Category Archives: Cookies

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:

beatsthehell

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

 

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Sometimes I Bake Mistakes; Take 6: 3-D Biscuit Scene

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).

***

This week I’m making the 3-D biscuit scene that was the showstopper challenge in Season 1 Episode 2 of GBBS.

In this episode, some of the bakers excelled (Ahem…Richard and Luis.)

Some of the other bakers umm…didn’t do so well. As for me, I did a little worse than the people who did not do so well. Or, well, a lot worse if you wanna make me be honest about it.

But at least I learned from the experience. Namely, I learned that hindsight is sort of a jerk and also I learned that I know nothing about cars, which oddly, actually does come into play in this baking challenge.

On the show, most of the contestants used variations of gingerbread dough for this challenge, but I went with sugar cookie dough instead because I like sugar cookies, and, also, because I’m a rebel. Obviously.

I used the “My Favorite Christmas Cookie” recipe from Ree Drummond’s (aka the Pioneer Woman) A Year of Holidays cookbook.

She has a similar recipe online. This recipe has all the same ingredients. She just tweaked the amounts. Basically the one in the cookbook has more of almost everything, including shortening.

(Yeah, I know, shortening is kind of gross. I like to use the butter-flavored Crisco because it looks like butter and tastes more like butter, so I basically just pretend it is butter. Denial works for me.)

Anyway, first you do the usual. Cream the sugar and the shortening together (while pretending it’s sugar and butter). Then comes the fun part, you also add in some orange or lemon zest. (I have a pretty low bar for “fun” apparently.)

Then add in the eggs and vanilla and shift in the dry ingredients – flour, baking powder and salt and mix it all up. Add some milk. Mix it again and you should have something that looks like this:

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Gah, why does raw cookie dough look so good? Why? Because it’s the Salmonella’s siren song, that’s why.

Then split the dough in half and put it in plastic bags or wrap it in waxed paper or plastic wrap and pop it in the fridge for an hour. (Or for 20 minutes in the freezer. Ree didn’t put this little freezer tip in the cookbook version, just in the online version. So I ended up putting it in the fridge for an hour like a regular ole’ schmuck. It’s cool how I’m not bitter about that though, right?)

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Dough ready to sit in the fridge for an hour to prove I’m a schmuck who should have just used the freezer.

Then after the dough has chilled for the necessary amount of time, take it out and roll each section out with a rolling pin. I put plastic wrap on top of the dough because I get really, irrationally angry when dough sticks to the rolling pin. I just don’t like it, guys. I really don’t like it.

Then I busted out those cookie cutters I kept bragging about in the savory biscuits blog a few weeks ago.

I just grabbed random cookie cutters and hoped I’d find some way to make it all make sense later. Hindsight: not the best plan.

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See? I told you there’d be cars.

Then I baked each batch of cookies for about 7 to 8 minutes and they came out looking like this:

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Are those things dump trucks? Are they fire trucks? I didn’t know. And later that will become very apparent.

Then I baked some more cars and some more trees (because I was committed to them apparently).

Then I baked some too much.

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I totally could have taken the ugly ones out of the pic but I didn’t because HONESTY, but to a greater extent, laziness.

Then I made some icing. I didn’t use Ree’s recipe, because I’m weird about putting raw eggs or milk in stuff you don’t then cook. So I just mixed together powdered sugar and water with a lil’ bit of vanilla instead.

I put in some food coloring and put the icing in a piping bag and went to town on some trees and some circles.

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Shh!! You can’t even tell some of these are too-done. The icing totally covers that. You can’t tell at all. Nope, you can’t tell.

Now here’s where hindsight comes in again to be a smart aleck jerkface.

When I watched the GBBS show of this challenge, I didn’t notice that all of the contestants only outlined their cookies with icing rather than icing the whole cookie.

Do you know why they do that? They do that because icing cookies takes a really stupidly long time apparently. Like I don’t even want to admit how much time this took for me to do. Let’s just say that it took the better part of a Sunday evening and more than a better part of a bag of powdered sugar. So much powdered sugar.

But once I started icing the whole cookie on some, I felt like I had to do it on all of them. Even when part of my cookie scene was a road. A road that was supposed to be gray. Gray! As soon as I started to put gray icing on the cookie, I realized:

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But it was too late. I’d already grayed it. And yeah, it looked like a road, but not a road I wanted to eat because it was gray.

