Sometimes I Bake Mistakes; Take 20: Kouign Amann

I decided to bake my way through the Great British Baking Show (GBBS for short) and write about it. Don’t know much about GBBS? No worries. Check out my first blog in this series to learn more about the show and about why I decided to do this, for better or for worse (so far, mostly worse).

***

When most people can’t sleep, they read or watch T.V. or you know, do something normal.

But, I’m not most people. So when I can’t sleep, I bake obscure pastries featured on The Great British Baking Show.

Because, well, because…

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Photo Credit: Giphy

Anyway, the weird thing I did this week was make kouign amann, a Breton cake, which was the technical challenge in season 1 episode 7 of GBBS.

Don’t know what kouign amann is? Yeah, I didn’t either, and neither did any of the contestants on the show.

Basically, it’s a traditional pastry from the Brittany region of France – a region known for its butter. According to this handy article from the Huffington Post: “kouign amann” is the Breton phrase for butter cake. Which makes sense, because there’s a hell of a lot of butter in this thing.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

Kouign amann is usually a round cake made with bread dough which is layered with butter and sugar. Supposedly it’s similar to puff pastry, but it just has fewer layers. Ideally, it’s cooked slowly so that, as the dough puffs up, the butter melts and the sugar caramelizes. According to the Huff Post article, it’s “simple.”

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Photo Credit: Giphy

So I went into the kouign amann challenge relatively confident, with emphasis on the word “relatively.” The way I figured it, if even the GBBS contestants didn’t know how to do this thing, I shouldn’t feel bad even if I totally blew it.

That being said, the GBBS contestants had very minimal instructions whereas I had a complete recipe. But hell, they’re practically pros and I’m just some woman baking in her small kitchen in Nebraska when she should be sleeping. I figured if I made something edible I’d call it a win.

I did.

(And I only set the fire alarm off once.)

 

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Photo Credit: Giphy

More on that later – first, let’s start from the top where, I totally killed it. Compared to other technical challenges that can have upwards of 20 ingredients, the kouign amann ingredients list was very short.

All I needed was strong plain flour – or as we say in ‘Merica – “bread flour”, fast action yeast – or instant yeast as I usually call it, salt, warm water, melted butter, cold butter and caster sugar.

Note that the recipe mentions butter in two forms – it’s not messing around.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

I just had to put the flour in a bowl of a freestanding mixer with a dough hook. Then I put the yeast on one side of the bowl and the salt on the other. (This is important for fancy baking reasons that Paul Hollywood always talks about). Then I put the water and melted butter in and mixed it on slow for two minutes and medium speed for six minutes.

When I was mixing it on medium speed, it definitely sounded that the dough was going to fly out of the mixer and hit me in the face or something. It didn’t. And I was totally not worried that it would. Not at all. I just always make this face.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

Anyway, after the dough miraculously stayed in the bowl, I just had to dump it on my floured work surface, make it a ball and put it in a lightly oiled bowl. Then I had to cover that with Saran Wrap and let it rise for an hour.

And I totally nailed that whole process, ya’ll. 

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I was smug, like this. I was, however, significantly less adorable because, unfortunately, despite how much I want to be, I am not Kristen Bell.  P.S. I love Kristen Bell, in case that was not clear.

Then came the fun part. I had to take a big ole chuck of butter, place it between two sheets of parchment paper and bash the crap out of it. Okay, technically, the recipe didn’t say “bash the crap out of it” but I assure you, that was the gist of it. Then I had to roll my bashed butter out into a 5 and a half inch square and put it in the fridge to keep chilled.

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This is all just butter.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “Hmm, that seems like an awful lot of butter,” you’re right. It’s so much butter.

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Since butter’s not a carb, it’s practically a health food, right? I thought so. Photo Credit: Giphy 

Now here is where things got tricky, because I had to do a bit of math – or just, you know, simple counting and measuring.

I had roll out my risen dough into an 8 inch square, then I had to place my butter square inside of that square on a diagonal. That meant that each side of the butter should face a corner of the dough. Then I was supposed to fold the corners of the dough, up and over the butter to close it up like it was in an envelope.

(Best thing to ever be in an envelope.)

From there, I had to roll the dough out into an 18 by 6 inch rectangle and then fold it in thirds. This was supposed to make a sandwich of three layers of butter and three layers of dough. Then I had to wrap it in Saran Wrap and put it in the fridge for 30 minutes.

I had do do this process twice more so that in the end I had done a total of three of these turns, chilling the dough for 30 minutes between each turn. Since I’m easily distracted, I could have totally forgotten a turn – so that’s why I kept track of what I did on this handy Post-it-Note. (Shh…I know I spelled “kouign amann” wrong there.)

After the last turn, I was supposed to roll the dough into a rectangle like before and then sprinkle the dough with caster sugar and fold it into thirds again. Then I had to roll it into a 16 by 12 inch rectangle, sprinkle the dough with more caster sugar and cut it into 12, equal squares.

If that looks like a lot of sugar to you, you’re right. Also if it looks like my square are not equal or even squares, you are also right. At this point, I didn’t care that they weren’t equal or squares, I just cared that they looked like dough, so I shoved them into my prepared muffin tin as instructed.

I had greased a 12-cup muffin tin with oil. Then I was supposed to gather these “squares” up by their four corners and put them in the tins. The corners were supposed to come together in the middle of each tin so they looked like pretty, four-leaf clovers. Then I was supposed to sprinkle them with MORE caster sugar, and leave them to rise for 30 minutes until they were slightly puffed up.

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These do not look like four leaf clovers.

Anyway, this is when things took a slight turn for the worse. Okay, remember in the past when I would complain about my oven? It was basically my arch enemy. It was one of my least favorite things. It would not preheat. Or it would preheat and then decide to turn off in the middle of cooking for no reason and with no warning. It was a wild card basically.

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This was my oven. Photo Credit: Giphy

But last week I got rid of that crazy jerkface of an oven and got a brand-new one. The good news is it works great. The bad news is, when I screw up recipes, I have no one to blame but me, so this one is on me guys. This burnt one is on me.

So the recipe told me to bake the pastries for 30 to 40 minutes at 425 F. until they were golden brown. I was supposed to cover them with foil halfway through cooking if I felt that they were starting to brown too much. So that’s what I did. I checked ’em around the 20-minute mark and they looked like this:

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They look promising, right?

I thought they still needed a bit longer though, so I put them back in the oven. And here’s where things went a bit wonky. Remember that butter? All of that butter? It started pouring out of these babies like crazy – so much so that it rained down onto the bottom of my (formerly pristine) oven and started to burn on.

Which set off the fire alarm – at midnight.

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By frantically turning on every fan in the house and waving a tea towel in front of the alarm, I got it off pretty quickly. The dog didn’t even bark and my husband didn’t even seem to notice. (In retrospect, I’m not sure either one of them woke up, which is sort of not good. Since that’s what the alarms are for.)

Anyway, while I was doing this – I ended up cooking my kouign amann too long. Like way too long – so that when I took them out of the oven, they looked like this:

Ummm…yeah.

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But, then I figured, eh, why don’t I try to scrape off the brunt bits. So I did, and turns out that, underneath that pile of crap were actually delicious, buttery, sugary pastries – which yeah, may have been a bit too browned – but were so full of butter it didn’t really matter.

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There’s probably some lesson in here about how you should look for the best in even the crappiest of situations. But, I’m going to ignore that lesson and instead suggest two things I learned from this: number one: don’t bake at midnight, number two: you can never have too much butter.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

Next week, I’ll move on to the showstopper challenge of the Pastries episode, which means I have to make éclairs.

This should be a breeze, right?

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Photo Credit: Giphy

Tune in next time for what may well be a complete disaster.

P.S. If you like the blog, please consider following it by email. Just click on the convenient “follow” button on the right-hand side of your computer screen that looks like this:

How to follow

You’ll just get an email every time I write a new blog – which, let’s face it, is supposed to be every week, but is more like once a month. So though that means I’m lazy, that also means I won’t be clogging up your inbox.

