A Couple New Things

Today I set my alarm for 3:00 and curled up for a nap on my couch.  I had to leave for work at 3:20 but I was so exhausted I needed to catch a couple minutes of sleep.  An hour later, I opened my eyes with that terror-of-being-late feeling and looked at my phone. I had completely missed the alarm somehow, and it was 3:15. I scrambled up, brushed my teeth, and rushed out the door– somehow I managed to be on time.

That’s just a glimpse into how exhausting my week has been. I’ve worked a lot of late shifts, and besides that, I’ve started a new job!  (On top of the boutique job I already had.)  The exciting thing about it is– it’s at a bakery!  It’s my first food services job since my brief five-month stint at Chipotle, my first job which I hated and left from with daily headaches.  But this one is a dream job.  Or, at least, a step towards a dream job.  I’m working in the front, taking orders and grabbing chocolate croissants, baguettes, and apple tarts for regulars, parents taking their kids to school, workers stopping in for lunch. Right behind me, bakers are rolling out dough, cutting pears for frangipane, shaping loaves.  One day, I hope to be back there with them. But for now, I’m just a couple feet away and making people’s day better by getting them delicious food.  It’s a step.

It’s been a joy getting to try different baked goods while I’m there too.  Yesterday I brought home some onion focaccia and enjoyed it alongside some potato leek soup. Today I was eyeing chocolate croissants all morning but they sold out before I could get one. 😥

I’ve also registered for classes for January– I will probably start part time, with Introduction to Hospitality Management, Sanitation and Safety, and Fundamentals of Culinary Arts.  I’m most excited for that last one– I’ll learn knife skills, measurement conversions, the ins and outs of stocks and sauces….  I can’t wait!

The last bit of news is that I’ve started an Instagram!  This is so I can keep up with you all even when I don’t have time to write a longer post.  You’ll see pictures of my own creations as well as the food I’m enjoying around Cleveland (and elsewhere, when I get the chance.)  Check it out at @honeykitchen16.

Til next time!  zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

My First Cake: Nigella’s Ginger and Walnut Carrot Cake

I was recently talking with my mom and sisters in a group chat about what we all wanted for Christmas. I was listing off the usual baking and cooking needs and wants, one of which included a springform cake pan. My mom wrote back that she had one at home that she never uses anymore, and that I could take it home with me next time I came up.

This last Sunday I was off from work, so Julian and I drove up to my parents’ house for the day. It was a wonderful, cozy day catching up with my parents, sister, and brother-in-law, snuggling with the pets, and watching Avengers: Infinity War. The day ended with me bringing home not just a springform cake pan, but also a pie dish, a quiche pan, and some leftover curry (mom’s food is always the best.) Time to start baking.

A week or so ago, I was watching PBS Create and Nigella Lawson was on. Of course, everything she makes always look so good. But what particularly stood out to me was a delicious-looking carrot cake she made. It was a one-layered cake that included ginger for some extra spice and walnuts for texture. Here, have a look yourself:

I was drawn to the recipe for several reasons: I love carrot cake (carrots are good for you, right?), I love cream cheese frosting (who doesn’t?), and it looked like a relatively easy recipe to start with. I’d never made a cake before, except my mom’s pumpkin cheesecake recipe the last couple Thanksgivings, so I was feeling really intimated. The fact that this was one layer and a relatively easy recipe with familiar ingredients, I figured it would be a good first cake to try.

The recipe can be found on the BBC’s Food Recipes page. Unfortunately, all the ingredients listed use the metric system (could we Americans just switch to metric already??) so this slowed me down at first. I scoured the internet for help with converting measurements, which was harder than I expected. Finally I figured out a solution that worked for me.

For the cake:

  • 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour (plain flour)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
  • 2/4 cups plus 2 tsp light brown sugar (in retrospect, I think I put in two tablespoons….)
  • 2 large (at room temperature) eggs
  • 3/4 cups plus 1 tbsp (more for greasing) vegetable oil (I used canola)
  • 7 ounces peeled and coarsely grated carrots (I used three medium)
  • 1 cup roughly chopped or crumbled walnut pieces

For the icing:

 

  • 7 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sifted if lumpy powdered (confectioners) sugar
  • 1 tsp cornstarch (corn flour)
  • 7 tbsp cream cheese
  • 1 tbsp coarsely grated fresh ginger
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped or crumbled walnut pieces
  • 1 1/2 tbsp finely chopped crystallized ginger

The rest of the recipe you can follow at the original source!