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Gray was a bad choice.

And then umm, we’ve reached the cars. As soon as I started decorating them, I realized this:

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I know nothing about cars, most notably I do not know how to ice cookies to look like cars. Like. At. All.

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It’s like I’ve never seen cars before. Also the black icing smeared everywhere. Boo you icing!

Take it away, Andy from The Office:

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And, yeah, I’ve realized I’ve stopped talking and am now just allowing GIFs to communicate for me. This is a pretty half-baked blog. (Get it? Half-baked? That was my required bad baking pun for this blog.)

But the thing is, I’m tired from too much icing. (Sidenote: I don’t even. like. icing.) And I’ve diagnosed myself with a case of Too-Much-Icing-Hand which I’m pretty sure is now a thing because I just said it was and typing is too much work right now so just go easy on me.

Then go easy on me when you see my finished project photo.

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“I should have just made a bunch of trees,” said Hindsight, unhelpfully.

Then go really easy on me when you realize I totally cheated and used toothpicks to hold up the cookies here. But at least I was honest about it right? That makes it okay, right?

Anyway, I’m just glad to have this project in a rear-view mirror. (I’ve switched to using car puns now apparently.)

Next week, I move on to GBBS’s Season 1 Episode 3 – “Bread” which is great, because, like Oprah, I.LOVE.BREAD.

P.S. Maybe next week I’ll stop speaking in GIFs.

Hopefully.

 

Sometimes I Bake Mistakes; Take 5: Florentines

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’m not really a dessert person.

And yeah, I know that’s weird.

Look, even Jessica Day from New Girl thinks it’s weird.

not a desert person

I’d freak her out.

But it is what it is. I just, generally don’t go crazy for sweets. They’re not my go-to. And it’s not a health-conscious thing. I mean I will do work on some mozzarella sticks or nachos. Real work. Like work overtime on those things.

But I don’t feel the same way about desserts, which I understand is strange considering I’m baking my way through the Great British Baking Show.

I decided to do this anyway though because it’s fun to learn new things. (Also, I’m pretty sure no one is going to fault me for sharing the majority of what I make.)

But I’m also doing it because I think it’s possible that I just haven’t found the right desserts to make me into a dessert person yet, and this seems like a darn good way to find them.

My most recent baking challenge is definitely one positive step in that direction.

This week I made florentines. Don’t know what florentines are? I didn’t either. They’re a super thin and crispy cookie with a bunch of nuts and dried and/or candied fruit inside and a coating of dark chocolate on the outside.

I went all official and used my favorite GBBS judge Mary Berry‘s recipe. This is the same recipe the GBBS contestants used in the technical challenge in Season 1’s Episode 2. (Again, I’m using what’s available on Netflix in the U.S. so the episodes may not correspond correctly to what was aired in other countries.)

Since this was the technical challenge that episode, the contestants used a very scaled down version of the recipe that was missing a great deal of the steps and tips. Whereas I got a bit of extra help from the great Mary Berry herself.

(Okay, fine so Mary didn’t personally fly over to Nebraska to help me or anything, but she does give step-by-step instructions on how to make this recipe in one of GBBS’s Masterclass episodes where she and Paul run through the recipes used on the show. These episodes are predictably very helpful and predictably Mary is a bit more helpful than Paul.)

So yeah, armed with Mary’s sort-of, personal assistance, I went into this week’s baking challenge much more optimistic than I usually do – and amazingly, that seemed to work out for me.

It just helps to watch someone else make the recipe so you know you haven’t totally messed things up. And there were definitely points in this process where I needed that reassurance, because at various points in this process, the florentines looked weird, guys.

In fact, they looked weird right from the very beginning. For instance, check out this roundup of ingredients.

Florentines.Ingredients
The beer is not technically an ingredient but it is a necessary part of the baking process, because BEER.

That’s it. That’s all the ingredients to make 18 decent-sized cookies, which seems well, weird.

Sidenote on the ingredients, I couldn’t find the golden syrup called for in the recipe so I substituted corn syrup like any good corn-loving Nebraskan.