P.P.S. Or follow me on Twitter @ashleystrehle. Sometimes, the amazing Nadiya Hussian from GBBS likes my stuff, for real. It’s really happened. I’m not even making this up.

OK, that’s the end of my post-scripts.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

 

 

 

 

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Sometimes I Bake Mistakes; Take 19: Savory Parcels – Empanadas

I decided to bake my way through the Great British Baking Show (GBBS for short) and write about it. Don’t know much about GBBS? No worries. Check out my first blog in this series to learn more about the show and about why I decided to do this, for better or for worse (so far, mostly worse).

***

It’s been a rough couple of weeks on top of a rough couple of years.

At times like this, you’re supposed to talk about turning lemons into lemonade.

But, let’s be real, guys, lemonade isn’t that darn great.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

So I say, when life hands you lemons, just shove those in the crisper drawer of your fridge where you will inevitably forget about them and then need to throw them away in a few weeks when they get all gross.

And in the meantime, make something actually good instead, like something fried.

Admittedly, this doesn’t have the same ring to it as the lemons to lemonade thing, but I find it works better.

Because do you know who likes fried food? Everyone.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

Which leads me to this week’s baking challenge – savory parcels. In Season 1 Episode 7 of GBBS, contestants were charged with making a fried pastry with a savory filling.

I chose to make an empanada – a stuffed, fried pastry popular in Spain, and Latin American countries and well, here, too, because they are delicious.

I didn’t go with just any empanada though, I made Gloria’s Empanadas from the Modern Family cookbook.

(Because of course I have a Modern Family cookbook. Thanks, Mom, for buying me a gift that perfectly combines my love of T.V. with my even greater love for food.)

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Photo Credit: Giphy

Whenever I get a new cookbook, I meticulously go through it and mark all of the recipes I want to try with a little Post-it-Note. I’ve had this recipe marked for years, but I didn’t make it because it seemed like a whole hell of a lot of work. And I just wasn’t feeling it most days.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

Turns out I was right to be leery of this recipe. Gloria’s empanadas were so much work. Like, it took me most of an afternoon work.

The recipe wasn’t hard exactly, but it took some time because I made everything from scratch – the filling, the dough, and the accompanying salsa. And though none of these steps were hard – they were nonetheless, time-consuming.

Like this recipe just kept going on and on and on…

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Photo Credit: Giphy

The filling was pretty easy  though. It was just needed a potato, vegetable oil, an onion, garlic, ground beef, cumin, tomato sauce, pimento-stuffed green olives, capers and pepper. It looked like this:

making filling

Embarrassing sidenote: for longer than I want to admit, I thought capers were fish. Like, I was stone-cold positive capers were fish until I was well into my twenties. Okay, until well into my thirties. Okay, until like a few months ago.

Turns out, capers are not fish. They’re this – which you probably already know. I didn’t though, because I had never actually seen them, or when I saw them, I didn’t know what I was seeing. It just knew there was a thing called capers and they sounded like fish and I hate fish so I figured I hated capers too.

But turns out I really like capers, because they are totally not fish.

Mind blown.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

For the dough, things were a bit more complicated, because I needed masa for arepas or precooked instant cornmeal. I couldn’t find in my regular grocery store, so I just got it on Amazon.

I could have gotten it from a local specialty store, and I probably should have. But I’ll be honest, it’s cold out there and I’m avoiding going outside as much as possible at this point. This is pretty much exactly what I have looked like for the past two months. But grouchier and with slightly less mustache.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

I may never leave the house again. Instead, I will get all my necessities, like fancy flours, delivered straight to my door.

To make the dough, I just had to put together the special flour, some hot water, a bit of butter and a pinch each of sugar and salt. Then I kneaded it a bit, waited a bit and it was done. Easy peasy.

 

Nailed it.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

The hard part, or just the time-consuming part, was getting the empanadas ready to fry.

To set up the empanadas, I had to make 32 lil’ balls of dough and then smash those 32 lil balls into four-inch flat circles. Then I took a tablespoon of filling and placed that into the middle of each circle. From there, I had to fold the circle around the filling to make 32 lil half-moon empanadas.

Note to self: next time, don’t use a recipe that makes 32 individual things. Because when you make 32 individual things, that means you have to do a bunch of things 32 times. Which, not surprisingly, takes forever.

After that came the important part, the reason for the deliciousness – the frying. The recipe called for me to put two inches of oil in a large pot and heat it to 350 F. But I didn’t do that.

Instead, I used my handy dandy deep fat fryer. (Shout-out to Mattie for buying me a deep fat fryer a few years back.) I just programmed the deep fat fryer to 350 F and set the timer to about eight minutes for each batch and it worked like a dream.

Which is more than I can say for my favorite GBBS contestant, Kate, who was eliminated from the show this episode. She was kicked out of the competition, in part, because she didn’t have her deep fat fryer programmed right and it shut off during cooking.

I didn’t do that, thank goodness. Though, if it did, it wouldn’t have really mattered, since I’m just in my kitchen and not in a reality T.V. baking show and I just would have turned it back on.

So I guess, for me, it’s no biggie.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

Though if I were in a reality T.V. baking show, these empanadas wouldn’t have gotten me kicked out. They were pretty good. They were crispy and miraculously not burned (that much). The filling was well, filling. And the simple salsa with just tomatoes, green onions, hot sauce and cilantro was good too.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

In fact, everything was so good, I might actually make this again.

Of course, I’d cut the recipe in half though, because 32 empanadas is too many empanadas to make. It’s not too many too eat, but it’s definitely too many to make.

Thankfully, next week’s challenge only requires me to make 12 things. Unfortunately those 12 things are Kouign Amanns – a Breton cake that none of the GBBS contestants had even heard of before the show. Which I am totally not scared about at all, obviously.

Actual emotion:

 

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Photo Credit: Giphy

Anyway… tune in next time to see what may well be a massive disaster, or you know a smashing success, whichever.

If you want more of Sometimes I Bake Mistakes, follow the blog on Facebook or catch up with me on Twitter.

P.S. Sharing is cool, guys. Please spread the Sometimes I Bake Mistakes love, by sharing the blog on Facebook or whatever cool social app the kicks use these days.

Laters, gators.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

Sometimes I Bake Mistakes; Take 18: Hungarian Dobos Torte

I decided to bake my way through the Great British Baking Show (GBBS for short) and write about it. Don’t know much about GBBS? No worries. Check out my first blog in this series to learn more about the show and about why I decided to do this, for better or for worse (so far, mostly worse).

***

I am not usually a laid-back person. I’m not a “let’s just wing it” sort of gal.

Most of the time, I’m at the other end of the spectrum. I’m the type of person who actually reads Terms and Conditions documents all the way through. I’m a champion list maker.

Like Leslie Knope, this is one of my favorite hobbies:

Jammin on planner

You get it. I’m finicky and I really, really hate it when stuff doesn’t go according to plan.

Sort of like this:

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Photo Credit: Giphy

But not exactly like that. Sometimes I’m more British with it and it looks a little more like this:

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But however I decide to show my emotions, this is what’s usually going on inside my head:
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But, if the last few years have taught me anything, it’s that most things are beyond your control. Even if you are the most perfectionist, meticulous, persnickety person in the world, it’s still impossible for you to stop all bad things from happening.

Sometimes, stuff just happens. Sometimes that job doesn’t work out, despite your best efforts. Sometimes you get in that car accident. Sometimes you get really sick, for no good reason.

That’s just life. That’s the deal. You get the good with the bad. So instead of focusing on a doomsday, high-alert, stop-everything-bad-from-happening approach, you can try a different track.  You can try to shift your focus to the good stuff. You can try to fill your life and your world with good things and appreciate them more when you see them.

Even if the good stuff is just dark chocolate buttercream.

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Which leads me back to the bake. I’m now working through GBBS’s Episode 6 “Continental Cakes”. My assignment was to make a Hungarian Dobos Torte, which is a layered sponge cake with chocolate buttercream and caramel topping. It’s famous in, you guessed it, Hungary. (Here I could insert a lame pun about it making you hungry, but I won’t do that to you. Never mind, I already did.)

The GBBS contestants were supposed to make a two-tiered version, but for the sake of my sanity and because I like to avoid food waste, I went with a one-tier version instead.

