Twitter never ceases to amaze me. With a few short keystrokes, we are able to connect with people we might never meet in real life.
That’s how Abby Dodge and I became friends. We have so much in common, baking and Twitter’s “virtual water cooler” community are just the beginning of that list.
If you aren’t acquainted with Abby, you can start getting to know her through her latest book, “Desserts 4 Today“. This beautifully photographed, well-constructed book guides you through the process of making easy, yet elegant desserts with four (yes, 4) ingredients. Even if you’ve never even baked one single, solitary chocolate chip cookie, you can champion dessert fit for the most discerning palate with this trusty guide. Abby’s Nutella Fudge Brownies practically took the internets by storm! EVERYBODY was making these babies!
Reviews of the book were abounding. The praise flowed. Food bloggers took to this little, but mighty tome like Grant took Richmond.
Abigail Johnson Dodge, in addition to being an incredible pastry chef, is a lady. A well-mannered lady. A well-mannered lady who was sincerely touched by all the lovely reviews that poured in for her latest published labor of love. Abby called me and said she wanted to thank everyone who had written about “D4T” or who were considering writing about “D4T.
Abby: ”Whaddya think, Gail? I want to send a thank you in the form of a cookie. Any ideas?”
Me: “You just gave me the idea, Abby. Why not send cookie thank you notes? They’ll look you’ve written them on your monogrammed stationery.”
Abby: ”Really? You can do that?”
Me: ”Of course!”
I practically had to duct tape my hands so as not to divulge this secret on Twitter, once the cookies were completed and mailed. Of course I enjoyed crafting these sweet notes, but the real fun for me was reading all the comments on my Twitter stream! SURPRISE!!! SURPRISE!!!
Who said people don’t send hand-written thank you notes any more?
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But, sadly, it’s not. Hunger in these United States of America, is on the rise.
And, it’s not just in Appalachia. It’s in your backyard. My backyard.
While employment figures may not be rising the way we want them to, the number of families who have to turn to food banks for help is clearly on the rise. And not just people who live at the poverty level, but middle class families dealing with unimaginable financial hardships.
So, this year, when you sit down to your beautifully set table overflowing with food, family and friends, think about those whose plates are empty, like the one in the photo. Think about those who don’t have the luxury of worrying about free-range or heritage, dry or wet brine, apple or pecan. Those folks are just thinking about how they are going to feed their children.
Donate now. I guarantee your Thanksgiving will be that much more meaningful once you do.Read More »
Spread can be such a lovely word. You know, like something soft and creamy that is slathered on bread and tastes divine.
Like describing a tableful of food served to friends and family: ’That was some spread Sheila put out”. (Don’t ask me who Sheila is. She’s my imaginary hostess for purposes of this post.)
It’s a great verb, too. Like when you spread the blanket out on the ground for a picnic. Or when you’ve spread the Sunday New York Times out in front of you to read for hours while you sip your never ending mug of coffee.
Spread can also take on an ugly image. Take those men on New York subways who sit with their legs spread out so far that they take up three seats AND trip people in the aisle. Don’t even get me started on that spread.
And then there’s the spread that really sticks in my craw. You know what I’m talking about. You use your favorite animal cookie cutter, for instance, carefully cutting out row after row of lovely cookies to decorate. Bake them at the appropriate temperature for the appropriate amount of time and what happens? You’ve baked up a batch of Rorschach cookies. The dreaded cookie spread.
Do you know how this can occur? By being overzealous when creaming the butter and sugar. You CAN overbeat the butter and sugar, resulting in too much incorporation of air in the dough, which then leads to the aforemetioned cookie disaster that you really want to avoid.
Here’s how to cream butter and sugar so this won’t happen:
Start with room temperature butter. Not melted butter, but butter that’s perfectly soft to the touch. Scale it and the sugar into the mixer bowl.
Start your engine….um, I mean, your mixer. A medium speed will work perfectly well.
Stop after the combination begins to look like this and scrape the sides of the bowl down with a rubber spatula.
When the mixture has been flung via centrifugal force all over the sides of the bowl like this,
you’re pretty much done. That’s what creamed butter and sugar should look like.
Proceed with the rest of the cookie recipe and see if you notice any difference when you bake off the cookies.
Then, spread the word.Read More »
On November 8, the food website “Serious Eats” published this story which, I believe, was intended to be a sweet little story about an exhausted pastry chef who succumbed to the pre-made chocolate chip cookie dough. I read it, guessing that the conclusion would be an homage to the homemade cookie.
Not so. Not even close. It was a confusing mishmash of mixed emotions. While the analytical side of Chef Jenny McCoy (Pastry Chef at Tom Colicchio’s Craft Restaurant) dissected, critiqued and even did a cost analysis of the finished product compared to homemade, the end of the article was disturbing and confusing to me. Yes, the cookie was lousy and costly, and didn’t deserve to be served to children, according to the author. BUT, schmeared with vanilla ice cream they were the perfect ending to a Sunday night supper. [insert screeching brake sound] HUH???? What the what??????????
