It’s very warm today.

We’re experiencing one of an annual handful of “San Francisco summer” days. Of course, it’s not actually as hot as, say, a real summer in the Midwest or South, and there isn’t the same oppressive, wet-cotton-feeling humidity. Nevertheless, it is still mightily uncomfortable because no one has air conditioning here.

So, of course, I spent the day moving as little as possible with a pile of 100% wool on my lap.

Little Dude WIP

And also, I made cheese sandwiches for dinner, served with crudités because it is too hot to turn on the oven.

There are now approximately 2349203840932 mosquitoes in our apartment. I look forward to swatting them out of the air tonight, those fuckers.

Cheers!

Unnaturally green pie

Awhile ago, my co-worker Alice brought me a small can of culinary matcha, and I agreed to attempt a recipe for matcha pie that I’d seen in the NYT. Alice apparently loves all thing matcha and also pie crust, so it seemed like as good an opportunity as any to stretch my baking skills.

It all started out just fine. The recipe doesn’t have specific instructions for piecrust, so I made an all-butter crust. It turned out surprisingly well, without sticking too much to the counter. And voilà, the crimping was not horrible.

uncooked pie crust

When the parbaking was over, I realized that the crust had not adhered well to the sides of the dish and had sunken down, kind of like unsightly scrunched up panty hose around one’s ankles. Oh well.

baked crust

For the custard, a little bit of matcha goes a long way. This reminds me: someone left a really funny comment on the recipe: “Did I miss something? What’s a “matcha”? It should have been mentioned SOMEwhere.”  (Matcha is defined at the top of the page.)

matcha powder

So then I made the custard, and it was fine, a “lovely shade of green,” if you can say such a thing about a pie. [Cue Wicked reference: “Since folks here to an absurd degree seem fixated on your verdigris…”]  I remembered to strain it into the parbaked crust, so it looked smooth and creamy going into the oven, kind of like an avocado pudding (ew, gross!).

matcha custard

Okay, so into the oven the green pie went. And 50 minutes later, I pulled it out to check for the set edges and wobbly  center…only to find that the center was still very much liquid. I put it in for another five minutes but took it out after that because the edges were starting to turn an unsightly shade of brown.

baked matcha pie

It was distressing that the pie filling still rolled around inside the crust with something resembling harmonic motion, but “Oh well, it’ll firm up in the fridge overnight,” I said to myself, “It’ll be FINE.”

…It was obviously not fine.

When I took the pie out in the morning, there had been some degree of solidification, but the inside was still very apparently liquid. Panicking and not wanting to re-bake the pie, I took a chance on…scooping the liquid out of the middle and cooking it in a saucepan.

scooped out pie middle

This meant breaking up some of the top crust that had formed in the baking/cooling process, and I forgot to strain the re-cooked custard when I put it back in the gaping hole in the center of the pie. As such, it was structurally and texturally quite different from the “original” parts of the pie.

The result was, well, distressing.

horrific pie
This looks like a green cesspool inside a fetid swamp.

I debated throwing everything away and starting anew, but by this point, I was so sick of this pie that I didn’t want to touch the ingredients ever again. (Also, it would have been a huge waste of cream and eggs.) The custard tasted fine, so I put some foil on it and took a car to work because there was no way to bike with this pie and I was already running late-ish.

My Lyft driver asked about my covered dish, and I told him this very sad pie story. When I showed him the pie, it was so visually assaulting that he recoiled and grimaced. “It looks like Frankenstein,” he said.

When I got to work, I told one of our security guards at the front desk about it. I said, “Do you wanna’ see it? Are you ready?!? ARE YOU READY FOR THIS?” then I whipped off the foil with a flourish.

“Eehhshhs! You shouldna’ brought that to work!” he said.

But I did bring it to work, and Alice was super happy about it (at least, she acted that way). And I mean, the custard did taste okay, if not a little sweet. Jay later said that it didn’t actually taste like matcha. And I’ll be honest, I didn’t eat a whole slice because I was so disgusted with the entire thing by that point.

You will notice that there are three colors happening here:

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What a disaster! I think green pie should maybe just not be a thing.

 

Last week, briefly

Last Sunday, I had a chance to catch up with Daniela, a good friend from college, who was in town for a conference. We realized we hadn’t seen each other in eight years, and on top of that, neither of us had done a spectacular job of keeping in touch. The upside of that was that our conversation was filled with exciting news (She founded a charter school in Minneapolis and is making the world a better place!). We promised to do better at keeping in touch, not letting eight years pass this time.

Mica, Daniela, & Bodger

We also reminisced about all our college adventures: taking Spanish and Arabic class together, living next door to each other in the French and Spanish houses fourth year, going on late-night runs around “Grounds” and then even later-night runs to the hospital cafeteria for chicken fingers and fries, etc. I generally don’t look back on college as the most fun time in my life, so it’s good to be reminded of the cool friends I made.