I used a Hungarian Dobos Torte recipe from the Cooking the Globe blog. (I’m so disappointed that I didn’t think of this blog idea first myself. I’ll just have to follow and cook along with his.)

I chose this recipe because it seemed more manageable than Dobos Torte recipe Mary Berry used on GBBS’s Masterclass. Plus, the caramel work seemed less daunting.

The GBBS contestants were also judged on their caramel work on this cake. It needed to be chockablock full of caramel. (Look how I just casually used British slang there? Chockablock sounds so much better than “a lot”.)

Unfortunately, my caramel work wouldn’t have won me Marys’ praise or one of Paul’s handshakes.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

But, more on that later. Back to the cake.

Technically speaking, the cake wasn’t too hard. The ingredients were pretty standard, though it took me some time to find almond flour in my small hometown. The sheer amount of ingredients, though, was surprising. This cake has three sticks of butter and a full dozen eggs. Just. In. The. Cake.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

I know, it’s nuts, right?

My first task was to separate the eggs, which I did seamlessly.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

From there, it was pretty straightforward. First, I had to beat the butter with half of the sugar until it turned white and fluffy. Then I was supposed to add in the egg yolks into this mixture, individually, beating after each one.

And here’s where I made my first mistake.

Call it distraction or just a moment of not-thinking, but I accidentally added in the egg whites instead of the egg yolks.

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I was supposed to add the egg whites later after I had beat them until soft peaks had formed. This would have made them light and fluffy, and in turn, it would have made the cake lighter and fluffier.

But…I did that wrong.

At this point, I could have started over. I didn’t do that though, because I didn’t want to drive into town to get more eggs and because I didn’t want to waste all the eggs I had already used. I’m cheap, even if my mom was the one who bought the cake ingredients this time.

So, cheap and lazy, I forged ahead with my slightly-messed-up cake. I added in the vanilla extract, salt, lemon zest and the rest of the eggs and the sifted flour. It looked like this:

Batter

The recipe told me to make six, 9-inch circles with my dough, using about one cup of dough on each circle.

I traced a pie tin on parchment paper and I ended up having enough dough for seven dough circles.

 

I cooked each dough circle individually in a 425 degree F oven for 8 minutes. Thankfully, I was using my mom’s oven and not my own, so there were no cooking surprises like I often have with my unreliable oven.

Once the layers were cooked and cooled, I trimmed them into neater, 8-inch circles using a smaller, 8-inch pie tin as a guide.

With how thin they were, my cake circles sort of looked like pancakes. Had I added the whipped egg whites like I was supposed to, the cakes would have probably been fluffier and, therefore had more height.

But, oh well.

As the cakes were cooling, I started working on the buttercream. I mixed four egg whites and sugar in a heat-proof bowl placed over a pan of simmering water. I had to whisk it continuously until the sugar dissolved and the mixture reached (about 160 degrees F) which is also warm enough to cook the egg.

Then I removed it from the heat and beat it until it was light and fluffy. This took about six minutes. Then I added the butter, lots of butter and beat it some more and repeated that process again with the melted chocolate.

 

This process took some time. It was boring and forever-taking.

Once my frosting was ready, it was time for assembly. This was pretty simple. It was just a layer of cake, then a layer of chocolate buttercream until I used up all my layers. I used about a 1/3 cup of buttercream on each layer, like the recipe suggested. I put the rest of the buttercream into a piping bag and decorated the tops and sides of the cake.

 

I was supposed to use toasted almond slices to decorate the sides of the cake, but I didn’t do that because I don’t like flaked almonds that much (and again, laziness).

The recipe told me to refrigerate the cake overnight and in the morning I was planning on making the top caramel layer. Basically, I was supposed to make a caramel with sugar, butter and heavy cream. Then I was supposed to very quickly use a buttered knife to spread that caramel onto one of the cake layers I had set aside. I would then cut that into eight pieces and artfully decorate my cake with it.

Ideally my cake would have then looked like this:

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Photo Credit: Cooking the Globe

 

But, my finished cake did not look like that, because my caramel looked like this:

Failed Caramel

Obviously, the best time to attempt to make a caramel sauce for my cake was about 10 minutes before I was supposed to head to my family Christmas celebration, right?

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Photo Credit: Giphy

 

Yeah, it wasn’t the best timing. As the photograph of my caramel clearly proves.

I should have seen this coming. If you’ve read this blog before, particularly, my Self-Saucing Pudding attempt in Week 10, you’ll know I have issues with caramel.

 

I just left my sugar on a few seconds too long and it hardened up on me. It’s possible that I could have done it in my second attempt, but I didn’t have time for a second attempt. So my cake went without its caramel topper.

It was just a chocolate cake which was a little denser than it should have been because of my little egg mistake with the batter.

But, heck, it looked like a cake and it tasted like a cake, so that’s pretty darn good.

 

And, I don’t know about you, but I’ll take all the good I can get.

I hope your life is chockablock full of good things this holiday season and all through 2018! Happy New Year’s!

P.S. Special thanks to my mom who let me take over (and partially destroy) her kitchen on Christmas Eve before she had to host the family Christmas dinner there. Sorry I covered everything in chocolate buttercream and splatters of cake dough.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

P.P.S. Like the blog? If so, please consider sharing it on Facebook or Twitter or whatever cool social media app kids use these days that I’m not smart enough to understand. Thanks! Love, Ash.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

 

Sometimes I Bake Mistakes: Christmas Edition Where I Don’t Actually Bake Anything

I decided to bake my way through the Great British Baking Show (GBBS for short) and write about it. Don’t know much about GBBS? No worries. Check out my first blog in this series to learn more about the show and about why I decided to do this, for better or for worse (so far, mostly worse).

***

So, I have to admit something to you – I didn’t bake anything this time.

I also may not be funny this time. (This is me assuming, probably incorrectly, that I am funny other times.)

But, just so we are clear, this will not be a typical “Sometimes I Bake Mistakes” post. There will be no talk of pastry or custard. There will be no gifs. (Okay, there might still be some gifs. I sort of have a gif problem.)

But anyway, this time I’m not talking about baking. I’m talking about Christmas and what it means to me. Or, more accurately, what I want it to mean.

I’m not going to get religious here. I’m not going to talk about mangers and wise men.

Instead, I’m just going to talk about one nice man who happened to be a pharmacy cashier I met more than two years ago. In the summer. In the middle of what was, at that point, the worst time of my life.

Admittedly, that doesn’t seem to have much to do with Christmas, but for some reason, my mind keeps going back to that cashier this holiday season.

My brain is weird, I know. But I swear, this will connect to Christmas. It connects to every Christmas. It connects to every day, really.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

First, let’s go back to August 2015 when, during one month, I spent more time in doctors’ offices than I had at any other time in my life combined. That’s because, at the time, I had about a half dozen diagnosed, undiagnosed or misdiagnosed health problems of both the mental and physical variety.

I sort of lose track of all of them now because it was all very confusing and because, thankfully, the human mind has a handy way of repressing stuff it doesn’t want to remember.

Anyway, suffice it to say, it was a rough time. I was in so much pain and I was so scared and depressed because of that pain, that I rarely left the house.

For an entire month of my life, I only left the house to go to doctors’ appointments, physical therapy appointments, therapy appointments or the pharmacy.

Aside from interactions with my husband and very close family and friends, I really only talked to health professionals who I was paying to tell me what was wrong with me, or in some cases, paying to say that they had no idea what was wrong with me.

These were the only people I talked to.

Them, and the drug store cashier. I saw him at least twice a week.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve worked in retail. I know that working in a store under glaring fluorescent lights surrounded by cranky customers and screeching toddlers did not bring out the best in me.

It did not make me want to be nice. It did not make me want to smile.

I firmly believed that if Dante were alive today, a big box store would surely be one of his circles of hell. So, yeah, you understand what my mentality was when I was a cashier.

The cashier at the drug store though, he went a different way.

And still, all of these years later, when I’m thankfully in a much better place, I remember him. I remember him because he was kind. He was kind to me when I was at the worst point in my life. He was kind to me when it mattered most.

