Thursday, October 29, 2009

Monstrous cupcakes

My baking has been lacking lately. My week got super busy when I realized it was Internship Application Week, a week of killing fie trees just to plea for a paid internship. Ugh. And I'm not even finished. Between that, a test, a few books I'm supposed to read, and then sleeping and eating, I haven't had a whole lot of time for cookies.

Last weekend, though, a friend and I hosted a big pre-Halloween party, and there was lots of cooking and baking involved. So much, in fact, that a few friends and I had a marathon session of about six hours of Halloween fun.

The laundry list of things to do: Make awesomely dorky costumes, a.k.a. t-shirts of Adobe icons, carve pumpkins, roast pumpkin seeds, make and decorate monster cupcakes, make suckers and make Chex mix.

Considering we didn’t start this stuff until 10:30 p.m., we didn’t have enough time to finish everything for the next day. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good time. The Chex mix is my favorite, a recipe using ranch dressing mix, and everybody loved it. While I made it, my friend Kelly mixed up the cupcakes and baked them. Everyone else was cutting out letters for icons, hollowing out pumpkins and just hanging out. Then they decorated the cupcakes a la Martha Stewart.

Side note – I love Martha Stewart cookbooks. I have her Cookies book and Cupcakes book. Her lemon bars are to die for, as are her triple chocolate brownies, streusel cupcakes and almost everything I’ve made. She’s failed me twice: maple icing and meringue butter cream icing. The maple icing was more of a glaze, and the butter cream was really buttery. A couple more dashes of sugar, though, and the problem was fixed. Then came the decorating: Pull-n-peel Twizzlers, Dots, M&Ms, marshmallows, chocolate chips, candy corn and a multitude of other candies transformed normal cupcakes into semi-scary monsters. Believe me, it's hard to make cupcakes looks scary.

The suckers were a disaster. My candy thermometer didn’t go high enough and I’d never made suckers before so I didn’t know how to pour them. I also didn’t put in enough flavoring, because the recipe called for eight drops of flavoring and my flavor bottle poured. Oh well, I have to start somewhere with these things.

The party and its food were a huge success. We had a huge variety of costumes, including Lady Gaga, Twitter, Facebook, a Frenchwoman, a cow and lots of KU athletes. The food went quickly. About 48 cupcakes were reduced to four, the snack mix was gone but the suckers untouched. I don’t blame them.

No baking this weekend, courtesy of the National College Media Convention in Austin, Texas. Never been here, but so far I’m a fan of the weather and sixth street. Perhaps next week I’ll have some time for fall baking.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Brenna's Brownies

I don't have anything due this week. But I have so much to do. Internship applications, building my personal website (which, by the way, went live today:, finding the Jordan River on a map for geography, etc. So naturally, yesterday I baked.

Apparently "Brenna Brownies" are something to get excited for. When I bake, I tend to make at least two things at once, so on the menu were Mexican brownies and cheesecake brownies. There was some Twitter talk about them, so I knew I had to make them good.

The Mexican brownies were suggested by my friend Stephen, who I'm convinced puts some sort of spice in every food he eats. I saw this recipe for brownies that included cayenne pepper and cinnamon and knew he'd like them. I think he ate half the pan.

I'm also a huge fan of cheesecake, so cheesecake brownies seemed like the natural progression. Orange swirls, of course, for Halloween. These taught me a valuable lesson — never, EVER, let my boyfriend Drew near my baking. He saw the orange swirls and assumed that those brownies were cream cheese-cayenne brownies. As in, mixing in cayenne pepper in cream cheese and just swirling it right in. Yeah, I thought it was pretty darn gross too.

So I brought both pans in to the newsroom this morning, and when the copy editing class came down the hall, they made a beeline for them. I'd say they were a success.

I got to talk about my weird baking obsession tonight at dinner as well. I was invited to dinner with a journalist and the dinner table talk got to cooking. One of my political science teachers, the one who invited me, talked about how his father was a classically trained French cook, so now he did all the cooking. I suppose my baking comes through the family too, if that's possible. My grandma, who was born in 1920, grew up in Dust Bowl Kansas. Her father died of cancer around the Great Depression, and so her mom got them through the depression by baking for her small town in western Kansas. I've got some of those recipes but I haven't tried any yet — I have to decipher the handwriting first!

But before I try any of those recipes, I plan on making some awesome Halloween cupcakes. Witches, monsters and black cats of course!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Food tasting in NYC

This weekend was fall break, so Drew and I took off on our first trip ever to NYC. Despite awful flight delays (we almost missed our Broadway show!), the weekend was awesome. Lots of shopping, sightseeing, and LOTS of walking. The best part, besides seeing Mary Poppins on Broadway and seeing her pull a full coat stand out of her bag that was clearly only two feet deep, was the food.

I'm kind of obsessive about watching the Food Network. Iron Chef America, Diners Drive-Ins and Dives, Throwdown with Bobby Flay, Ace of Cakes, everything. So when I go to NYC, I want to eat at the restaurants of these people I see.

We've eaten at Mesa Grill by Bobby Flay in Las Vegas, but in New York we ate at Bar Americain, his other restaurant. Drew got a burger and I got chicken pot pie with a sweet potato puff pastry. For dessert, I got an apple tart with maple ice cream. Maple is one of my favorite flavors, so it was pretty amazing. I'm going to try to make the tart sometime, but it's going to take quite a bit of practice to make it look that nice and cut those apples so thin!

