Monday, May 31, 2010

Fudge notes

I received a question about why it seems businesses can make fudge in all sorts of climates whereas most home recipes recommend only making it during dry, cool weather. I have done a smidge of research and come across two articles about making fudge at home.

The main points for making it at home seem to include: the sides need to be rinsed down to prevent sugar crystals from forming, don't stir too soon or sugar crystals can form, and don't let anything fall into the fudge because sugar crystals can form around it.

This applies to commercial operations as well however, these businesses have an extra trick or two up their sleeves. They often use variety of sugars to help ensure that crystallization is unlikely to occur no matter what the conditions; corn syrup is a common one to use, marshmallows, marshmallow creme are another couple of options. There's also the trick of using cream or evaporated milk to prevent curdling.

Anyhow, here are some links that go into more detail. Enjoy.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Baking conference redux

A couple of years ago we went to the Retail Bakers of America conference held in Atlantic City, NJ.

A few snapshots of stuff we saw there: the boardwalk, a demo given by Ron Ben-Israel and Buddy Valastro, and of course a visit to see Lucy the Elephant.
Here is a life size model to give you an idea of the scale of Lucy with her perfectly pedicured toes.

Conferences remind me a bit like going to the circus. There are all of the booths in the convention center set up like a side show touting the latest and greatest must have gadget, ingredient, tool, etc. "Buy two of x and we'll thrown in y." "This will save you so much labor and reduce your product loss." The pitches are fast and furious at the opening of the conference but by day 3 or 4, the vendors have a glazed over look in their eyes and are maybe just a little tired of giving the same pitch 60+ times a day.
Some of the claims are true, many don't apply to a small bakery but they are still fun to look at and imagine the possibilities.

The center ring show for the conference consists of all of the seminars and demos about running a business, how to manage employees, and how to market the business. Most are actually pretty interesting and informative, a few remind one of the Economics lectures in college during which half of the students slept. Once in awhile, they will also have hands on classes with a well known pastry chef-we attended one and got to make a 3D sculpted cake of the MGM Lion's head. That was soooooo much fun.

The baking version of acrobatics would have to be the Baking competitions; breads, sugar work, and chocolate work are the main ones to see. There are others going on too well as cake decorating competitions-these are interesting but not something I would do probably, I don't like the feeling of being rushed or having back seat decorators watching. Kind of remind me of taking tests in school, paper is put in front of you and your mind instantly goes blank. wheeee.

Then it's time for the conference to end, tents are folded up, equipment is packed away for the next conference, people say goodbye to each other, maybe there's a last flurry of sales as someone speeds back to get that one little spatula that would be just perfect for scraping that one bowl...floors are vacuumed, tables stowed and the lights are turned off. The convention center becomes quiet...until the next group's conference circus starts to set up for their big show.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Dreary days

It's wet outside, the rain is pounding against the window, slowing occasionally to a steady drip against the pane then speeds back up to the incessant hammering again. This is the sort of day made for baking something warm and comforting; brownies perhaps, or maybe some chocolate chip cookies.

If it were earlier in the day I'd consider making some rolls or one of my favorites-Swedish Cardamom bread, although truth be told I probably start that one the night before so it could rise overnight in the fridge...mmmmm...or Monkey bread unceremoniously dumped out of it's Bundt pan after baking with the molten brown sugar glaze and toasted pecans slowly oozing down it's surface.

I am beginning to salivate and I think I have planned what I am doing for the weekend (the tasty part of it at least mmmmm, Monkey bread).

Monday, May 24, 2010

Fondant notes

So the question is, to paraphrase, Is fondant edible?
The answer depends.

There are many, many people out there who dislike fondant immensely and many have good reason. Everyone has memories of going to some wedding or celebration with a fondant covered cake on display which can look fabulous (unless you see the ones on Cake Wrecks-those can be utterly horrifying sometimes) but in reality tastes positively horrible. The next fondant covered cake they see reminds them of that previous experience and then they never touch any version of fondant again. Another less common reason that some people dislike fondant is that it can taste too sweet to them, it is a sugar paste after all. Fondant should taste about like a marshmallow-vague hint of vanilla, sugary, that's about it.

Fondant can become frosting for cakes, it can be transformed into beautiful flowers, amazing bows and ribbons, characters and designs limited only by one's imagination-look at the Cake Wrecks on Sundays to discover the magic that can be unleashed in the right hands.

If fondant is used as frosting then it usually is edible, when it's used for decoration-such as fine flowers or frilly bows more often than not, it isn't. Basically a good rule of thumb to follow is that when the fondant has dried out unless you like things very, very crunchy-don't eat it.

Another thing to keep in mind, when a person wants the frosting of a cake to have a really intense colour; the amount of colour it can take to get such deep intensity often will impart an off flavour to fondant as well.

There are tons of recipes to make fondant as well as many commercial brands available, with varying degrees of quality, flavor, and ingredients depending on what application one uses it for.

