Sunday, December 26, 2010

Holiday Cannoli

So I was invited to a friend's house for Christmas dinner and, of course, being connected to the bakery I tend to be the "Go To" person for the dessert action.
I know, Weird right? ;)

Anyhow, my dessert mission this time should I choose to accept is...
to make Cannoli.

I've heard people wax poetic about Cannoli,
I've even tried one made locally once, I'll just say it was...ummmm...
(yeah, that's one way to describe it.)

At any rate, I decided to give it a whirl.
I read various cookbooks for some general recipes, looked up some stuff online (I like to research things beforehand so I have a general outline in my head of how it's supposed to work.),
then I took a deep breath and took the plunge.

It turned out to be a lot easier than I thought it would be.
Here's a general overview of my
" Cannoli Journey"

*What? I know it's not like jumping out of an airplane or anything but there was trepidation, wonder, and excitement involved and if that doesn't make a journey, I don't know what does...
plus, it's tasty.*

Okay, first things first.
Have an extremely healthy respect for the extremely hot oil that you will be using to deep fry with because it's
Extremely Hot!

So be careful heating it up and be very careful
when letting it cool down.

Otherwise, you may be getting a visit from the Fire Department which is not really a good thing...hmmmm, unless the firemen...
(wait, wait-politically correct term would be fire persons?)
unless the fire persons are extremely hot themselves.
No, no-still really not a good thing if they have to show up regardless of how cute they may be.
[I used my cast iron Dutch oven to cook in]

Here's the link to the recipe that I generally followed.

As usual, I changed a couple of things like adding a little cardamom and cinnamon into the dough. I also used a little whole wheat flour 'cause I'm wild and crazy like that sometimes.

I was surprised at how very similar it was to making fresh pasta, right down to using the pasta machine to roll out the dough.
[I guess I shouldn't be all that surprised as it is an Italian recipe but I was.]

You can buy the stainless steel tubes at various kitchen specialty stores or order them online. It really helps to have at least 8 or more to make things go faster.

When I rolled out the dough, I cut it into squares rather than circles because it was less work; I didn't need to find a round cutter or make a template-I just trimmed the edges and cut perfectly equal squares...
[well, mostly even squares, (okay, okay-yeesh) actually rectangles if you really want to be technical about it.]

Also, I rolled and cut the dough all at once, laying the squares on a sheet tray between layers of parchment paper so I wouldn't have to stop halfway through to make another batch of shells.

Here's what they look like rolled up. Use a little bit of egg white just as you start to roll and just as you fold that last end over so that the dough will seal to itself and not unravel when you put it in the oil.

Then, gently drop in two or three tubes at a time into the fryer.

*Keep an eye on the oil temperature so it doesn't cool down too much other wise the shells will get soggy and absorb oil rather than be crisp and tasty-and if the oil's too hot?
Well, then you are heading into charcoal territory.

Let the shells cook for a couple of minutes, until they are a light golden brown,
then pull them out quickly using tongs.
The shells slid right off of the tubes for me but you might need a tea towel or something to gently pull them off so have one handy.
[Always think Mise en Place, ALWAYS!]

Set the shells on a rack to drain, dry, and cool off and repeat the process until you have enough shells for whatever your event may be.

Taaaaaa Daaaaaa!Aren't they beeeeeauuuuutiful?

I have to admit I was pretty pleased with myself at this point.
"That's some nice looking Cannoli shells you got there."
(okay, so I'm talking to myself like someone from the Godfather movie
but they were nice!)
[and Close Up...because again, I am pleased with how they turned out]
So, at this point, the shells can be kept in a sealed container or covered with plastic wrap for at least a couple of days before you need to use them.

Just remember don't fill them until just before you plan to serve them
or you'll end up with soggy crust
and a soggy Cannoli is a sad, sad thing.
(although still tasty)
If you have all of the time in the world (not me), you can coat the inside of the
Cannoli shells with chocolate which will provide a moisture barrier once it sets up.

