Tag Archives: baking

I haven’t told a baking disaster story for a while — here’s one involving apricot upside down cake.

ArmenianStamps-407.jpg
By Post of Armenia – http://www.armenianstamps.com/2007.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5504935

If we all collectively agree it’s still — I dunno, mid-August, say? — we can make it not be the end of September already, right?
You in? Good.

September has rushed by, but at least I have been slightly less busy this week. I’m still busy at work but I’ve only left the house 2 weeknights. (As opposed to 4 last week and all 5 the week before.) I have rediscovered lost skills, like how to cook my own dinner! And how to get to bed before midnight! It is very exciting.

On Sunday night I found myself rumaging through my fridge in a bit of an I’ve been pretending to be an extrovert for the past fortnight and now I’ve got some time to myself I don’t know what to do loose end. Having barely been at home, I had of course wound up with a fridge full of things that needed using up asap — some questionable-looking peaches, some eggs of unknown provenance, a container of cream that was use by 25 September.  This peach cake recipe came to the rescue. (NB: adding lemon juice to cream to make kinda-sorta sour cream totally works if you’re using it for baking.)

Also, earlier in the summer I had been bested by a cake with fresh fruit in it, and it was time for revenge. Continue reading

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White chocolate cheesecake with strawberry topping

That time a cheesecake made me swear off baking

It’s been a while since I’ve had a good baking disaster post — if you’re a newcomer to this blog you’d be forgiven for thinking I’m actually competent with food. (This is a false impression.) But today I have a story for the Oh My Goodness I Am Never Baking A Cake Ever Again What Was I Thinking files… Continue reading

Freshly cooked hot cross buns

Making hot cross buns in Italy

Now it feels like Good Friday,” said my Irish friend A. as she helped me butter hot cross buns still warm from the oven last night.

For as long as I’ve lived in Turin, every Easter I’ve thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a hot cross bun right now?” But hot cross buns are not an Italian Easter tradition, and I’ve never found a decent substitute. (Yes, colomba has dried fruit, but the texture is totally different and there’s no spices.)

This year, I finally decided to make my own. Here’s how I did it:

Continue reading

Macerating dried fruit

Bravery and baking.

I was reading a fantastic blog post the other day about how we shouldn’t tell women (and, I think, people generally!) what is brave for them. Which is so true! I moved to Torino not knowing anyone here and I wouldn’t call that brave, for me. Maybe it would be brave for you! I’m not saying it to boast. But for me at that time it just felt like an interesting thing to do.

On the other hand, here’s a story about how I felt brave about baking a cake. Continue reading

Cows in central Turin

Notes from my extremely glamorous life: Surprise cows! edition

Torino remains delightfully odd at times. On Saturday I was walking towards Piazza Castello when I heard a loud clanging at the top of the hill. What on earth…? It was a parade. With cows.

In other news from my extremely glamorous life:

  1. It’s been warm enough recently that gelato still seems like a reasonable idea even without my autumn resolutions. I had some yesterday. I’m pretty sure the serving sizes get bigger as the number of customers drops. At least, I felt like I was eating this cone of gelato for a loooong time (yay!) and was totally sugared-out afterwards (boo!)
  2. A non-grumpy hot beverage review: I can taste lemon & ginger tea!!! Am resisting the urge to stockpile.
  3. Daylight savings ended here yesterday, and I’m trying to make the most of the few days where that means “yay sunshine in the morning again” before the winter darkness sets in properly. Mind you, when I say “make the most of it”, I mean, “lie in bed and think isn’t it nice that it’s light outside, but I still don’t wanna get up.”
  4. On the other hand, the sun setting earlier means I get to watch the sun go down over the Alps every afternoon from my desk. Today my view was of a pale pink-orange sky marbled with clouds, softened by the haze, with a sharp silhouette of the mountains in dark grey beneath.
  5. I was struck by an apple-pie making mood last week, which made me roll my eyes slightly at how ~*seasonally appropriate*~ I was being, but it did lead me to discovering this recipe, which if were better at handling pastry would probably be perfect. As it was, it was only slightly structurally unsound and it only almost collapsed under its own weight and only a little bit of the pie ended up all over the table when it came time to serve it up, so I’ll call it a win overall.

Book review: Stir, by Jessica Fechtor

I made a batch of these chocolate cookies yesterday afternoon. I love this recipe — see my modifications at the end of this post — because it’s very simple and you don’t need to measure ingredients particularly accurately, but the result is a cookie with a deep flavour and a texture that’s heading on for brownie-like. Basically, this is the double-choc cookie recipe that will ~*change your life*~.

I’ve been on a bit of a “the girl who brings cookies” kick recently, which is not an identity I’m entirely comfortable with (I’d rather bring my rapier wit, y’know?) but I am enjoying getting back into baking after spending Spring going “urgggh, I’m too tired and cooking is hard and complicated.” And creaming butter and sugar by hand feels approximately like exercise so this is all about healthful living, right?

