, teaching multiple classes, starting a new(ish) job with an entirely different schedule than that to which you’ve grown accustomed, and are pretty much only ever not working or doing something work-related when you are sleeping.shelf cake

Doesn’t bode well for that blog, there, friend.

ANYWAY, in the months and months since the last time I posted something, I’ve graduated, moved, and just sort of settled into that baker’s schedule.

Recently, though, my good pal Autumn took off for another year of maritime academy, so I made that chocolate cake she likes, once known as the Goodbye Cake, newly titled Shelf shelf cake 2.jpgCake, because, well, I kept it on the shelf while we ate dinner and Autumn’s girlfriend wondered why a cake was on the shelf.

One thing I’ve learned about myself since returning to baking AND making this cake again…I’m not really much for frosting. I’m willing to consider the fact that using luster dust can sometimes alter the taste of an otherwise delicious frosting, but for the past few nights since we’ve had this cake, I have dug mercilessly under the frosting for the delicious cake innards, leaving huge, precarious crevasses of chocolate buttercream in my wake. I have. I admit it. Sorry, Kirk.

Anyway. Hi, again.

learning to wash my hands

eye-rollIf there is one thing that makes me feel like a child, it’s the ServSafe guide to washing your hands. Did you know there are five steps? There are! Did you know you can’t wipe your hands dry with your apron or uniform? You can’t! It’s the little things, people.

Last week was SPRING BREAK. I was lazy. Good LORD I was lazy. My boyfriend and I watched movies, went out to breakfast, slept in more than two days in a row…it was a glorious preview of summer vacation…which I have DESTROYED by accepting a job as a traveling decorator with SusieCakes! Hooray! I’m coming back to the company after a little time away, but have managed to retain enough of my decorating flair to snag the role, which is incredibly exciting…but does mean that I won’t be lounging about over the summer months, planning classes and drinking gin mules. Well…at least, not to the extent that I’d like.

It’s funny, though, returning to the company, especially because I’ve recently taken on a babysitting gig with a sweet little lady I used to babysit on a regular basis several years ago…around the same time I worked for SusieCakes as a baker and decorator. So I’ve come full-circle, I suppose…I just couldn’t stay away!

Anyway, I did babysit last week, and I just felt like Wednesday night was the right night for chocolate chip cookies…and so:

Most Delicious Chocolate Chip Cookies

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I pretty much use the recipe from the back of whatever chocolate chip bag I’ve got in front of me, and the folks I babysit for stock their cupboards with semisweet Ghiradelli chunks…

…HOWEVER. I am a salty/sweet kind of girl, and so I up the salt content a bit. I use about twice the amount of salt in the recipe (around a full teaspoon) and will add to taste if it’s not quite enough. If you’re into that sort of thing, too, you probably already know this, but make sure to taste test!!! Different salts have different strengths, my friends, as you know, and using a gentle, flakey, kosher salt is vastly different from heavier table salt.

FullSizeRenderOnce I’ve mixed the dough together and have granted Emma (my charge) the glorious
privilege of licking the beater, I scoop out tiny spoonfuls and add a little more salt, sprinkled on before baking, just because that’s like with a salt tooth! I like to add the salt before I bake the cookies so that it sort of softens into the dough, though sprinkling it on top when the cookies are freshly pulled from the oven yields a more visible smattering, which can be a nice aesthetic touch, again, if you’re into that sort of thing… 😉

And now, as the weeks of school wind down and May appears on the horizon, I can feel my stress levels picking up–compounded, naturally, by a fairly abrupt change in my sleeping patters (hello, baking schedule!). Fingers crossed I can keep things cool, calm, and collected…

interviews: a reflection

enhanced-buzz-6372-1376528227-10In the past week, I’ve had two interviews with the bakery I used to work for. Yesterday I spent eight hours in a kitchen after an absence of almost four years…and good LORD I can feel it today. I think my hip hates me forever, and I never noticed that my knee might be slightly overextended…does this mean I’m getting…OLD? Taking into account the fact that KRTH 101 (our LA oldies station) has started playing No Doubt, there might be a couple big arrows pointing to Y-E-S on that one.

Just kidding. Sort of.

Now, I don’t know if anyone else gets as existentially worked up after an interview, but driving home yesterday, all I could do was question myself. Do I really want to work at this bakery again? Am I going a little crazy, “throwing away” three years of my life in grad school? Am I just trading one thing that exhausts me for another? WHAT AM I DOING WITH MYSELF?!

Then I had a burrito and a beer…and things felt a little less precarious.

I guess it just sort of comes with the territory, doesn’t it…that sort of perilous feeling when you’re on the cusp of change. And jeez, but things will change. I’ve grown accustomed to the life of a night owl — thanks very much, bartender boyfriend — and here I am, signing up for a schedule that will firmly reinstate me as an early bird. In all honesty, that’s my preference…it’s just making me a little nervous!