For the filling, I made one similar to the recipe in the link but I used some fresh lemon and orange zest rather than the candied citron and added a touch more sugar.

Important tip: If the ricotta you are using isn't the particular type of ricotta deemed the "perfect Cannoli ricotta" by several foodie types out there then let the ricotta that you are using drain overnight, it will help the texture (this will also help with desoggification ;).

Here are the Cannoli that I filled with the ricotta mixture.
I also made a mocha cream cheese filling which worked quite well.
I know, I know-it's not "traditional" but really, you can mess around with all sorts of flavors that you like and most of the spreadable/soft cheeses will work nicely.
You could even use (gasp) a whipped cream filling if you wish.

Here's a close up of the mocha action.
After you get them filled (using a pastry bag makes it very simple btw), you can chop up some dark chocolate, roasted unsalted pistachios (or nuts of your choice), or anything else you might want to dip the Cannolis in to add that final touch.
Plain or adorned, they are tasty.

Mine turned out pretty well I guess,
one of the guests at the dinner said that these reminded her of the ones that her Italian grandmother used to make.
*Yay! & Whew!*

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Dreaming while at work...

Paperwork, paperwork, and...

[insert much put upon sigh here]

more paperwork.

[eyes getting heavy, soooooo sleepy]

{dream sequence commencing in 3, 2, 1}

Ahhhhhhh, how relaxing.
Warm sun.
Toasty sand.
Waves gently rolling ashore, palm trees swaying in the breeze.
Sapphire waters lazily lapping at my toes.

The perfect kind of day to chill out and relax.
(very possibly with a Mojito)
[happy sigh]

baaa dum
"wait, did you..?"
"nah, I'm just hearing things..."

baaaaaa dumm
baaaaaa dumm

"Wait, I heard something...I swear"

baduh baduh baduh
baduh baduh baduh baduh baduh baduh baduh baduh baduh
(jaws theme... in theory at least)

"Hmmmm, doesn't that one wave seem a Leeeeettle Taller than the others?
And slightly grey?
That's not normal right? Is it?"
"Oh God! It hurts!"

[Time to head somewhere else for this dream sequence me thinks...]

Somewhere inland perhaps, far far away from warm, sunny beaches and large, carnivorous fish.

Where the snow falls gently...
Evergreen trees are always festively decorated for the season.
Candy canes are 1.524m tall (5ft)
and you can share with many friends.
Many, many friends.
Far, far, far away.
Adorable snowmen adorn the landscape.

Yes, here's just the ticket.
Building a Snowman while the snowflakes fall and not a care in the world.
baaa dum
"wait, did you..?"
"nah, I'm just hearing things..."

baaaaaa dumm
baaaaaa dumm

"Wait, I heard something...I swear"

baduh baduh baduh
baduh baduh baduh baduh baduh baduh baduh baduh baduh

Um, there seems to be something a little different about these snowmen.
Um, I think I'll be backing away now.

"Did...did you just see them move?"


and on that note and just because I like it,
here's a randomly cool
and slightly pointy wreath from the
Festival of Trees.
(with appropriate music I think)
Oooohhhhh, Spikey ;)

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bakers are secretly Masochists

I have come to the conclusion that anyone in the baking field tends to have some masochistic tendencies about them.

Definition of Masochist:
The deriving of pleasure, or the tendency to derive pleasure, from being humiliated or mistreated, either by another or by oneself.

2. A willingness or tendency to subject oneself to unpleasant or trying experiences.

Not technically a part of the definition but should be.
Bakery version:

Working during the holiday season when everyone around you seems to go that one little extra step towards being certifiable.

(and that's just your fellow employees, everyone else seems to jump over that step and head straight for the cliff version-cliff notes hehehehehehe)

3b. Also applies to having to work on gorgeous summer days and during extremely hot weather.

Early hours start flowing into very long days, especially once the holidays really get going...and vacation during holidays?

Not even remotely going to happen.