Actually, part of what prodded me to get back behind the mixing bowl was reading Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home by Jessica Fechtor, which is a book I’d love to read the proposal for because the concept is that it’s a combination food memoir (ok fair enough…) slash (wait for it…) recovery-from-a-brain-aneurysm memoir. Continue reading

Sometimes humble pie looks a lot like a chocolate layer cake.

Since the most bloggable thing I’ve done in the past few weeks has been online shopping for Christmas presents while still in bed, here’s a story from a few weeks ago. It’s nerdy! But it involves cake!

I’d been having a slighty frustrating time at work, with a lot of back and forth that went like

Me: What are the results you’re getting for your simulations of [problem]?

Other person sends me a bunch of graphs.

Me: Ok, but are you sure that’s right? Those numbers just aren’t physically possible. (They were the equivalent of “I measured the size of my car and it was 16 km wide”)

Them: well I already I debugged my code.

Me: sure, but the numbers don’t make physical sense [blah blah physics talk]

Them: but there aren’t any bugs in my code, I’ve gone through it 3 times.

Me: I don’t care how many times you debugged, can’t you see the results you’re sending me are just not possible?

And so on. And, I have to admit, a fair number of side comments about “how do people get physics degrees if they can’t even tell when their calculations are giving them nonsense? Harrumph.”

So when I realized that a friend from church had a birthday coming up and I was going to see her the day before it, it seemed like a good idea to bake her a surprise cake. It would be a nice thing to do, and I find baking quite relaxing.

I had a friend staying with me at the time, so I didn’t want to fuss about with making something complicated. So I chose a simple recipe, one where you just melt the ingredients together. It called for a 19 cm square tin. I don’t have any square cake tins, but that was fine, because I did have a 22 cm round tin, which is almost exactly the same area, so the cake should bake the same way. I even calculated the percentage difference between the two, it’s about 5%.

So I greased and lined my big cake tin, and got to work melting butter and sugar together. I had a moment of doubt when it came to adding the flour. It just didn’t seem like a lot of flour for such a large cake tin. But I trusted the recipe and I knew that 22 cm round is very close to the 19 cm square it called for. So maybe it was just a recipe with a higher butter to flour ratio.

I had another doubt when I poured the batter into the tin and it didn’t really look like much. But the picture on the recipe was of quite a light cake, so it was probably going to rise a lot. It did have quite a bit of baking powder in it. And I’d gone to such trouble to make sure I was using a recipe that suited my big cake tin. So in the oven it went.

And 40 minutes later it came out, flat. Maybe 2 cm thick, at most.

Huh??

E., the friend who was staying, and I stared at this comically thin cake on the cooling rack. It must have deflated. So much for a simple recipe! Could we put on a tonne of icing to bulk it up? No, it was just too flat. Roll it up? No, it wasn’t flexible enough and anyway, it was round. Well I can’t use this as D.’s birthday cake. There’s nothing for it, I’ll have to make a second layer. At this point, it was getting late, so I set my alarm for 6 am and went to bed.

Fortunately, making a second layer was straightforward even in my 6am mental state, and I sandwiched them together well with some plum jam:

Not the best food photography ever.

Not the best food photography ever.

Why are the candles unlit in that photo? Because after all the trouble of making the cake, we discovered at the last possible minute before bringing it out to D. that we didn’t have any matches. Fortunately, this tipped the whole thing from “I thought baking would be a stress relief and instead I had to get up at 6 this morning!!!” to hilarious. So all’s well as ends well.

And as I was falling asleep that night, I realized the embarassing truth. Yes, a 22 cm round tin is equivalent to a 19 cm square tin. But my big cake tin isn’t 22 cm. It’s more like 28 cm. And it’s not as if I don’t know roughly what 22 cm looks like, I work with measurements all the time. So I should add another line to my exchange:

Me: Self, I don’t care how many times you’ve calculated that 22 cm round is equivalent to 19 cm square. Can’t you see that your cake tin just isn’t 22 cm?

My third Christmas cake in 12 months.

I’ve made a couple of Christmas cakes since I’ve been in Torino. The first was last Christmas. I wanted a hands-on project to take my mind off a busy period at work — Christmas was approaching and it seemed a good idea to make something “from home” to share with my friends here, so I emailed my mum who very kindly sent me her recipe. (In contrast, the week of Christmas, I was in Australia and tried to oh-so-casually ask my Oma about her famous Christmas pudding recipe, but no dice. Every thing else she’s ever cooked, she’ll happily write out for me in her immaculate European handwriting, but that Christmas pudding is going to the grave with her.)