Then we went to Mario Batali's Lupa, where I had squash pasta with a butter sauce. I'm pretty sure the people sitting next to us were part of the mob; the guy had a deep New Jersey accent and while he had a wedding ring, she definitely didn't. And he was calling her honey.

We also had breakfast at the Creperie, a place featured on Throwdown. It's fascinating watching them make them; if I tried to make a pastry that thin it would break every time. Mine was raspberry white chocolate, Drew got s'mores and Mary got spinach artichoke.

But my favorite of the trip was Magnolia Bakery, full of awesome cupcakes. Red velvet, devil's food cake, pumpkin maple, so many choices! They also had cheesecakes, including red velvet and key lime, cookies and cakes. I think I might be able to spend every day there. The cupcakes each had like two inches of frosting and were unbelievably tasty. I' d like to figure out how to make cupcakes that well someday.

Overall, it was an awesome trip with some really tasty food. I want to go back some time to do some more sightseeing and definitely some more scouting for desserts. It just makes me want to bake, but that comes tomorrow.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Weddings and white chocolate

Well, actually, more dark than white chocolate, but both are present.

This weekend one of my best friends got married. She's been dating this same guy as long as I've known her, and they're great together. It was an awesome celebration, lots of Kansan folk there. The Kansan folk I don't get to see very often — the ones who graduated a year or two ago and are now scattered across the country. Last time I saw them was the last wedding. Now all three Matt-and-Sarah couples are married.

So today, after an unsuccessful two-hour search for a missing car key, Drew and I headed home from small-town northeastern Kansas.

In three days, I leave town again, but for much more glamorous NYC. It will be my first time (suggestions are welcome as to what I should do!). Tuesday night I work so tonight or tomorrow was my only option to fill my baking fix. My new Kitchenaid mixer has been beckoning to me and begging for use, so I thought I'd take a stab at its cookbook that came along with it.

Dinner tonight — tangy BBQ meatballs and rice. Homemade pasta (like from the dough and everything!) tomorrow. In between: Ghirardelli chocolate cookies.

I'm not really a chocolate person. It's super weird, I know, especially because my mom is a chocolate addict. My grandpa, though, didn't like it either, so I chalk it up to genetics. But I'm a sucker for a good brownie or double chocolate cookie. This recipe called for Ghirardelli dark chocolate as the base, then semisweet chips and walnuts. I am not a sucker for walnuts or any kind of nuts in my cookies. So I substituted white chocolate chips. Who wouldn't like that?

It drives me nuts when recipes aren't written well. Not unclear directions, per say, but just the wrong directions. It said 375˚ for 12 to 14 minutes. The first batch burned, but that was my fault. The second batch was fine, but I took them out way early. The third batch approached 12 minutes and they were burnt.

You would think people who write recipes would test them. There's nothing wrong with the oven; other recipes have worked out fine. Half of these cookies worked out fine. But I didn't want half a recipe of cookies.

Either way, I got my baking fix in, and now I know not to use this recipe again. The dinner recipe worked fine, and I hope the pasta recipe for tomorrow is fine too. I'm sure once I get home from NYC I will have lots of things I will want to mimic in recipes. But for tomorrow, the un-burnt half of my cookies will be snatched up by all my current Kansan friends.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Snickerdoodles to welcome you

As a first post, I feel the need to explain myself. I'm a senior at KU nearing the end of my tenure in college and looking for a journalism job. I'm editor of my school paper, which sucks up a lot of my time. Sometimes I get to write, but often I come home just exhausted with my brain fried.

So I bake.

It's a weird obsession that seemed to start only this semester, or rather this summer. I've always liked to make cookies — Mom and I regularly made oatmeal scotchies, chocolate chip cookies, whatever. And by we made, I mean she told me what ingredients to get out of the pantry.

This summer I worked with a couple people who liked to bake. We would talk about cookies or cupcakes we were making that weekend. Then came Fourth of July, and Dad asked me to bring a dessert. I couldn't decide, so I brought four. Yup, that's right, four. I made somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 individual servings: snickerdoodle cupcakes, red velvet red, white and blue cookie sandwiches, chocolate peanut butter brownies and red, white and blue cupcakes.

And then I was hooked.

Now, my newsroom regularly gets fed with snacks. The most recent was a batch of snickerdoodles a la Martha Stewart. That woman knows her recipes. My photo editor Weston had been begging for some snickerdoodles, so I made some (he said they could have been softer — I beg to differ).

Also on the menu? Key lime bars, also courtesy of Martha. I've made them once before, but that time I only had a hand mixer, and five minutes of whisking with one of those is not the most fun I've ever had. My 22nd birthday (and my wonderful grandma!) brought me a brand new shiny white Kitchenaid mixer, my new best friend. This time, I got to just set the mixer to speed 10 and walk away, and voila! key lime bars. Well, not exactly, but let's just say it was a heck of a lot easier.

That was my baking of the week. I know I haven't explained myself or my strange obsession, but at least it's an obsession that everyone can enjoy.

So here's the plan. I come home and I'm either stressed or bored, and I bake. And then I'll write about it, and what happened to make me want to be in the kitchen.

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