On the "making lemonade" side of things bakery wise, if you ever want a free sauna in the work place-work at a bakery.

On hot days, standing next to even hotter ovens can make you feel that you are visiting the Sahara or possibly the Gobi desert but if being a member of the Polar Bear club is more your thing then head into the walk in freezer while it's freezing outside and you can get a head start towards hiking on a the Antarctic.

There needs to be a new holiday sometime in January just for the bakers, retail workers, restaurant staff, and others who work during the holidays.

A time when all of the banks and federal offices have to stay open and there may be a tropical location with a fruity drink sporting a little umbrella in the baker's future.

Who's with me?

Let's start a revolution, dessert style.

Yeah, forget dreaming of sugar plums dancing-I'm dreaming of a Mojito and a sandy beach-oh, or a Mojito and relaxing in a meadow...or a Mojito while sitting in front of a cozy fire at a ski lodge.
(pretty much Mojito and anything works, though beverage choice is optional-hot chocolate works well in certain situations too ;)

(think White Christmas tune )
"I'mmmmmmm dreaming of a sunny beach"

Monday, December 6, 2010

Festival of Trees

Here are some of the sights from the Providence Festival of Trees where we entered a Gingerbread house in a competition.

Think trees, lots and lots of trees ;)

There were red ones and blue ones,
black ones and green ones.
Big ones and small ones and even some Seuss ones.

Marzipan mice around a tree, all of them seem to really be focused on peppermint on top, I mean realllllllllly focused.

This tree and layout had a Japanese theme, it was a little over the top for me-I probably would have just done the cranes and lights and left everything else off but this was a competition after all.

Here's more of this layout.

Someone has a sense of humor.
The other bears are enjoying the picnic.

Something for all of those Twilight fans.
The tree is actually black.

I love that a lot of these trees didn't have a traditional tree toppers on them. I especially like the use of the branches on this one.

Here's some more of our Gingerbread competition. This one actually had cupcakes in the oven-soooooooo cute.

Bubblegum for the flooring.

This tree had ornaments made from Legos!

Here's another Gingerbread layout.

Here's a front view of our house.

"Up on the roof top..."

Um, Houston we have a problem.

One of the busier trees at the Festival.
The pinwheel things kept making me think of the hypnotizing swirly things you see in old movies.

and then I saw this one...

Very, very busy tree.
Verrrrrrrrryyyyyy, verrrrryyyyy busy.

A little interior kitchen action.

This is beyond cool. All I can say is "WOW".

and here's video of the reason I think it's sooooo cool...besides the black and white bare branch thing going on here.

Some of Santa's helpers?
Or could it be two members of our Gingerbread decorating team.

"but I heard them exclaim, 'ere they drove out of sight, "Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!" "Clement Clarke Moore

If I had the space, I would so have this at home.

Monday, November 22, 2010

I love the Winter Weather...

Our baker Beth's Winter cake design.

It almost, almost makes me wish for snow...
if I didn't have to be out driving and delivering in it while living in a location where, when one snow flake falls and sticks to the ground, it becomes cause for city wide alarm.

[Begin dream sequence]

I am walking down a quiet country lane with my beau while our two pooches merrily chase each other through the fluffy, white powder that meanders slowly to the ground.

Later I am curled up by the window with an excellent mystery novel, a hot cup of cocoa, and a purring feline or two nestled on my lap...

[Hey, I said it was a dream sequence didn't I?]

Anyhooo, Beth produces some absolutely amazing detail on her cakes and I enjoy looking at all of it.

I kept finding new details that she added which means I kept exclaiming "That's sooooooo cute!!!" often.


The snow flakes are so delicate.

She hand painted the background.

I love this moose!
Love! Love! Love the moose!

This is a Winter wonderland where I could have some fun.

Her trees remind me a little of Dr. Seuss and check out her Cardinal next to the very stylish Snowman.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010



Many people think that it's all the same; frosting is frosting after all...
In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. There are so many varieties of frosting out there that one could write several research papers and not cover them all but today I am focusing on buttercream.