If a person is going to have a cake made using fondant, ask to taste a sample if you are using a professional bakery to know what the flavour is of the fondant used.
If one decides to make the fondant at home, try out a few recipes ahead of time (and I EMPHASISE the ahead of time part-if you've never made it before, it can be a bear to make workable in a timely fashion) to find one that works or find a local decorating supply store that has some available.

Remember, if you still can't stand it, you can always eat around it ;)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Fondant Demo

Went to fondant demo that Bakemark sponsored recently. Here is our trusty rep Tim, he's a darn good guy and always willing to go the extra mile for us. Hi Tim! The chap next to him is pastry Chef Julian Rose who taught the demo.

A couple of the things that he showed us how to do. He makes it look so easy, so so easy and so beautiful.

A couple more shots of gorgeous flower action.

Learned some new techniques, want to try out the fondant that Bakemark supplies, it stays pliable for so long, it's amazing. And look! There was even some ruffle action taking place, (a little preening is in order) I made the top ruffle all by myself-don't look too closely because it's not perfect like the ones underneath but not bad for a first time.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Arrrrrrrr, there be Treasure

We received a call from the Make a Wish foundation on behalf of a little boy who wanted to be a pirate like Jack Sparrow and they wondered if there was a chance that we would be interested in making a themed cake for the event. Would we?

Aye!!!! That be an adventure that would most surely tempt the very depths of our marrow.
Our pastry chef had a most excellent time procuring all of the "jewels" for the chest from the chocolate and fondant in which they were buried. The chest itself be some of our finest confection available, chocolate it were-splice the mainbrace if I be wrong (or if I be right as well), aarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr (kind of reminds me of a cat's purr).

The foundation held a picnic for him, the tall ships were in town and the boy got to be on board and practice his pirate ways for the day. The foundation even had someone who could easily pass for "Captain...Jack Sparrow". It were a good day to be in fine pirate form, aye.

I think all of this is only fitting considering the "International Talk Like a Pirate Day" was started in Oregon by Ol' Chumbucket and Cap'n Slappy and is proudly celebrated on Sept. 19th here every year-though there be pirates year round if you be so inclined to find them me bucko.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Send in the clowns

So you work in a bakery and maybe it's getting a little late in the day. You start to decorate some cookies with a seemingly fun and happy design, simple and straightforward project really...or is it? Wait a minute...did that cookie just move?

Where did this other cookie come from? There's something about it that is different the Sesame Street game where one thing is not like the others but whatever could it be? It smiles like the other cookies but this is not a friendly smile...

Did you hear that? Faint music in the back ground-carnival music I think... or "Send in the Clowns" maybe... Um, something's not quite right. Wait a minute, where did the other cookies go? They were here just a moment ago...

Where did the rest of our staff go? Hello? Anyone? Hello?...hello...hello...(wow, the echo acoustics in this place are fabulous!)

Oh No! It's the infamous Vampire Clown Cookie of Broadway Street!
And he's brought his friend, the dreaded Cupcake Hydra Clown Head cake! No cookie or cake is safe tonight with them around.

And can't you hear all of those little clown heads talking to each other? Plotting...Planning...and if you get really, really close and listen really, really hard then you can catch some of the tiny, tiny clown voices...
"...same thing...every night...take"

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Field trips

There's been a small group of us baking types that like to go find nifty places that we wouldn't get to every day- some baking related, some not. A couple of the places around the area that we have been to so far are the Cedar Creek Grist Mill (one of my fave's) just outside of Woodburn Washington where they have demos of grinding grains on the weekends and then you can take a bag of it home-the cornmeal is EXCELLENT! for cornbread. In the fall, they also have an apple cider pressing demo-mmmmm, there is nothing better than fresh cider. I recommend making a donation-it is well worth it.
Side note: I know a person who has a small heirloom apple orchard and she sells fresh pressed cider, beyond phenomenal is the only description for it and it changes batch to batch depending on the varieties that she blends. I usually buy a few gallons: a couple for me to drink, a couple for the bakery staff, and if I'm in the mood, a few to ferment into hard cider. double mmmmmmm.

Another place we've been to is Bob's Red Mill where you can find just about any sort of grain you want, whole or ground-they also make things like pea flour, which works well for thickening soups and they have non gluten flour blends for baking as well. Right across the road from them is Dave's Killer bread bakery, the Sin Dogs are totally worth a visit. These aren't your mama's Cinnamon Rolls.

Our non baking related field trip was to the Maryhill Stonehenge War Memorial and just down the road, the Maryhill museum. The memorial is a life size replica of Stonehenge built by a Quaker in the early 1900's. Every time I've gone, it seems that some one has left an offering on the stone table in the center. Even though it gets a fair amount of people stopping by, there is always a feeling of solitude and reflection surrounding it.

Well, that's a few of the places that we've gone so far. Who knows where we'll end up next.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Variations on a theme

Nothing much to say really, just posting a couple of pictures of nice wedding cakes that we've done recently. Wow, I just realized that they are the same design with different flower decoration-totally different people ordered, totally different final locations, both well done. I do think the cake flavours are different though.