Ah, well. More later, with recipes and fun pictures and probably less nervous chatter. Probably.

more on cupcakes // moron cupcakes

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Scarred cupcake edges hidden by strategically spread sour cream frosting…

I don’t think I spent enough time talking about those cupcakes I made over the weekend, and I wanted to bring them up again because, well…they were sort of a pain in the butt!

Like a lot of crafty folks, I’m a perfectionist, and I usually go out of my way to do things as meticulously as possible, especially if I’m following a recipe. It’s amazing how quickly we lose things when we stop practicing them, and that’s what happened to my vanilla cake recipe…as soon as I stopped baking every day, I essentially forgot the recipe I’d come to know so well that I would measure out ingredients in my mind as a way to fall asleep. Forget counting sheep…I count ounces of flour, sugar, butter…

One of Deb’s suggestions in her recipe for buttermilk cake is that you tap the cake pans on the counter before you put them in the oven. This breaks up air bubbles and keeps the cake even, and is a step that should be followed whether you’re making layer cakes or cupcakes…as my oozing-over cupcakes quickly showed me.

It was crazy! I like a cupcake that’s just cresting the paper, so I filled my cups up about halfway…and still! It was like a bunch of portobello mushrooms had assembled on my cupcake pans, that’s how much the batter poofed and spread over the course of baking.

I was a little frustrated, I’m not going to lie. I know it’s easy enough to fix something like that…a little gentle tearing or a pair of kitchen scissors come to the rescue, and it’s easy to cover up cupcake scars with a little frosting, which is exactly what I did. Still…it was a gentle reminder that I ought to follow directions more carefully…or, maybe better than that, bake these cupcakes more often, until I know exactly how many times to rap my pans on the counter, and just how much batter to use in those little cups.

‘Til then…

 

cupcakes, slumber parties, and an apartment without hot water

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Perfect depiction of my feelings post-weekend: Moderat’s album cover from their self-titled album.

Not sure how the rest of you are feeling, but March has not been cutting me an ounce of slack.

Wait, let’s back up.

January was crazy, February was nuts, and now March goes marching by…maybe it’s just 2016 in general that won’t let me catch a break. Is it because it’s a leap year? Hmm!

IMG_7089This weekend was another in a series of VERY. FULL. WEEKENDS. On Friday, I hosted a reading and release party for the Northridge Review, CSUN’s lit journal. I’m the Managing Editor-cum-Party Planner, and you can bet there were cupcakes. Of course they were Deb’s. Of course they were made with buttermilk. 😀

The following night, in lieu of my typical substitute Date Night, wherein I spend the later evening sipping wine or a G&T at the bar while my partner slings drinks, I spent the evening with his daughter and her friend. Something you ought to know, maybe…I’m not an “I want kids!” sort of gal, so dating someone WITH kids has been…well, complicated. WONDERFUL, but complicated. Lucky for me, the two are already in their teen IMG_7099years, so diapers are not a concern. Still, I’m the first not-mom that has been in their lives, and it’s been an interesting process for everyone involved. So this weekend felt like a major step in the right direction. It also felt like the weirdest audition I’ve EVER been on (and I’ve been on a few. Not a ton, but a few). In any case, it felt like a positive experience. And yes, again…there were cupcakes.

Sunday was a little less taxing, but only a little, and today…today I had an interview! I’m heading back in the direction of professional baking and decorating, and today was a good step in that direction…it seems that I’m taking lots of steps in all sorts of directions these days, but they’ve all been positive…fast-paced, but positive!

Somewhere in the midst of all this, and spanning the past couple of weeks, our apartment lost its hot water! It’s been off and on due to repairs, and my goodness…never have I ever taken a cold shower by choice…finger’s going UP from here on out.

I guess my closing thought is that I’m tired. Wait, I shouldn’t say that! Nevermind! I am looking forward to another CRAZY week. Hope you are, too.

 

in favor of buttermilk

I don’t know about you, but I have a serious thing for buttermilk. As a baking ingredient, I mean…not a drink. Though, if you’re a buttermilk drinker, kudos to you, friend.
Some of my favorite cake recipes feature buttermilk, and I love what it does for the crumb. Buttermilk affects the gluten to such an extent that cakes are a little more tender, with better depth and body. I’m a pretty picky cake eater if I do say so myself, so a fine crumb and a heavier texture is big in my book.

Deb Perelman over at SmittenKitchen has some INCREDIBLE recipes for cakes that use buttermilk, like this awesome chocolate cake that I’ve basically formed a potentially unhealthy relationship with. When I’m not in the mood for chocolate (what a joke, when is that ever a thing??), I turn to fruit–more specifically, I reach for the nearest berry. Raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, mulberries, snozberries, LET ME AT THEM.