Buttercream is what most people tend to think they are eating when they buy a can of frosting from the grocery store or purchase a frosted cake from a bakery.
There are many frostings available on the market which are generically called "buttercream" by customers and bakery personnel though if one reads the package labels, the manufacturers don't use that term much and the frosting used on that purchased cake was often delivered premade in a 5 gallon bucket or as a bag of powder to which a person, like some cakes mixes, just adds water and presto! instant "buttercream" frosting-no butter needed.

Most of us have had this frosting at one point or another; there's so much air whipped into it, or it has a certain slightly stale/canned taste to it, maybe it's a little too sweet, often it dries out and gets crusty quickly, or there may even be a little unpleasant film of something left behind in your mouth.

I am not enough of a food snob to say that I don't enjoy commercially made frosting once in a while (don't let anyone at the bakery know though;) but real buttercream it is not.
Frosting it is, buttercream it is not.

In the industrialization frenzy where things made by hand began to lose favour to things that were prepackaged, modern, promising the dream of more convenience-buttercream frosting like so many other things was tweaked and transformed until it lost the pure essence of what it once was; the flavour, the silky texture, the richness of it, gone. It became an empty shell, something people would eat around to get to the actual cake within. Anyone that's ever attending a large party with some half sheet cakes purchased from a grocery store has witnessed the piles of frosting scraped off to the side of the plates and left behind; a sad reminder of the fact that while it looked pretty, people knew better than to actually eat it.

In recent years thanks to dedicated individuals, artisanal bakeries, and organizations such as the Slow Food Movement bucking the trend of relying too much on heavily processed foods; real buttercream is making a comeback and people are discovering that a really good buttercream is an integral part of what makes a cake exceptional.

Appreciating a good buttercream frosting is a bit like learning to appreciate different varieties of wine, beer, or cheese. There are variations on the main theme but each, in their own ways, are delicious.

There are four main methods of making buttercream and then there are variations based on those four, similar to how mother sauces are used in France.
The main methods are:
[drum roll]


French and Italian buttercreams are fairly similar in their methods.

Have some unsalted butter at room temperature, or just slightly warm. Put sugar and water on the stove to boil until it reaches 115 degrees Celsius (240F).

For French style, whip whole eggs and/or yolks until light and slightly fluffy.
For Italian style, whip egg whites.
That's the main difference right there.

Then, with the mixer on, slowly pour in the sugar syrup.

DO NOT TURN THE MIXER ON HIGH until after all of the syrup is poured in.
(unless you enjoy being burned by flying sugar syrup)

Then turn mixer on high and let it whip until cool. After it cools some, with the mixer on low or medium, add the butter until it is absorbed.

The French buttercream usually will have more of an ivory/golden tint to it due to the yolks whereas the Italian will be almost white. Both of these buttercreams are light (almost like whipped cream at room temperature) yet have a richness to them.

The Swiss buttercream heats the whites and sugar together while over a heat source, then the soft butter is added, so essentially it shortens the process of the other two methods by a step. It tends to produce a lighter and fluffier buttercream then the previous two.

The Amercian method follows similar principals to the other three however, it replaces part or all of the butter with margarine or shortening.

*Sigh...I know, I know "Geez, Americans!"*

Let me just say for the record that changing out some of the butter for margarine or shortening is not necessarily a bad thing. It's just that there are a few people/businesses who have gone too far and used all shortening and then have added tons of sugar to try and make the frosting edible...

You have no idea how bad that is until you have tried it.

Let me just say it's really, really, really, really NOT good.

Looks pretty and innocent enough but is really not good to eat.
(I still have the memories...and nightmares)

Anyhow, the reason why it's not a completely horrendous idea to add some to a recipe is because a little margarine or shortening will help stabilize the buttercream which, when you are dealing with a Wedding cake on a hot day, can mean the difference between a beautiful cake that everyone will admire and enjoy (providing that it hasn't been set in direct sunlight on a 90+degree day) or a disaster that will show up eventually on Cake Wrecks blog.