It reminds me a little of when my biz partner and I show up at work at different times, coming from different locations, yet are wearing almost exactly the same outfits, same colours, similar styles, etc. We've had people ask us if we are twins and while we are looking at them like they are crazy, that's when we realize "ooooohhhh, we did it again." Of course, since I'm the one who's usually up and in earlier than she is, she's obviously copying me-mayhaps, I should start checking around for hidden cameras.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Great Unveiling!!

Check it out!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We got all fancy like with our vessel of conveyance, commonly referred to as the delivery van. It's SOOOOOOOOOOOO COOOOOOOOOOL!!!!!!
Of course we must mug it up a little as well. We've got the "arrrrrr" pirate look above and the "heyyyyyyyyyyyy" biker look below.

New homes needed.

So, we walk into the office one morning and lo and behold, overnight we had some very unusual critters move in. They don't talk much, don't shed much, and would love to find someone who likes to cuddle. They are very, very friendly as demonstrated by one of our employees who sat down in the chair and then was overwhelmed by the critters. If you know of someone who needs an Adorable handmade companion critter, then stop and by and discuss adoption options.

Seriously, we need good homes for them- the office is starting to look like the USS Enterprise after the Tribbles took over.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The most important kitchen tool

Sharpies. That's it. I mean, sure it's nice having the pots and fancy pans, shiny ovens and mixers but the ultimate tool in the kitchen for most chefs and bakers is the humble sharpie. Every chef I know guards their sharpies with utmost ferocity and sometimes they carry spares but are loath to part with them either.
You can date things, label things, completely change recipes by blacking something out or adding something in. They're small, lightweight, and ultimately portable. Okay so they can't do the actual cooking but almost everything to up to that point.

What would be really, really cool is to have a bandolier full of Sharpies, then you could have a showdown in the kitchen and "draw" on the count of three...hehehehehehehe.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Cake Wreck Adulation

After a long day of dealing with "Common Courtesy challenged" customers, endless telemarketing and donation requests, and just normal day to day activities; the Cake Wrecks blog is the perfect thing to lighten and brighten one's day.
Scott, we are eternally grateful to you for telling us about this site!

The eerie thing I discovered while reading the blog is that Jen is channeling my thoughts almost to the letter when I look at the pictures and read the commentary that she has posted, it's SPOOKY I tell you!
The wedding cakes pics with the "Princess Bride" commentary on May 5, 2010 especially made my day-in part because I am smitten by this movie (in my permanent top five, along with "Tremors") so I was internally vocalizing the nasally tones as I was reading it and laughing. hehehehehe, sigh...good times.

Okay, enough idol worship for the moment. We were graced with Jen and John's presence last year as they stopped at Powell's during her book tour. She had posted on her blog a few months before that if any local professional bakeries were interested in donating some cake for the book signing to let her know. I was seriously doing "mememememememememe!!!! oh please oh please oh please" as I was typing a very carefully worded letter about how much we appreciate her blog and would enjoy being able to participate in the event.

Here are the cakey tributes that we brought and laid at the altar of the Wreckiness. To top it off, the "Contragulation's" cake is not only the bane of Jen's existence, the dreaded CCC cake, it is a MINI CCC cake!!!!(insert evil, maniacal laughter here...and here...and here...AND initial here)

Sunday, May 2, 2010

films and food

I went to a movie earlier today which got me to thinking about a few of the movies that have something culinary as a main element in them and then I realized how many there are once you start to look so...I'm just going to mention some of my favorites and maybe a tv show or two as I think of them.
One of my all time favorites is "Eat, Drink, Man, Woman", I am in awe watching the dexterity of the chef and the precision with which items are chopped and sliced. The story's good too but just the visuals alone puts this one on top for me.

Some of my other favorites are and these are just the ones that have popped into my head at the moment:

"Chocolate" starring Johnny Depp.
"Julie & Julia" starring Meryl Streep
"A Matter of Loaf and Death" Wallace & Gromit
"Sweeny Todd" starring Johnny Depp
"Macbeth" from "Shakespeare Retold" BBC-You'll never look at three star restaurants quite the same way.
Oh, and I almost forgot "The God of Cookery" starring Stephen Chow. "Shaolin Soccer" also has an excellent scene involving salty dough.

Beverage related:
"Bottle Shock" starring Alan Rickman-just by raising an eyebrow, this man speaks volumes.
"Sideways" starring Paul Giamatti

Tv shows:
"Pushing Daisies" The importance of pie and honey
"Chef": BBC-Very probably my all time favorite TV show ever and for all time!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I also love, love, love "Good Eats" with Alton Brown and enjoy "No Reservations" with Anthony Bourdain.

Anyhow, that's a few of the food related shows that I have watched and really enjoy or that I feel have influenced me a bit in relation to everything. Oddly enough, there aren't that many baking related movies that I have come across-hmmmmm. Maybe that is something we should remedy at the bakery... :)