People don’t forget that.

When you’re depressed, truly depressed like I was, moments like this stand out. They shine so much brighter than they would during other, happier times. That’s because they’re such a startling departure from your usual darkness.

They’re like a fiery comet shooting through a dark night. You can’t miss them, and you don’t forget them.

They matter so much, and yet, they’re so easy to give.

At Christmas, people spend so much time worrying about what to give people. They break their budgets and scour stores or the internet for the perfect gift.

But we don’t need to make it that hard on ourselves, not really.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good present as much as the next gal, and there’s something to be said for the thoughtfulness that comes from a well-considered gift. But we can give each other better gifts than that, for free. Every day.

We just have to make like that drug store cashier, and be kind. Even when we’re stressed. Even when we’re tired. Even when we’re not really in the mood.

Because, these are the gifts that people truly remember. All people really remember in the end is how you treated them. The only thing that really matters to people is how you make them feel.

And we can always help each other feel better.

We just have to do simple, tiny things to show people we care. Even if we don’t know them that well. Even if they’re complete strangers.

We can hold the door open for that person behind us. We can pay for the next car in the drive-through. We can let that car into our lane even though, yeah, they probably should have paid attention to the sign telling them to merge earlier. We can give a few bucks to that charity like we keep meaning to do, but never actually do. We can smile back.

Because you never know what small act of kindness will matter to someone.

You never know what tiny good deed will loom large in people’s memories – like that cashier’s did in mine.

So, at Christmas, we can buy the usual presents, but maybe we could try to do some of this stuff too, if we’re feeling up to it.

It could help make the holidays brighter for all of us, which is important, because you can never really tell who’s living in the dark.

So here’s hoping that your holidays are merry and bright, especially, if for some reason, you’re that drug store cashier I met two years ago. You, sir, are the best. The absolute best.

P.S. Next time, I’ll get back to baking. I’ll attempt to bake a Hungarian Dobos Torte and yeah, that could end badly.

P.P.S. Here’s that gif I promised you, because I feel I need to lighten the mood a bit here…

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Photo credit: Giphy

You’re welcome.

 

 

Sometimes I Bake Mistakes; Take 17: Swedish Princess Cake

I decided to bake my way through the Great British Baking Show (GBBS for short) and write about it. Don’t know much about GBBS? No worries. Check out my first blog in this series to learn more about the show and about why I decided to do this, for better or for worse (so far, mostly worse).

***

You know when you watch something on television and think:

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Photo credit: Giphy

That’s not the way I felt when I saw Season 1 Episode 6 of GBBS where the contestants made a Prinsesstarta (Princess Cake).

Instead, I felt a bit like this:

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Photo credit: Giphy

I felt like there was no way in the world I could make this cake. And it turns out I was right to feel that way.

At least for the most part.

I couldn’t make a Prinsesstarta.

I could make parts of it though and I’m taking that as a win, because this was by far the hardest thing I’ve had to bake in my GBBS challenge. I mean, come on, just look at this recipe.

There are two dozen ingredients and just as many steps.

I had to make a sponge cake, vanilla custard, raspberry jam, whipped cream, a fondant rose and marzipan.

But…I didn’t actually end up making all of those things.

We’ll get to that later.

First, let’s start with what went well – the custard. It was amazing custard. It was beautiful. And it made me feel like this:

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Photo credit: Giphy

I didn’t technically follow the custard directions though. I was supposed to make the custard with milk, egg yolks, caster sugar, cornstarch, butter and 1 vanilla pod.

But,because the grocery store I visited only had one crazy-expensive vanilla pod for like $15, I swapped out the vanilla pod for the three teaspoons of vanilla extract instead. I found the conversions here.

Otherwise, I did what the recipe said. This involved a lot of cooking over low heat and a whole lot more whisking. I whisked and whisked and whisked it until the mixture thickened (and my arm hurt a lot).

It was a lot of work, but it was worth it because in the end it looked and tasted like custard.

 

And, just in case I haven’t made this clear yet, it was:

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Photo credit: Giphy

It was so good, guys.

The jam on the other hand, wasn’t quite as good. I mean, it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t as good as the custard, which, again, was amazing. (Sorry, I’m really jazzed about the custard.)

Anyway, back to the jam, I was supposed to make it using raspberries and jam sugar. But I couldn’t find jam sugar in my grocery store, so instead I swapped in caster sugar.

It seemed to work okay, but, again, I have no real frame of reference since I’ve never made jam before. It tasted slightly worse than what I’ve bought in a jar though.

This is because I overcooked the jam a bit, even though I very diligently used my sugar thermometer.

Okay, okay, you got me. I may have walked away from the pot (and the thermometer) for a bit.

 

 

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Photo credit: Giphy

But rather than holding my head down in shame and walking away, I decided to just  use the jam anyway. This is mainly because I only had one container of raspberries and I wasn’t about to go out and buy another. Again with the cheap thing. This seems to be a recurring theme.

Anyway, on to the cake. I didn’t mess up the cake (that much).

The cake was just a simple sponge cake. It was just eggs, caster sugar, cornstarch, flour and baking powder. The only hard part about it was I had to cut it in thirds, horizontally.

Why is Mary Berry constantly making people cut cakes in halves and thirds? Just make multiple, separate cakes, Mary. It’s easier. Sheesh.

Anyway, I was excited I was even able to cut my cake into three layers.

I wasn’t excited that you could see some bits of flour in some of them though. If you look closely at the second pic you can see the offensive flour spots. But, shhh….we don’t need to talk about that. Let’s just focus on the fact that, otherwise, the cakes were  a massive success.

The marzipan on the other hand. Well, there’s only one way to describe the marzipan:

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Photo credit: Giphy

It was a complete and total disaster.

Just for comparison sake, let’s look at what the marzipan is supposed to look like. See that nice, smooth green cover on top of the cake on the left? That’s the marzipan. See that mess that looks like green ricotta cheese on the right? That’s my marzipan.

It looks, disgusting, right? Here are two appropriate reactions to my marzipan. These are the only appropriate responses to my marzipan.

It was nasty.

I was supposed to make the marzipan by mixing ground almonds, caster sugar and powdered sugar in a mixer fitted with a dough hook. Then I was supposed to add eggs and almond extract.

From there I was supposed to knead it until it formed a stiff dough, turn it out onto a surface dusted with icing sugar and add a tiny bit of food coloring to it.

I went wrong right from the beginning though with my ground almonds. I tried to grind the almonds myself just using a food processor. This didn’t break them up into small enough pieces though, so instead of being like flour, my ground almonds were more like almond chunks or chunky peanut butter.

This was a mistake. A big one.

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Photo credit: Giphy

This made it impossible for me to do the next step of my marzipan process. I was supposed to roll the marzipan dough into a circle large enough to cover the cake and then gently set it on top and smooth down the sides.

But I couldn’t roll my marzipan, because, just a reminder, it was like chunky peanut butter.

I threw it away. Then I proceeded with my cake sans marzipan. (A girl only has so many almonds.)

Besides, it was the same cake, basically. It was just naked.

So I started the layering. There was a lot of layering.

I spooned a quarter of the custard into a piping bag and piped a border of it around the first sponge. Then I spread the jam between the custard border.

Then I whipped some cream and folded half of it into the remaining custard and spread this over the jam. I put on the second sponge on top of that and spread over the rest of the custard cream and put the third sponge on top.

You get it. There were a lot of cream, cake and custard layers going on. Here’s what the process looked like in action:

Even after all of this layering there was still  more custard and cream. So that got slathered on the sides and piled on top.  So in the end, it looked like this:

It looks decidedly less impressive without its marzipan cover and the accompanying fondant rose and chocolate swirls, but, you know what, it still tasted good.

It tasted really good, like a very fancy cream puff that took a whole heck of a lot of time to make.

But considering how scared I was to even attempt this in the first place, I’m taking the whole thing as a win. Besides, next time, I might even do better. You never know, it’s possible.

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Photo credit: Giphy

Okay, okay, it’s doubtful. But possible, all the same. At least next time there is no marzipan. I’ve got that going for me.