This is not a stone-throwing review of cooks who don’t make everything, including their own water, from scratch. Far from it. I bake and work with food every single day of the week. Sometimes for 11-12 hours a day. I try very hard to make nutritious, homemade food for our nightly meals. I try hard to think ahead, making hearty stews and soups in advance for those weeks when I know I’m too busy to even think, much less put dinner together for two. But, I make concessions. I use boxed stock. Alot. I use an organic one, but it’s boxed. And, I make no apologies for it. Something has to give sometime. I am also an unabashed lover of M&M’s, Hershey’s Kisses and Oreo cookies. No one would mistake these items for ‘gourmet’. Or healthy.
But, when it comes to baking, I’m a purist. I bake cakes and cookies for my business. I bake muffins, brioches and croissants for brunches. I make pie dough, tart dough, and puff pastry. Baking is in my soul. It changed my life. I respect and revere the craft. I respect its history and its pioneers and its heroes. IF a product came into the market that I thought was exemplary, I’d tout it. Why not? But, so far, it hasn’t. At one time, Maury Rubin, owner of The City Bakery created several varieties of refrigerated cookie dough. Do you see them now in your local supermarket? There’s your answer. They weren’t succcessful, especially when compared to the cookies sold at his bakeries.
Chocolate chip cookies are the easiest things in the world to make. Children make them. One can follow the directions on the back of the chip package and be rewarded with a homemade cookie that has a nice cookie/chip ratio, browns well, and with some imagination, can be gussied up with all kinds of additions. It takes minutes, not including cleanup, of course.
The conclusion drawn here was mangled and maddening. Covering this poor excuse of a cookie with ice cream and then touting it as an acceptable, even comforting dessert had me scrinching up my Botox’d brow (yes, full disclosure) in confusion. In the middle ages, the French slathered rancid meat with sauces so the rotten flavor wouldn’t be detected. I get that. It was the MIDDLE AGES, for crying out loud.
Jenny McCoy, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that the craving you had for this little mound of cookie joy took over what I hope would have been your better judgment. All that vanilla in that dough must have made you a little woozy when you wrote your missive.
This is what I’m telling myself. Just like you told yourself that piece of crap cookie loaded with who knows what was better than baking it from scratch.Read More »
The winner of the regifted Martha Stewart sifter swag is Carol Sacks!!! Congratulations, Carol! I can’t wait to see the sifter retooled as a planter or flower vase.
And, if I can add a postscript to the whole sifting conversation, I am not anti-sifting. I am anti-sifter. As I said in the original post, I whisk or put dry ingredients in my stand mixer and paddle for a minute or so. For more ornery ingredients, like cocoa powder, I do use a strainer and a rubber spatula. I carefully tap the loose powder through the strainer and use the rubber spatula to work the harder lumps through to a fine, silky cocoa powder.
Thank you for all your great comments. This was a silly little, tongue-in-cheek contest that I hope amused you as much as it amused me.
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The time has come for this lesson, people. You’ve learned how to make the buttercream in your sleep. You’re a black belt in wielding a spatula to smooth a cake. And, of course, you’re getting your cookie on.
In order to assemble that towering monument of bricks and mortar,or as it is in this case, cake and frosting , it is imperative that you follow a few simple rules to prevent an impending cake disaster. My confectionary superhero, Antonin Careme, once said confectionary was the first cousin to architecture. He should know, he created the first sugar showpieces ever invented in the world for Marie Antoinette.
If that isn’t enough to scare the wits out of you, I don’t know what is. Imagine having created a perfect homage to the birthday; a wonderment of confectionary genius. You’ve worked yourself into a lather for hours, maybe days, to create a gateau that would have the likes of Kerry Vincent weeping tears of joy.
Then the cake is transported to the venue. Gently set upon its glorious throne in the ballroom, it glows under the spotlight where the revelers assembled can cast their gaze upon your handiwork and collectively swoon over the majesty of your crowning achievement.
Then, before your eyes, the tiers begin sinking one into another. Slowly at first, then pancaking one layer on top of another, like a has-been Vegas hotel being imploded to make way for a new-fangled monument of Hedonism.
Such an outcome needn’t happen. Not if you do as I say AND as I do.
Prepare your cake drum for the cake. I always decorate my drums as I’m not a fan of the foil only look. Squeeze out a few circles of glue in the center of the drum. Be careful and think about where the glue is going. Overgluing will result in it squishing out under the first tier of cake. Despite the fact that Elmer’s Glue is non-toxic and gazillions of children have eaten it through the years, it’s not what I want as one of my final cake flourishes.
Gently transfer the first tier of the cake to the prepared drum with a wide, sturdy offset spatual and nudge it into place. Make sure you wash the spatula now because it’s covered with glue.
Admit it, you’re feeling a little like Cake Boss now, right?
Now, you can’t just set another small cake on top of this one. Would you build a two story house without support columns on the first floor? I hope you’ve said “Of course not”, expressing shock and horror at the same time.
You need to insert your supports. That’s where the straws come in. Straws? Yes, straws. I use drinking straws, but my real faves are bubble tea straws. Straws insert easily into cake, are easily trimmed, and are probably in your kitchen now.