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This cake is perfect, in that in combines two of my loves: berries, and buttermilk. Plus it’s super easy to make, and presentation is on point…it looks way more complicated than it actually is, which is nice when you want to impress someone…

Raspberry Buttermilk Cake! (Lightly Adapted from Smitten Kitchen // thanks, Deb!)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar                                                                                                                                1 1/2 tablespoons sanding sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (not entirely necessary, but…delicious!)
1 large egg
1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 cup fresh raspberries (or, if you’re like me, as many raspberries as will fit…)

Arrange your oven so one baking rack is in the middle, then preheat that sucker to 400°F. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan, or a square one, or, if you want more cake that this, double your recipe and prep a 9×13 incher.

Whisk your flour, baking powder & soda, and salt together. In another bowl, beat your butter and 2/3 cup of sugar on medium-high speed until it’s pale and fluffy, then beat in your vanilla and zest until just combined. Toss in the egg and mix well.

Add the flour mixture and buttermilk in batches, starting and ending with the flour combo. Mix after each addition until the ingredients are just combined.

Transfer the batter to your cake pan, then place raspberries evenly over the top. Deb Perelman suggests you “scatter” the berries, which works for some, but you could also definitely just place those bad boys as strategically as possible, if you’re sort of a control freak (like me). [Try not to eat all the raspberries before you’ve gotten to this step, otherwise you’ll wind up with a plain buttermilk cake, which is definitely delicious, but not necessarily what you promised your friends who are coming over for tea and cake later and who will, nicely, call you Berry Monster for the rest of your life, all because of that one time you ate all the raspberries.]

Sprinkle the sanding sugar all over the cake and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the cake is nicely browned. Deb says shoot for golden, but you’re welcome to bake to your preference, obviously. Cool the cake in its pan for 10 minutes, then turn it out (carefully) onto a cooling rack and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes more.

I don’t always invert the cake, personally, because I like serving from some of my nicer ceramic bakeware. That’s just my preference though, and if you’ve got a nice cake plate that you prefer to use, have at it! The world is your oyster!

 

Serving Suggestion: Any excuse I can find for crème fraiche topping, I’ll take, so if you’re interested, whip up a little crème fraiche (1 cup) with a little splash of vanilla and sugar to taste. The cake is pretty sweet, so I like to go light on the sugar I add…plus I like the tang of the crème fraiche on its own. You can do this by hand with a whisk, or toss the ingredients into a bowl and use your hand mixer, or your standup mixer, if you’re lucky enough to have one…beat the ingredients until they’re well combined and nice and fluffy (no stiff peaks, here), and serve alongside the cake. It is awesome.

 

 

 

reading, and other reasons to procrastinate

I’m in a class this semester–my last semester, thank goodness, jeez–on experimental fiction. Experimental fiction as in, you know, writing that doesn’t adhere to certain “normative structures” and refuses, essentially, to meet the demands a reader might place on the text.

 

You wanted a linear reading experience? Too bad!

You were looking for significant and detailed plot points and characterization? Bummer!

You want something comfortable and familiar? Barkin’ up the wrong tree, friend!

 

It’s been…interesting, to say the least.

e24082f6bfb3d04aa9e6eaf66e8bfac2I’m a person who was always into reading. You know that one kid in class who sat in the back of the classroom and read books tucked into her math textbook and always finished the required reading assignments during the summer. I was that kid. I think it’s safe to say that, in this wide, wide world of the internet, I am not alone, here.

So, when I read, I usually try to find something that I can dive into easily, that takes me to my happy place…not something that disrupts all that for the sake of, well, innovation. I get it, I think, what the appeal of reading books like The Activist or Cyclonopedia might be…but maybe I don’t. My instructor says he can’t read a book, or that he hates to read a book, that doesn’t make him feel frustrated, uncomfortable, or disoriented the entire time. We are not the same people, my professor and I…and I think it has to do with the fact that his experience as a young reader is pretty much the opposite of mine.

He got into reading because he became obsessed, apparently, with Jim Morrison, and so the first books he spent were gathered from a compiled list of every book ol’ J.M. had ever been influenced by. His whole initial approach to reading was research-oriented and expository…by no means was he the escapist I’ve always been.

I don’t know if that’s the reason he’s drawn to experimental writing, but I do know that I’m really getting a kick out of reading Silence of the Lambs, a perfect foil to the books I just mentioned (both of which are wildly experimental and very cool, but difficult to approach and navigate) and incredibly poorly written, if my teachers have anything to say about the subject. I’m not saying it’s high art, but it’s a fun, casual foray into serial killer pop culture, circa 1988.