Next time I am attempting to make a contemporary version of the Hungarian Dobos torte though and these things look pretty scary:

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Photo credit: Giphy

But who knows, maybe next time, I will actually do all the steps. That’d be cool.

So, yeah, check in next time to hopefully see me do better, or you know, fail spectacularly again. Whichever.

Bye…

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Photo Credit: Giphy

P.S. You can follow me on Facebook here and Twitter here. You know, if you feel like it. No pressure.

P.P.S. Please don’t judge me for how few followers I have on Twitter…I know it’s embarrassing.

 

 

Sometimes I Bake Mistakes: Celebrity Edition

I decided to bake my way through the Great British Baking Show (GBBS for short) and write about it. Don’t know much about GBBS? No worries. Check out my first blog in this series to learn more about the show and about why I decided to do this, for better or for worse (so far, mostly worse).

***

Sorry, I’ve been slacking.

This time I was supposed to make a Prinsesstårta or a Swedish Princess Cake. But I didn’t, because I’ve been distracted by a sinus infection which has me all like:

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Photo credit: Giphy

So seeing as how I’m going to need all of my energy (and the few skills I have) to take on the dreaded Prinsesstårta, I decided to put it off, at least until after Thanksgiving.

So instead, I’ll update you on some important Sometimes I Bake Mistakes celebrity news.

Just FYI, I consider everyone on reality cooking or baking shows celebrities, especially everyone on GBBS. That includes the hosts, judges and even the contestants – most especially the contestants. The contestants are my favorite.

And my absolute favorite of these favorites is Nadiya from GBBS season 3 (or season 6 in the U.K.). Spoiler alert – Nadiya is the winner of that season. But that’s not the reason I love her. I love her because of the speech she gave when she won.

This one:

Nadiya

 

That doesn’t do the speech justice. You should really watch Nadiya say it here.

But seriously that speech is amazing right? Just got-punchingly, ridiculously amazing. The way she tears up at the end, I just, I can’t even. This is what I look like every time I watch it:

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Full disclosure – that speech right there was the reason I decided to do this baking project/blog.

I’ve never been very good at trying things that are hard for me, that don’t come naturally. I’m not very practiced at doing things that require, well, practice.

Odds are, if I tried something once and it was hard for me, this is how I reacted to doing it again:

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Photo credit: Giphy

This isn’t a personality trait I’m proud of, but it’s one I know I have. I’m attempting to change it.

Thanks to Nadiya.

Because if you watch season 3 of GBBS you will see Nadiya fail, pretty spectacularly a bunch of times. Girl could not handle the technical challenges there for a while. But like a true Brit, Nadiya keeps calm and carries on. She just never quits.

What she does instead, is bake and make the best facial expressions the world has ever seen.

I mean just look at this:

 

Just as amusingly, throughout the season you also get to see Nadiya’s sassiness grow in proportion to her confidence. Which means by the end of the season, she goes full on smart-ass on the judge Paul.

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So, yeah, you get it. I love Nadiya. She’s inspiring. She’s funny. She’s not going to take Paul’s nonsense without a comeback. She’s a cake baking genius with world-class facial expressions and, oh yeah, she’s a liker of my tweets.

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I kind of buried the lead there, but anyway, to repeat: Nadiya liked my tweet. This tweet:

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See. Here’s proof.

Here’s the tweet:

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I was talking about Nadiya’s new cooking show on Netflix – The Big Family Cooking Showdown. I’m calling it Nadiya’s show but there are other people there. Nadiya is just one of two hosts.

The show is about what it sounds like: families competing in a cooking showdown. At the end, one family is named Britain’s best amateur cooking family. Sound a bit like GBBS? Of course it does. It’s designed that way to play on the hearts and minds of GBBS lovers.

And it works.

I love it almost as much as I love GBBS. Not just because of Nadiya, but because it’s, well, nice.

It’s a nice show about nice families cooking really, really nice food.

If a show could be a Hufflepuff, this show would be a Hufflepuff. (Seriously, if you don’t know what a Hufflepuff is, go read Harry Potter already. It’s sort of ridiculous you haven’t yet, no offense.)

Anyway, what really makes this show great is exactly what made GBBS great – the contestants are nice to each other, genuinely nice to each other. They support each other, encourage each other and go crazy for each others’ food.

I’d gladly eat dinner at any of their houses. Which I why I was so psyched when two of the three contestants from the winning family liked my tweet too.

It made me feel like this:

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I admit it may seem silly and so “millennial” of me to get excited about something on social media.

But bear with me here, I know that Twitter and all social media gets a bad rap for being artificial – for taking away from real human interaction. And yeah, sometimes it does do that. Other times it’s just another platform for jerks to be jerks.

But sometimes, social media can do the opposite. Sometimes it allows people who would never cross paths in real life to spread a little kindness to each other.

And that’s pretty cool.

There’s something special about a famous baker/television presenter/queen-birthday-cake-baker taking time out of her day to like the tweet of some Nebraskan lady who is not a famous baker/television presenter/queen-birthday-cake-baker.

Because even though we lead very different lives, things like this are proof that we all have so much more in common than we think.

Most people at their core just want to share some nice food with some nice people and that’s why shows like GBBS and The Big Family Cooking Showdown are so great. They celebrate this commonality. This sameness. Which is pretty damn neat.

So watch some GBBS and The Great Family Cooking Showdown already and while you’re watching, remember that awesome Nadiya lady liked my tweet, so we’re practically best friends now, right?

 

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Photo credit: Giphy

Or you know, not, whatever.

P.S. If for some crazy reason Nadiya ever sees this, I just want to apologize if I came off a bit creepy. I swear I am not creepy, though, in retrospect, saying that did not make me sound less creepy. My bad.

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Photo credit: Giphy

Anyway…Happy Thanksgiving! May your holiday be filled with nice people and really nice food.

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter here. I have embarrassingly few friends on here but Nadiya does like my tweets sometimes, just so you know, in case you forgot…

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Photo credit: Giphy

Update: Nadiya just liked my tweet about this exact blog post!

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This tweet:

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I can’t even handle this! Me right now:

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Sometimes I Bake Mistakes; Take 16: Yeast-Leavened Cakes

I decided to bake my way through the Great British Baking Show (GBBS for short) and write about it. Don’t know much about GBBS? No worries. Check out my first blog in this series to learn more about the show and about why I decided to do this, for better or for worse (so far, mostly worse).

***

After last week’s Tower of Pies challenge, which, I’ll be honest, was sort of a mess sometimes, I was pretty psyched going into this week.

I just had to make a yeast-leavened cake. And I’ve made cakes. Tons of cakes. So basically, I was like, I’ve got this.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

This sense of overconfidence has burned me (and my bakes before). Just check out, well, most of my other baking blogs for proof of that.

But this time things actually did go well.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

Shocking, I know.

But it turns out that making a yeast-leavened cake is just a whole heck of a lot like making cake and also sort of like making bread.

And I’ve done both, and you can do both too.

Because I really cannot overstate how easy this particular bake was. I used a King Arthur Flour recipe for a Yeasted Lemon Cake. Here’s the recipe.

It’s really simple. I just had to combine flour, instant yeast (not active dry yeast), sugar, salt, warm milk, melted butter, eggs and lemon zest in a tube pan. (I used an angel food cake pan and that seemed to work just fine.)

Then, the hardest part for me – I had to wait, for an hour for the dough to raise. The waiting always sucks.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

Then after the excruciating (or just mildly boring) wait time, I just popped the raised dough into the oven. (Heads up, it didn’t raise nearly as much as I thought it would but I put it in the oven anyway, because I’m impatient and I wanted to eat my cake.)

 

So basically the whole thing was easy peasy. A piece of cake. (Yeah, I couldn’t resist making that pun. Roll your eyes all you want.)

 

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Photo Credit: Giphy

And for once, my oven actually worked. Like I put something in the oven for the amount of time the recipe instructed and the oven actually cooked the thing like it was supposed to. It was amazing.

Heck yeah!

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Photo Credit: Giphy

But then I had to make the syrup and obviously something had to go wrong here because nothing had gone wrong so far so I was totally pushing it.