This is an 8 inch cake that will be topped with a 6 inch cake. Supporting the center will keep the upper cake from sinking into the bottom tier. Those plastic straws are also very strong. They bend in the middle when pressure is applied sideways, not when weight is mounted on top. Really. I do this all the time.
Now that you’ve gotten over the shock of inserting the straws, pull the straws up about a quarter of an inch, so you can see the ‘cake line’. Snip at that line and push the straw back into the cake. It should be even with or below the surface of the cake. Repeat with all 4 straws. And, remember the larger the cake, the more straws you’ll have to strategically insert to hold the weight.
Schmear a bit of buttercream ‘glue’ on the top of the cake. Once chilled, it’s another great way to ensure that the cake won’t go slipping out of place.
Get the big CLEAN spatula under the smaller tier and again, center it on the first tier.
Stand back and gaze adoringly at your mountain of cake. Oh, and remember to breathe.
Unfortuntately, that little shmear of buttercream between the tiers is just not enough to keep that cake from slipping and sliding. You’re going to have to hammer the big dowel down through the top of the cake. Yup, that’s what you have to do now. The center dowel is keeping the tiers of the cake forever linked. Or at least until you choose to unlink them.
SO, grab the dowel and the carpenter’s sharpener. Sharpen a point on the end of that dowel. Use the sanding block to smooth the point.
Place this dowel next to the stacked cake and roughly measure where it will be cut to fit. I’m using a food writer to mark the dowel.
Use the saw and cut the dowel where it’s marked. Smooth the top of the cut dowel again with the sand block.
Place the pointed end of the dowel in the middle of the top tier. Get the mallet and gently pound the stake through the heart of the cake. You’ll feel a little resistance when you reach the first cardboard cake round, but keep gently pounding. It’s fun, in a strangely theraputic way.
It’s looking great, but it’s not finished.
Pipe on your decorations…I like dots or stars.
Don’t forget the tippity top!
Good. Because you are.
Unlike the great cathedrals of Europe, this cake won’t last for centuries, not that you want it to. But, it will make it across the potholed streets of a city like New York without incident.
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As many of you already know, Martha Stewart unveiled her new iPad Cookie App on her television show on Monday. And, she invited people like me to sit in the audience and tweet about it! One full hour of intense cookie tweeting!!!!! Martha. Cookies. Twitter. It just doesn’t get any better than that for me.
So, we assembled early in the morning. We got our special name tags.
Now, I’m no stranger to the Martha set. I was there just a couple of weeks ago for this show. And, I was in the audience last November for the 1st pie contest. So,when we were shepherded around the set on a special tour, I found myself mouthing the words “I knew that” when a particular point of Martha-set-ology interest was passed on to us. I heart Martha and everything she stands for.
So, back to the tweeting show. The App was unveiled. Guests were on the set. Cookies were mixed, baked & distributed to the audience. I can’t speak for the others, but I was burning up the internets with my lightning tweets. Keeping my eyes glued to my computer screen, stealing glances of the action in front of me only occasionally so I could accurately report the action in front of me, I was a woman on a mission. And, it was glorious!
That is, until one of the items of swag was announced. A sifter. We were getting A SIFTER!!!!!!!!! Oh, for crying out loud!!!! I nearly stopped mid-keystroke. Did I really hear this correctly?
You KNOW how I feel about sifters. Please, let me remind you how I feel about sifters.
What was particularly perplexing about this choice of a gift was that Martha and her guests weren’t using sifters to aerate and incorporated their dry ingredients. They used a whisk or a fork!!!! But, WE were getting the bright and shiny one trick pony of a kitchen gizmo. Yes, we got other lovely gifts, but this one, this particular gesture of generosity, struck me as, well, odd.
But, I shlepped it and the other gifts home. And I pondered. To whom would I regift this sifter? Our friend, Joey, who really started me off on this tangent? Impossible. We just closed his beach house and I went to great lengths to smuggle his sifter out of that house without being surveyed on one of his eight surveillance cameras. Sheesh, what would I do with this thing?
And, then it hit me. This is the perfect way to learn the ins and outs of blog contests. It’s like turning lemons into lemonade. The regifting of this contraption to you, one of my wonderful readers. It does have a beautiful Martha Stewart tag on it. Her photo is beautiful. You can play with it and draw your own conclusions as to the worth of this thing. Here, take a look!
The rules of engagement:
Leave me a comment here telling me how you’d put this sifter to work in a way other than it was intended. Make a flour pot, make a doorstop. Make it interesting, if you covet this wonderment of modern marketing.
You must retweet the tweet that I will tweet about the blog post.
You need to go to The One Tough Cookie Facebook fan page and click ‘like’ if you haven’t already declared your like for it.
And, one week from tonight a winner will be chosen. I will send the sifter to you as quickly as possible, so that I can regain that valuable piece of closet real estate that’s currently housing this gizmo.
Hurry. The clock is ticking. The race for the regifted swag is officially ON!Read More »