Margarine can work out all right in higher proportion if needed in a recipe but both it and shortening (especially shortening) leaves a coating of fat in your mouth due to their higher melting points. So, if you are going to use a higher %, go for margarine first and do a test batch or two so that you will still have a frosting that people will want to eat.

Rule of thumb for margarine and shortening: Ideally use only if you know the weather is going to be warm and never ever ever go over 50% ratio with shortening.

Other options that you can try instead are using some white chocolate or a couple varieties of cocoa butter available which also work as stabilizers.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Taste of Zupan's

For several years, Zupan's grocery chain has held an event at the Heathman hotel in downtown Portland where they showcase some of the foodstuffs that are available from their stores and vendors as a thank you to all of their customers and also to showcase items available for the holiday season, everything from appetizers to desserts.

For a couple of years now, one has to buy a ticket to attend however all of the proceeds from the tickets purchased go to the Portland Police Bureau's Sunshine Division to help provide holiday meals for people who can use a little help now and then to make their holidays a little brighter.

Anyhow, I took some pictures of the event and here they are.

Our booth.

Here's our Red Velvet cupcakes and our Pumpkin Spice cake.

Personally, I think Pumpkin
good for any time of the year.
Also, some of our Italian Almond cake.

Zupan's floral arrangements for table centerpieces. This one was on our table (and it got to come home with me too).

Here's a sampling of some of the other holiday fare.

Some hummus and holiday gift baskets.

Mandy from Zupan's Belmont with some excellent coffee action.

(Hi Mandy!)

"Samples are ready to go."

Yep, still wearing the hat.
I'm thinking more and more about it replacing the bandannas.
Yes, I think that would definitely class up the place a bit... now the trick is to figure out how to get the rest of the staff to go along with it, hmmmmmmm.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy All Hallow's Eve my fellow spirits of the evening

A little light music to set the tone I think...

Ahhhhhh, such delicious sounds.

Now, to continue...
Here are a few offerings to set the proper holiday spirit(s).

People should really consider having their weddings on Halloween,
just think of all of the ghouls and goblins that might arrive for the nuptials and the resulting photo album would be much more interesting.

"Mmmmmmmm, bats are soooo deliciously crunchy and surprisingly sweet."

One can not forget birthdays either...

"Eye'll be watching you"
mwah hahahahahahaha*cough...cough* hahahahahahahhaha

[evil laughter is hard on the throat]

Now on to the costume side of things.

Here's the real character in typical action mode...

and here are his Dopplegangers-with no damages to the bakery either.

Two, two Beakers for the price of one :)
They each got a free cookie for these outfits even though I didn't hear any "meeps"
Happy VikingTip for employers...
Vikings make excellent workers however...
curbing their desire to break into an operatic solo is not a simple task.

Usually, I think of fabulous outfits several days after All Hallow's Eve and then say to self...

"Self, start work on this right now so you will have it ready for next year"

and then I don't pay attention and end up doing something last minute but
not this year...

This year, I actually had an idea for a costume
before All Hallow's Eve
and I think it turned out nicely and now I can embellish further for next year...or next week...or next Spring...
maybe it will become the new work uniform ;)
Keep a wary eye out my fellow bakers...

I am especially fond of the hat. Steampunk Baker
is presented for your consideration

I need to track down and/or make some Holsters for the leg next year and possibly a larger many possibilites.

Yes, the pastry bags are lit from within, what kind of Steampunk Baker would I be without my pastry bags ready to frost at a moment's notice?

I have noticed that the rolling pin and staff could also be used for a
"Conana the Barbarian/Red Sonja" theme.


Nahhhhh, Steampunk offers so many style possibilities, it's impossible to consider other options.

and to close, one of my favourite All Hallow's Eve tunes.
[I know it's random but it's a rather jazzy & chipper horror tune]
Happy All Hallow's Eve everyone!

Mwah hahahha*cough...cough*hahahahah