For the syrup I just had to combine sugar and water in a saucepan, boil it and simmer it for 10 minutes until it thickened. Except after 10 minutes and then 15 minutes and then maybe 20 minutes (I stopped keeping track) it still hadn’t really thickened. Like at all. Just check out this nonsense.

 

So yeah, I took my not-very-thickened syrup and added lemon juice to it like the recipe told me to, which obviously made the syrup even thinner. At this point, my syrup wasn’t so much syrup as it was just weak lemonade.

Then once my cake was cooked I was supposed to brush the syrup over the bottom of my cake. Since my syrup wasn’t really brush-worthy, I just tried to drizzle it on with a spoon. Then I had to wait for the cake to cool for five minutes.

This is the point where many people who commented on the recipe’s webpage ran into problems. They claimed that when they flipped their cake over onto a baking rack covered with parchment paper or onto a baking sheet, their cake would break up and become a big mess.

But mine didn’t, guys. So I think that means I have become a baking genius.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

Then once my totally-not-ruined cake was flipped over, I had to drizzle the rest of the lemonade/lemon syrup mixture on top of the cake and then let the whole thing cool completely.

This took practically forever (or maybe like a half hour) I don’t know. I lost track. I just wanted my cake.

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Anyway after it had finally cooled. The cake looked pretty damn awesome.

 

And it tasted good too. A few people had commented on the recipe that they thought the cake was too dry and not sweet enough.

I disagreed. Thanks to my overly-runny syrup my cake wasn’t dry at all. It was moist

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Photo Credit: Giphy

(Yeah, sorry about that. I hate that word too.)

Anyway, moving on…

I didn’t think the cake should be sweeter, because, as a whole, I usually think desserts are way too sweet.

Besides, a few days after Halloween and pounds of leftover Halloween candy, a less-sweet, fruity cake almost seems healthy. Almost…but not really at all.

I got off pretty easy this week with a cake that actually ended up looking (and tasting) like a cake.

Next week, though, things get real. I have to make a Swedish Prinsesstarta (Princess Cake).

It has sponge cake, marzipan, fondant, jam and custard. All of which I have to make from scratch. It has more ingredients than I even want to count and the recipe has two dozen steps. Two dozen. Also it looks like this:

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Photo Credit: BBC

Yeah, if you’re looking at that picture and thinking there’s no way in hell Ashley can make that, I’m right there with you. Just looking at that pic sort of makes me feel like this:

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Photo Credit: Giphy

So yeah, check in next week for what will probably be a total disaster.

P.S. Sharing is cool, guys. If you know someone who likes baking, stupid GIFs or just reading about someone else’s mistakes, please share the blog: sometimesibakemistakesblog.wordpress.com or the Facebook page with them: www.facebook.com/sometimesibakemistakesblog.

P.P.S. This is totally unrelated, but if you haven’t watched Stranger Things yet, just do it already. What are you waiting for?

Go watch Stranger Things now. Just trust me on this.

Bye.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

Sometimes I Bake Mistakes; Take 15: Tower of Pies

I decided to bake my way through the Great British Baking Show (GBBS for short) and write about it. Don’t know much about GBBS? No worries. Check out my first blog in this series to learn more about the show and about why I decided to do this, for better or for worse (so far, mostly worse).

***

So this week I was supposed to make a  tower of pies that was at least three tiers and included three different types of pie.

And, I did. Technically. Kind of.

But not really.

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Photo Credit: Giphy

I did make three different kinds of pies and I made one of those kinds of pie into a four-tiered tower.

My tower was just significantly smaller than the towers made by the GBBS contestants. And, also, I took about three weeks to make all of my pies, when they made all of theirs in one afternoon.

I did this for a few reasons. Number one, because, time-wise I just didn’t have a whole day to devote to pie-making this month.

Yeah, I know, it shouldn’t take me all day to make three pies. But, in case it wasn’t clear by now, I have no idea what I’m doing so it very well may have taken me a whole day.

Number two, three pies are just too many pies for me to have around the house at once. That’s a lot of pie for two people to eat.

And, yeah, okay, I could share. But sometimes you’re leery of sharing something you baked when you have absolutely no idea if you got it right.

Like “Hey everyone, come over here and eat this stuff I made. It may be awful, but just eat it anyways and don’t be a jerk about it.”

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Photo Credit: Giphy

But, of course, I did make people eat them anyway and they were very generous about them even though the pies didn’t warrant it.

(It pays to be friends with nice people who lie to you sometimes when you need it.)

4

Okay, anyway, on to the pies.

This time, I took a break from the British and went very American with my pies. I used three pie recipes from Ree Drummond, a.k.a. the Pioneer Woman. They were from two Pioneer Woman cookbooks I already owned – The Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays and The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Dinnertime.

From Holidays I used her Pecan Pie recipe and her Caramel Apple Pie recipe. Both of these recipes use her Perfect Pie Crust recipe from the same cookbook.

From her Dinnertime cookbook, I made her Individual Chicken Pot Pies. (I then, very briefly, made these individual chicken pot pies into a pie tower. More on that later.)

Let’s start with the pecan pie. I’ve never made a pecan pie in my life. I’ve also never eaten a pecan pie. So I had no idea what I was doing with this one.

In a way, this was a relief, because I knew whatever I made, it would be the single greatest pecan pie I’d ever made in my life.

(It would, by this logic, also be the worst, but I decided not to focus on that.)

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Photo credit: Giphy

Anyhoo, here’s some pics of the pie in progress.

As you can see, I didn’t make any huge mistakes here. It was a baking breakthrough!

And naturally, I did a dance in celebration.

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Photo credit: Giphy

Let’s just ignore the fact that pecan pie is actually pretty easy to make and all I did was make a pie crust, mix a few ingredients in a bowl and then dump that mixture and some pecans into a crust.

This may have been a bad pie for me to start out with because it gave me a very inflated sense of self-confidence in my pie baking skills. Because, it actually ended up looking like a pecan pie. (I think)

See, look.

Then, I made the Caramel Apple Pie which sounds delicious, but wasn’t as delicious thanks to my poor execution and way too much caramel.

I just said “too much caramel” which is something I never thought I’d say. But seriously just look at this.

See that pic at the end? That’s supposed to be a drizzle of caramel. A drizzle.

I don’t know if my store-bought caramel sauce was too thin, or if I just put it on the pie when the pie was still too warm, but my pie looked like it had been hit by a caramel thunderstorm not a caramel drizzle.

My friends who I forced to eat it were very nice about it, but, again it was possible they were just being nice. (You can never tell with these people. They’re crafty like that.)

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Photo credit: Giphy

Then for my pièce de résistance – my pie tower – I used my individual chicken pot pies.

These were made from a pie crust the Pioneer Woman calls “All-Butter Pie Crust.” It has three whole sticks of butter in it. Three! Just in the crust! It was insane. If for some reason, you want to raise your cholesterol, eat this.

All in all, this bake was pretty easy. The only problem I had was I’d accidentally bought the wrong size of pot pie pans online and then I was too lazy to return them and try again. The ones the Pioneer Woman uses in her recipe are deeper so they can take more of the filling. Mine were smaller so I had lots of filling left over. Like a whole bunch.

That picture toward the bottom right is all of the leftover filling.

But aside from having a bunch of leftover filling, I was pretty psyched about how these bad boys turned out.

Because they did not have soggy bottoms (which our judge Mary Berry would have hated) and they were solid enough that I could actually stack them. Into a tower. Like this:

Pie Tower

Tada!

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Now, this tower may have only lasted for a few seconds while I took a picture of it before I got scared and took it apart. But it was still there. Ever so briefly. Like a gosh-darn double-rainbow or a freakin’ shooting star.

And it had me feeling really, really good about myself.

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Photo Courtesy: Giphy

So, all in all, this bake challenge wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, because, well, I sort of cheated. (Which always makes things easier.) But, it was also easier than I thought it would be because I actually got better at making pie crusts. As in, I learned something guys! Which was sort of the whole point of all this.

Next time, I’ll start learning about European cakes because I’ll move into Episode 6’s Continental Cakes episode.