We tried to recreate this picture of us jumping after turning in a Spanish paper at the end of spring semester, second year.

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Alas, my camera is far too slow for dark jumping photos:

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“It looks like you’re pooping,” – The Hus-friend.

Also last week, I attended another viewing party for The Great British Bake Off with Natalie, Simon, and a whole host of friends. This was the reason I made whoopie pies; they’re delicious all the time, but it’s always good to have an excuse to bake. I’ve been baking a lot more in the last two weeks, thanks almost entirely to watching the entire fifth season of GBBO on Netflix and following the current season at weekly parties. It really makes you want to fire up the oven and create something amazing.

This week, my whoopie pies joined Andrew’s Viennese whirls (so good!) and Alli’s apple popovers.

popovers, Viennese whirls, whoopie pies

Simon made Yorkshire puddings, in keeping with the theme. I’d never had a Yorkshire pudding, and I assumed it was a vaguely dessert-ish item. As it turns out, it’s a bit of batter poured into a smoking hot cup of oil. When the batter puffs up in the oven, it leaves a delightful cavity to add fillings–in this case, steak, chives, and sharp mustard. Delicious and well-executed (alas, unlike some of the “puds” on last week’s GBBO episode).

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Simon’s Yorkshire puddings

Natalie made an amazing bundt cake in her newly acquired vintage bundt pan. Can you imagine how long it took her to butter and flour every nook and cranny in that pan? I would die. Seriously. I would just expire.

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And now, off to work on a colorwork sweater while it’s way too warm to be handling wool. San Francisco summer started today, and it needs to end already.

Ameri-cakes & Pies: Maine whoopie pies

I actually made this recipe for whoopie pies awhile ago and  forgot to take pictures, so it didn’t count! Fortunately, my baking enthusiasm has been restored thanks to this newest season of The Great British Bakeoff and the weekly viewing-eating parties hosted by Natalie and Simon. This week’s episode theme was fried dough, and I did NOT have interest in that. Instead, I took this opportunity to re-make these whoopie pies.

I used the recipe from Baked Explorations after having success with it the first time. It’s slightly tedious to bake and assmeble sandwich cookies like this, but having a dough scooper helps to make all the halves uniform in size.

baking whoopie pies, raw

The whoopie pies pictured in the book have fluffy, puffy, cracked tops, but mine came out less domed both times I baked them. Maybe next time I’ll reduce the liquid to see if I can achieve more height.

baked whoopie pie tops

The filling is Swiss meringue buttercream, which I find both more palatable (cooked eggwhites) and stable. With a stand mixer, it comes together quickly and without any burning forearms.

making buttercream

This recipe makes a TON of buttercream, so you can fill the pies quite generously. Things look a bit hairy for awhile, but I love how billowy and soft it gets once it all comes together.

Swiss meringue buttercream

I hear there is somewhat of a debate as to the precise origin of the whoopie pie, with it being claimed by both Maine and Pennsylvania. The first time I had one was in Bar Harbor, so for me, they will be a Maine dessert. Moreover, the recipe states that it is written with smaller whoopie pies in mind versus the “larger Pennsylvania Dutch size.” The suggested yield is 10-12 large pies or 15-17 smaller pies. As it was, I ended up with 26 pies, and people found them quite rich, even in their “diminutive” size.

finished whoopie pies

Oh hai, team.

After learning that neither Jay nor I had seen The Room, Steve enthusiastically suggested that we go to the monthly midnight showing at the Clay Theater. Work offsite!

A bunch of my grad school friends (Oh hai, Aileen, Sarah, and Sean!) had seen The Room and were super into it, always quoting it at parties. The Hus-friend had also been exposed to it at Physics camp and told me how funny it was. Still, having done some research and realizing that it is a “bad” movie, I didn’t want to just sit at home and watch it; it needed to be a group viewing experience, preferably in a theater. I don’t like to watch movies that everyone says are “SO FUNNY” because I usually get particularly contrary and find nothing funny. (This is one reason why I don’t go to stand-up comedy shows.)

If you haven’t heard of The Room, it’s sometimes called “the Citizen Kane of bad movies,” but that doesn’t do it justice. The best way I can describe it is a movie made by an eccentric who has a lot of ambition but is totally lacking in self-awareness and perhaps talent. Other than watching the trailer and reading the basic plot premise (a love triangle), I didn’t do much additional research; I didn’t want too much to be spoiled.

The midnight showing was SO fun! I haven’t been to a midnight movie since high school, and around 10:30pm, I was questioning whether I wanted to stay up any later. When we got to the theater though, it was hard not to get excited because the other movie-goers’ enthusiasm was so infectious.

team with spoons
My face was like a glowing orb, reflecting all the light and obscuring Jay and Steve in the dark.