Besides the conversions, the recipe was easy enough to follow, especially considering that I watched the video above about three times to make sure I got it into my head. For the main cake part, I followed the recipe exactly, except that I grated the first two carrots a little finer than was called for before I realized to change the side of the grater I was using. This just resulted in some smaller, finer bits of carrot, and some larger, more shaped pieces. I then baked it at 325F for 45 minutes while I prepared the cream cheese frosting. I used just a little bit less ginger than the recipe called for because I didn’t want to overwhelm the frosting with the ginger flavor. When frosting the cake later, I also skipped the walnuts and crystallized ginger on top, because I wanted to focus on the cake and the frosting itself (and I’m usually not a fan of nut toppings as it is.)

The result was absolutely marvelous. The color of the cake turned out lighter than Nigella’s, which I still am not sure why, but it still tasted amazing. The ginger adds an amazing, delicious warmth to the cake, and the walnuts add just the slightest bit of crunch without interrupting the experience. I spread the icing when it was a little too cold still, so it wasn’t entirely even, which would have docked some points for me if I were on the Great British Baking Show (but “good distribution of the fruit and walnuts,” and “the flavor is excellent! Absolutely scrummy.”) I shared the cake with my husband and my mother-in-law, and Mama-in-Law, who usually has small portions of food, took a huge piece, which is one of the best kinds of compliments.

So while I’m basking in the joy of my first cake success, I am also really excited at the possibility of starting some culinary classes in January, at a local college. I’ve applied, and am working on getting in the necessary paperwork, transcripts and whatnot. My hope is to start of the year with a sanitation and safety class and an introduction to cooking. I am so excited for what lies ahead, and am hoping I can really take this first step towards making cooking and baking a career, and maybe, ultimately, one day, a family business.

One can dream.

The Start of a Starter

I’m not sure what inspired me to create a sourdough starter. I can’t remember if it’s something I had contemplated for a while, or if I started it on a whim.  It was, most likely, inspired by my love for baking bread, and the memory of my sister keeping a starter for a while when we were teens, and making mouth-watering cinnamon rolls with it.  Anyway, I launched into my experiment with a sourdough starter not entirely sure what I was getting myself into.

I had a cookbook which we had found at a book sale, probably the local ongoing library sale which we raid periodically, all about bread. My intention was to cook through that cookbook as well, and had tried a couple recipes, all of which had been flops. The Mexican wedding cookie was crumbly af and the cornbread recipe yielded the driest chili accompaniment I’d ever had. But perhaps those were flukes, I thought.  I read the chapter about sourdough and decided to use the book’s recipe to raise my own from scratch.

What came from it was complete disaster. The cookbook recommended covering the bread with a damp cloth for the first week as I slowly built it up.  Soon enough, I had a lump of dough which was streaked with grey and smelled like rotten yogurt.  And then appeared the mold.  Well, that was a flop. Into the bin it went.

I’m not sure why I hadn’t realized what a dumb idea covering it with a damp cloth was. What else will happen but mold?

As you might expect, I turned to the Joy of Cooking.

The process for making a sourdough starter takes about a week, more or less.  It requires consistency, patience, attention, and lots of flour (obvs.) And in time, it yielded my very own sourdough starter, lovingly named Doey (like Joey, but also like doughey.)

Raising Doey has been a constant learning experience for me, a bit like raising a child, I suppose. You have to feed it every day, make sure it gets exercise, and above all, don’t forget about it.  I’ve rung up King Arthur Flour Company more than once to ask questions like, should I feed it before storing it in the fridge for a week of no baking? Is it ruined if a fruit fly got trapped inside?

The most challenging thing for me, honestly, is all the baking science that goes behind a sourdough starter.  Science is far, far from being my strong point. Give me an essay to write on the great British novel and you’ll have it in a day; ask me to explain anything of a scientific nature and I will very possibly end up in tears.  (Same with math problems.) This article, “Beginner’s Sourdough Bread,” on the blog The Perfect Loaf, is one of the many amazing and helpful resources about sourdough starters, and summarizes much of what needs to be known about starters. For instance, it challenges my ignorant notion that the temperature of the water isn’t all that important in feeding the starter.  Turns out, it actually is.

But my ultimate resource is the King Arthur Flour Company. The website contains a vast collection of recipes that call for sourdough at its various stages– the peak of the rise, the discard, and so on.  The recipes range from basic sourdough loaves to sweet breakfast breads, rolls, pizzas, and dessert flatbreads. Who would have thought?  I’ve been slowly working my way through the different kinds of recipes, trying to learn something new about baking with each recipe.  As with The Joy of Cooking, I will be sharing about some of the recipes as I try them and perfect them.  But for now, I’m off to read their ultimate guide to sourdough and to think about which recipe to make tomorrow.