This is going to be tough. Really though. I have to make stuff like this.

Photo by BBC
Photo courtesy: BBC

But, thankfully, I’ll get to start out making just a yeast-leaven cake, which I’ve also never done before. But, heck, I’d never made a pie tower before this week either, so who knows what I can bake up?

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Photo Courtesy: Giphy

Probably something wonderful (or, something wonderfully terrible). Either way, I’ll blog about it. So catch you next time. It’s either gonna be great or awful.

P.S. A special thanks to Sugar Bear (you know who you are) for the caster sugar which will help me bake like a real Brit.

P.P.S. Sharing is cool, guys. If you know some people who may like the blog, please share this post or let people know about the Facebook page. Your friends will either like it, or they’ll think it’s dumb, but since they’re your friends, they’ll probably be nice about it either way. So, share it, if you feel like it, no pressure.

P.P.P.S. Just in case this wasn’t clear. Ree Drummond, a.k.a. the Pioneer Woman, is a gosh-darned cooking and baking genius, so any problems with the recipes are due to my execution and not anything she did. She’s the best.

Until next time.

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Sometimes I Bake Mistakes: Birthday Party Edition

Hi, guys. It’s been awhile. I’ve been busy with some work stuff and more importantly, some birthday party stuff.

Yeah, I’m 31 years old and I still care about my birthday. I realize this may seem juvenile, or just plain self-centered, and, yeah, it may very well be those things. But to me at least, it’s also something more.

If you know me fairly well, you’ll know that the last few years have been pretty rough. Between health problems that have lingered for far too long and the anxiety and depression that so often go along with feeling bad for far too long, things haven’t been great sometimes.

I don’t say that for pity or sympathy or anything. (I suck with pity and sympathy. Don’t give it to me. I’ll be awkward about it.) Besides, I am getting better. Just far more slowly than I’d like to. And, even with all that, I’m still far luckier than a whole heck of a lot of other people. I get that.

I just say these things because I want you to know where I’m coming from when I tell you that sometimes feeling well enough to celebrate is reason enough to celebrate.

Life is too short, and frankly sometimes too hard, for you not to do the things you want to do when you want to do them.

So if you feel good (physically, mentally, the whole deal) celebrate, man. Find the things that bring you joy and embrace them unapologetically and enthusiastically. Even if they seem silly. Even if they seem stupid. Even if they seem weird.

Because who cares if it’s weird? Just be you. Just go for it. Go big. Go bold.

Or, in my case, go bake.

***

Which leads me to the birthday party. I had a Great British Baking Show-themed birthday party. (Because of course I did.)

And I had big plans for it. Because I love big plans. (This is one of the several hundred ways I hope to one day be like Leslie Knope.)

Unfortunately, unlike Leslie Knope, I sometimes don’t do as well with time-management, so my big plans are fine until I actually need to do them. At this point, I usually realize I have overdone it and I look a little something like this:

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Photo Credit: Giphy

Because the thing is, I got carried away with the bakes. As it was a GBBS-themed birthday party, I had to deliver on the bakes, right? Of course, I did. The only problem was I decided to deliver on six of them.

If you’ve been following along with the blog, you’ll know that I’m still a novice baker. With most of the desserts I’ve tackled so far, the time I make them for the blog is the first time I’ve baked them. So, yeah, just to remind you, I’m essentially approaching every bake like this:

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But, I figured I would just do some of the bakes I’d done before, so it should be no big deal, right? I mean, I’d already done them once (to varying degrees of success) but I figured the second time would be easier.

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Photo credit: Giphy

Uhh….yeah, I was wrong. Because some of the bakes weren’t necessarily easier the second time around and some of them I didn’t end up doing at all, because, umm, time was a factor (a factor I did not manage well).

Okay, here’s what I attempted to bake in a span of two days for more than two dozen guests: a Swiss Cake Roll, Mary Berry’s Cherry Cake, Mini Coffee and Walnut Cakes, Sugar Cookies (which I shaped like tea bags – because, Britain, guys), a Tiramisu Cake and Florentines.

Of these, Mary Berry’s Cherry Cake is the only thing I abandoned entirely, because I didn’t have time. I did however manage to bake everything else, again to varying degrees of success.

But I can say that my Swiss Cake Roll actually looked like a Swiss Cake Roll this time. Which is a massive improvement from my first attempt which looked like a folded, cracked mess of cream. Don’t remember that particular bake? Check out the first blog in my series. Yeah, I’ve come a long way from there baby, if I do say so myself (at least when it comes to Swiss Cake Rolls.

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Photo credit: Giphy

I did however manage to sort of (mostly) burn a good chunk of the Florentines and the sugar cookies. I then decided to partially dip the sugar cookies in almond bark to cover up the burned bits. Shhhh…don’t tell anyone they were a little burned. It will be our little secret.

And the tiramisu cake, well, that turned out to be the most annoying thing of all. In retrospect, the fact that I was making it about an hour before people arrived and I probably wasn’t in the best head-space was probably part of the problem.

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Anyhoo, on GBBS, Mary Berry’s Tiramisu Cake was a technical challenge so our normally-lovable GBBS judge, Mary Berry, made it extra tricky for the GBBS contestants. For starters, she made the bakers cut a sponge cake that was approximately an inch thick, in half. Horizontally. This is just brutal.

I wanted to have the tallest sponge cake possible for my tiramisu cake, because, well I had to cut in half. Horizontally, remember? Which is just nuts. So I was careful not to over-mix, which Mary warned me could reduce the cake’s height. Unfortunately, I under-mixed it. So when I cut my sponge cake in half, there where just a bunch of chunks of unmixed flour inside of it.

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So, yeah, I had to make a whole other sponge cake for the Tiramisu Cake. But this time I wasn’t playing Mary Berry’s cut-cakes-in-half-horizontally-game, so instead I just doubled the recipe and made two cakes. That way I wouldn’t have to cut them in half to get the number of layers I needed. This was sort of genius on my part. So yeah, I was feeling pretty good.

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Photo credit: Giphy

Unfortunately, when I was putting the cake together, I forgot that I had essentially doubled the thickness of my sponge cake, so in turn, I would need to double the amount of coffee/rum mixture I would need to soak said sponges. So, yeah my cake wasn’t as coffee/rum soaked as it should have been.

And, as for the coffee and walnut cakes, yeah, those didn’t get their little decorations on top because yeah, time was a problem.

But the thing is, none of that really mattered. All that mattered is the fact that I had a Great British Baking Show party. And it had all of this stuff:

And all of this food:

But, most importantly, of all, it had a bunch of my favorite people in the same place at the same time. And that’s pretty freaking great and had me feeling like:

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Photo credit: Giphy

So thanks to everyone who came out for the party! And special thanks to Molly who did the decorations. (She will pretend I did, but I did not.) And to Sharon and Beth for helping me with last-minute cooking, baking and dish-washing. You’re the best. And to Aunt Mona who was smart enough to take photos, when I was not. P.S. I used some of your pictures.

Anyhoo, next week, I’ll get back to my regular baking schedule. I’m supposed to be making a tower of pies. Which after the party, should be easy, right?

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Photo credit: Giphy

Or, you know, maybe not.

P.S. Just a reminder “Sometimes I Bake Mistakes” has a Facebook page now. It’s @sometimesibakemistakesblog.

You can follow it, if you feel like it. No pressure.

Later, gators.

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Photo credit: Giphy

 

Sometimes I Bake Mistakes; Take 14: Mini Pear Pies

I decided to bake my way through the Great British Baking Show (GBBS for short) and write about it. Don’t know much about GBBS? No worries. Check out my first blog in this series to learn more about the show and about why I decided to do this, for better or for worse (so far, mostly worse).

***

So, I wasn’t looking forward to this one…

This week I had to make Mini Pear Pies which were the technical challenge in the GBBS’ season 1 episode 5.

There are a lot of reasons I put off doing this challenge.

For one, I don’t like pears.

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Charlie gets it.

Second, this recipe calls for me to wrap up pears in pastry and I’m definitely a pastry newbie.