I also swapped out the demerara sugar for turbinado sugar, because I couldn’t find demerara anywhere and by anywhere I mean the one store where I looked for it.

The recipe also called for “candied peel” which apparently you can buy already made some places – but not here. I could have made my own. I found a few recipes for making candied orange and lemon peel online but, well for the sake of time, money and general laziness, I just left out the “candied peel” and put that much more dried cranberries in instead. That seemed to work out fine, but again, I really have no idea what I’m doing so who really knows if it did.

After I’d gathered up the ingredients (or my makeshift ingredients) – the rest of the recipe was pretty simple. I just had to mix the sugar, syrup and butter together in a pot over “gentle heat” until the butter was melted.

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This is just sugar, corn syrup and butter but I sort of wanted to eat it right out of the pot which is gross. I know. So I didn’t do it. But…I wanted to.

From there you just add in the flour, fruit and nuts and mix it up really well until it looks like this.

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Boom! Florentine dough.

Yeah, that’s all the dough it makes for 18 cookies. Nuts, huh? (Get it, nuts, because there are nuts in it?)

I would have been freaking out about how much dough there was (or more correctly, how much dough there wasn’t) but I’d watched Mary make these bad boys so I knew that this was nothing to worry about.

Then I popped 18 teaspoons of dough on three lined-baking trays just like Mary told me to, because I followed her instructions to a T(easpoon). (That was another lame baking pun. If you watched the show, you’d understand that I basically have to do this. Like, I have to.)

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Lil cookies.

At this point, came the hard part, which really isn’t that hard if you’re not impatient like me. I had to melt the chocolate. Mary always stresses that you don’t need much heat to melt chocolate. Over and over in the Masterclass episodes, to the point where it is almost one of her catchphrases, Mary will say “Now remember, chocolate will melt in a child’s pocket.”

This saying is number one adorable. (I mean, come on. Can you imagine more grandma-like baking advice? I can’t.) Number two, it’s really helpful for people like me who are impatient and end up jacking up the heat as high as possible to make the chocolate melt faster and then end up with ugly chocolate. Because ugly chocolate is a thing. I’ve learned the hard way.

According to Mary, you have to melt the chocolate nice and slow and gently so it comes out all shiny and pretty like this:

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Forget gold, silver and diamonds. This is a shiny stuff I’m interested in. I’m sort of easy to please.

I was careful with this chocolate. I even repeatedly checked its temperature because Mary told me to wait for it to cool down a bit before I slathered it on the back of the cookies.

So I waited and waited for approximately forever. I was supposed to let it get down to 79 degrees and our kitchen itself was 78 degrees. Yesterday was hot, guys. So this took awhile. A long while.

 

Then once it (finally) cooled, I used a spatula to spread some of the  chocolate on to the back of the cookies and I used a fork to make these little ridge designs in the back like Mary told me to.

And then I had to wait for that chocolate to set before I could eat one. This recipe may as well have just been called “Wait Around on the Chocolate Cookies”.

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Chocolate that is deliberately not setting, just to be a jerk.

Much like how a watched pot never boils, I can assure you that stared-at chocolate does not set.

So I forced myself to walk away and magically the chocolate set. Or it wasn’t magic and just enough time had passed – whichever.

And tada: I had Florentines:

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The middle row is upside down so you can see the chocolate underside. Swirltastic.

Anyway, after all was said and done and (set), the florentines were probably my favorite GBBS challenge yet. Crispy, and coated in a rich dark chocolate, they weren’t half bad. Even if I do say so myself. And I’m not even a dessert person (yet).

Next week, I will tackle probably my hardest task to date. I have to make a three-dimensional biscuit scene. Seeing as how I’ve never managed to pull off a structurally-sound gingerbread house in my life, I’m not very optimistic about this one…

P.S. I realize that I’ve been totally slacking on talking about the actual show. But so far only one contestant had been voted off and all my favorite bakers are still around – Richard, the builder who keeps a pencil tucked behind his ear; Kate, who I still want to be my British best friend, but you know only if she feels like it, no pressure; and Iain’s beard. (Yeah, I meant beard not bread. That was not a typo.)

P.S.S. I ironically always misspell typo as type-o. Every freaking time. That’s also weird.