Last Christmas’ cake worked out pretty well, especially considering I couldn’t find all the right dried fruits. So when summer rolled along and some friends and I decided to have a Christmas-in-July party, I decided a second cake was in order. The idea of the party was to have an Australian-style Christmas while the weather here suited it, for the benefit of the poor lost Europeans who have such bewildering ideas like “Christmas is a winter festival”. So I made a more Australian-style cake, swapping in glace ginger for some of the dried fruit, another trick I’d learned from my mum. I wasn’t as happy with that cake as the first one — I should have tweaked the alcohol choice to match the ginger — but it was still a good summer picnic cake to take hiking and even to carry across to Slovenia with me on my vacation.

So it’s inevitable: now it’s chilly in the mornings and they’ve put the Christmas lights on, it’s time for another cake.

Pretty lights: a message from Comune di Torino to make a Christmas cake already.

Pretty lights: a message from Comune di Torino to make a Christmas cake already.

No ginger this time, but I’m using home-made mixed peel and sort-of raisins, and I’m planning on a 1-2 week soak for the fruit, inspired by the most touching story I’ll ever read about cake.

Go, read it, see if you don’t also end up with something in your eye, and a hankering for a nice, rich, Christmas cake.

Below is the recipe I use, as my mum very kindly typed up and emailed to me (I’ve included her comments).

Continue reading

Peanut butter cookies

How to make peanut butter cookies (with bonus story!)

Stop and think about what you’re doing right now. Would it be better with a peanut butter cookie? Yes, yes it probably would. These are my current go-to bickies, and they’ve got at least 3 things going for them:

  1. They’re very easy to make.
  2. They’re gluten free without being kinda gross, in fact they’re amazing, all chewy and peanut-y and sweet and a bit salty.
  3. They’re completely unheard of in Italy, so you can bring a tin of them to a get-together and not worry about competing with anyone’s grandmother’s traditional recipe.

Step by step (the recipe is closely based on this one, but with added cinnamon and without the salt):

  1. Obtain peanut butter. If you’re in Italy, this is the hardest step. The big supermarkets are often a decent bet, though I’ve been surprised by both Crai and Carrefour Express supermarkets sometimes. Try near the Nutella (don’t get distracted and buy Nutella instead of peanut butter…) or possibly the ‘foreign food’ shelf. If you’re in Torino, the Pam supermarket in Lingotto sells a jar that’s big enough for 2 batches of these cookies. The brand is called “Save” and it’s pretty nasty peanut butter for eating (as you would imagine from the name — does “save” ever bode well for food?) but it’s fine for baking with.
  2. Everything is measured by volume not weight. If you don’t have measuring cups, 1 cup is 250 ml, so a drinking glass is probably about the right size. Depending on your peanut butter jar, that might well be about 1 cup.
  3. Cream together 1 cup peanut butter with 1 cup sugar. You want to mix them so that all the peanut butter has sugar in it, and all the sugar has peanut butter on it.
  4. Add 1 beaten egg, 1 teaspon vanilla, a decent shake of ground cinnamon. I’ve never measured how much cinnamon I use, sorry to be vague! You want enough so the cookies taste vaguely American, without overpowering the peanut butter.
  5. At this point, the dough will probably be quite sticky. I suggest you pop it in the fridge for a while, it will noticeably improve the texture of the final product and make it easier to form the cookies without getting sticky goop all over your hands.
  6. The time the dough needs in the fridge is about how long it takes to heat the oven to 180C, so turn it on now.
  7. To form the cookies, make 1.5-2cm diameter balls, and flatten them. Do some fancy criss-cross pattern with a fork, if you like, but I just squoosh them down with my fingers.
  8. Bake for 10-12 minutes.
  9. DON’T TRY TO TAKE THE BISCUITS OFF THE TRAY UNTIL THEY’VE COOLED. They will fall apart! Wait until they’re cool enough to touch. I have made this mistake multiple times. It does result in a lot of broken cookies which I have to eat myself because I couldn’t possibly serve them to other people. Ahem.
  10. There is no Step 10, so let me tell you a story about going to the supermarket to buy eggs the last time I made these biscuits:I’m waiting in line at the checkout, when suddenly the old lady in front of me spins around, exclaiming and waving her hands as if she’d seen a rat or something. Turns out, she’d spotted the woman behind me, wearing sandals. In October. Wouldn’t she be cold?! How could she not be wearing socks and shoes?At this point, she’s on a roll with being dramatically appalled about things. Look at the batteries! 8.40 euro! That’s [I don’t remember how many] lire! For batteries! I murmur something polite about ‘yes that does seem expensive’.So we get talking, which is mostly her talking and me trying to keep up: Where am I from, it’s obviously not Italy? Australia?  Really? Her father spent 2 years in New Zealand! What on earth am I doing in Italy? A scientist? Oh madonna! She clutches my arm in mock horror. What do I think of Torino? I like it? Good. But it’s not like it used to be, back in the days of Fiat, it was such a more elegant city. She’s 91, she says.And she thinks my name is ‘uhzoe’, because I subconciously hesitated when she asked me. Oh deary me.