Third, when I watched the GBBS contestants make this on the show, even they screwed up. Like a lot. Even my favorite contestant, Richard the builder, botched this one. And it is literally his job to construct things – even if they are pastry-wrapped pears.

So trust me when I say, I did not go into this one with much confidence. Truth be told  though, I don’t go into most things with much confidence (thanks to general pessimism and more specific anxiety).

But, hey, sometimes pessimism and anxiety are proved wrong – and this week, they were proved wrong by pears.

Because this week went WAY BETTER than I expected, even if things weren’t looking so hot in the beginning

The first thing I had to do was make a “rough puff pastry” by putting some flour in a bowl and then grating frozen butter and lard into it. Yeah, I had to grate butter and lard. It was gross. Here’s a picture of the aftermath.

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My husband got me these kitchen gloves so I don’t cut myself or, in this case, accidentally grate my greasy fingers off.  They’re pretty cool. 

Anyway, then the recipe called for me to “use a knife to coat the butter and lard in the flour”. This seemed like a very weird instruction to me, so basically I just mixed the flour and butter/lard mixture up with a knife like I would have with a spoon. It was weird, and also I don’t think it worked very well.

Then, after it was “mixed”, I had to add in 120-150 ml. cold water and mix it until it formed a firm dough.

Here’s a little thing about me, I always add too much water right away, instead of starting with the smaller amount and then working up as necessary. This may be a character flaw and it’s certainly bad for dough-making.

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Sad, wet dough. Not “firm dough” like the recipe calls for.

Thankfully, flour came to the rescue of my sad, wet dough.

I was supposed to roll the pastry dough out into a rectangle on a floured work surface, so to combat my too-wet dough, I used a very floured work surface. That seemed to help with the dough’s consistency.

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Sad, wet dough looking slightly less sad and wet.

Then I had to make my dough into a rectangle and fold the top third of that rectangle down and then fold the bottom third of that rectangle up and over the top third I just folded, then turn the whole thing 90 degrees or a quarter turn and repeat the rolling and folding all over again.

This sounded very complicated to me the first time I read it and I was like uh…

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But, then I read it again, and it made sense so I did what the recipe said and created this little, folded dough masterpiece.

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You really can’t see the folds from this angle. I should have taken the pic from the other side. Oh, well. Let me assure you, the folds are on point.

I had to put my dough parcel in the fridge for 20 minutes and after it was chilled, I had to take it out of the fridge and repeat the “rolling, folding and chilling” process two more times.

That meant this dough took more than an hour to make if you think about it. And, for once, I actually thought about it. Unlike last week’s timing disaster, this week, I actually read the whole recipe through and thought about how to time things correctly. I learned something ya’ll.

Yay me!  Imaginary mic drop in celebration of this baking break-through:

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Photo credit: Giphy

 

I started on the second step of the bake while my dough was chilling the second time.

At this point, I had to poach some pears. (I keep typing “pouch” not “poach” by default, which makes me laugh because I think of kangaroos smuggling pears in their pouch.) Anyhoo, on to poaching not pouching.

I had to peel the pears, keeping the stems intact and then make a poaching syrup. Which yeah, I had never done before, but it didn’t sound too bad. I thought:

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Photo credit: Giphy

And I was right…sort of.

To make the syrup, I just had to dump a bunch of sugar into a large saucepan with water, white wine, some cinnamon sticks and the zest of one orange. I had to slowly bring this to a boil and stir it until the sugar dissolved. Then I had to boil it for three more minutes.

Just in case you were wondering, yes, this did smell absolutely amazing. If I couldn’t think of much better uses for wine, I would just boil this syrup on my stove all the time simply for the smell of it.

But, like I said, there are better uses for wine:

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Photo credit: Giphy

Anyway, when those three minutes were up, I added my peeled pears to the pot, brought the syrup back to a boil and then simmered and cooked the pears in the syrup for 15 minutes.

I removed the pears from the syrup with a slotted spoon and set them aside to cool. Later, I’d use a small spoon to remove their core (but I kept the stem, because that’s important later to make them look pretty, plus, it was a handy handle).

I had to return the remaining syrup to the heat and boil it rapidly for 10 to 15 minutes or until “the volume of the liquid is reduced by half and the syrup is thick.” Then I had to set it aside to cool too.

I’m terrible at cooking things until they are thick. Ordinarily, I get bored and give up cooking whatever I’m cooking while it’s still very thin, because of well, boredom and general impatience.

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Me waiting for anything longer than 10 minutes. Photo credit: Giphy

So yeah, I usually I give up on thickening things way before they are actually thick. This time, wanting to avoid the same fate, I did what a lot of people do when they try to address a mistake — I over-corrected.

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Photo credit: Giphy

More on that later…

For now, let’s get back to the dough.

After it was rolled, folded and chilled those three times, I rolled it out again into the shape of a very long, rectangle about 2 feet long by 8 inches wide. My dough was not supposed to be more than a 1/4 of an inch thick.

Watching the show, I’d seen the pitfalls of having pastry that was too thick, so again I over-corrected. My dough was thin, very thin.

In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have taken a picture of this almost-white dough, on my almost-white counter. You can’t really see anything. Just trust me here, the dough is thin and despite me using a ruler, my strips are somewhat less than straight.

Now, after my pears and my syrup had cooled, it was time for the hard part – wrapping my strips of pastry around the pears. I wasn’t looking forward to this bit. But, naturally, I was totally calm about it.

 

 

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Don’t like the “F” word? Pretend Michael said “Poaching”. It’s even funnier. Photo credit: Giphy

So, at this point I was supposed to brush my pears with a bit of the cooled sugar syrup I made earlier.

Then starting from the bottom of the pear, I was supposed to press and adhere a strip of pastry and wrap it around the pear. According to the recipe, it would take me about three strips of pastry to cover each pear.

I really should have taken a picture of this process, but I’ll be real with you, I was focusing on mummifying some pears and not on taking pictures of the process, so let’s just assume I looked like this as I was doing it:

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Don’t mind me. I’m totally fine over here. Photo credit: Giphy

 

Anyway, I ran into a couple problems. Remember how I said I over-corrected on my poaching syrup? I wasn’t kidding. I was supposed to make a syrup, but what I created was more like jelly.

 

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Jelly. Not Syrup.

The bad thing about this was, it was really hard to brush on my pears. The good thing about this was, this stuff was like glue, baby. The pastry strips were not coming off once I stuck them on.

So eventually after a long time wrapping pears, I ended up with something that looked like this:

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I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty damn proud of these babies at this point.

So my wrapped pears may have not been the neatest ones in town, but they looked far better than I had expected. I even bothered to make the little leaves on top, like the recipe told me to.

 

The weirdest thing about the recipe at this point though, was my pastry dough. I had way too much dough left over:

 

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Yeah, after I wrapped my pears, I had this much pastry dough leftover. This probably isn’t a good thing.

Anyway, after I’d made my little dough leaves and stuck them on with my poaching syrup (or in my case, poaching super glue) I had to brush my covered pears in egg wash and sprinkle on some sugar.

 

Then I was supposed to put them in the oven at 400 F for about 25 to 30 minutes. But after 30 minutes, mine totally weren’t done at all, because my oven is a jerk.

This is what I would say to my oven, if I didn’t realize it was crazy to talk to my oven:

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After more like 40 to 45 minutes, my pears were pleasingly golden brown so I took them out of oven and let them cool for 10 to 15 minutes like the recipe told me to.

And, yeah, they looked pretty damn awesome.

Naturally, I did a bit of this in celebration:

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Photo credit: Giphy

And they tasted okay too, I suppose, if you like pear. But as I mentioned, I don’t. Pears are pointless.

I’m happy to be moving away from pears next week when my challenge is to make a towering collection of pies.

Yeah, you read that right. I said a “towering collection of pies.”

 

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Photo credit: Giphy

That should be…interesting.

P.S. If you want to see the results of that bake, or if you just want to see a bunch of GBBS memes, consider liking my Facebook page: “Sometimes I Bake Mistakes Blog.”

And, as for all of you who have done that already, you’re the freaking best! Here’s a picture of Professor McGonagall applauding you, because you’re just that awesome.

Way to go, you!

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Photo credit: Giphy