Once we got our seats, Steve handed us all our own personal box of spoons. This is a thing–whenever the camera pans on the [inexplicable] framed picture of a spoon in the apartment set, you are supposed to throw your plastic spoons in the air, kind of like hurling your cap in the air at graduation. It rains spoons in the theater, some landing in your lap from behind. We all managed to use our 48 spoons. There were some other “throw things!” moments, so when the lights came up and we left the theater, this was what the ground looked like:

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I really enjoyed The Room and would stay up again for a midnight showing. The Hus-friend, despite having already seen it, laughed so much he cried because people kept shouting such funny things. Watch out — if you visit us when it’s playing, we might insist on taking you.

Ameri-cakes & Pies: Rhode Island Johnny Cakes

I’m motivated to make progress on this project. For this week’s breakfast, I made Johnnycakes, which are cornmeal pancakes. I meant to blog this entry years ago after my dear friend “DHA” brought me back some authentic johnnycake mix from his home state of Rhode Island. Unfortunately, I didn’t get around to documenting it, so I had to use run-of-the-mill cornmeal purchased from the regular grocery store this time.

cornmeal
IT’S GLUTEN FREE!!!!!

You can find a johnnycake recipe pretty easily online, and most use only cornmeal. I followed the “cornmeal pancakes” recipe out of my Baked Explorations cookbook, a birthday gift from Tina to help me with the Ameri-cakes Project. This recipe used half yellow cornmeal and half flour.

panfrying Johnnycakes
Side pancake was soooooooo slow.

I even made these all rustically in my cast iron skillet, which is developing a well-seasoned patina these days. LALALA so rustic and hipster!

cooking johnnycakes 2
C’MON SIDE PANCAKE! HURRY THE F UP.

The batter was runny, so I could only make three johnnycakes per batch. I got pretty impatient waiting to eat, so the last batch of batter made a mondo johnnycake.

large johnnycake

The johnnycakes are pretty corny-tasting, a lot like thin pieces of cornbread. Not terribly sweet, they make a good vehicle for butter and syrup.

johnnycakes for breakfast

I’m not sure I’d make these very often. They’re slightly more work than pancakes because you have to mix boiling water into the cornmeal, then add various dry and liquid ingredients in batches.

That being said, if I’m ever in Rhode Island and see authentic johnnycakes on the menu, I’ll order them.

I made pretzels!

My former co-worker Natalie invited me to join her and her husband Simon and their friends for a viewing party of this season of The Great British Bakeoff. Like most Americans, I find this show totally charming; it’s seeing people doing what they do well and being really sweet and kind to each other. Even the Hus-friend gets into it.

This was my first time going to a viewing party for the current season though! I was so excited about group viewing (with real Brits!) and the promise of delicious baked goods.

I pulled out my many baking cookbooks (Ugh, so many! I’ll never get to everything I want to bake!) and decided on soft pretzels. I opted for plain pretzels because I figured there would be an abundance of sweet things and a savory option would be welcome. I first chose Kamran Siddiqi’s recipe out of his gorgeous and always spot-on book Handmade Baking. The book recipe is for cinnamon-sugar pretzels, so I  used the basic NYC-style soft pretzel recipe that he has on his website.

I don’t have a lot of experience with yeasted dough, and the steps of proofing (single? double? under- and over-proofed?) still confuse me. This dough was pretty forgiving, and rolling out the ropes and twisting them wasn’t nearly as stressful as I imagined.

Twisted, resting pretzels

Like bagels, you get the fun step of boiling the dough and watching the little shapes get so puffy. It’s definitely my favorite part.

boiling pretzels
Boiling!
pretzels with eggwash
Then a quick eggwash before they go into the oven.

The eggwash gives them a golden color as they bake. I felt such a surge of pride pulling out rich brown pretzels out of the oven. Making bread products that look like ones you could buy, albeit a bit rustic, still seems like magic to me!

baked pretzels

Natalie assured me that I didn’t have to bake on theme, but it just so happened that this week’s episode theme was bread. My pretzels (served with mustard) joined the likes of farthing biscuits, ginger cookies, cheddar-scallion bread, pita with hummus, and bread sticks. Jenn and I enjoyed our carb-filled dinner with a good cuppa–Natalie had a steaming pot of malty tea ready for us!

GBBO spread

With full bellies, we commenced the episode viewing. It was fun to watch it with British friends; they laughed a lot more than I do usually. Maybe a lot of the funny parts are going over my head when I watch at home.

The sad thing about pretzels is that they only have a shelf-life of about 12 hours before they turn hard. That’s okay though–at the end of the night, only one was left. And it wasn’t a soul-crushing experience, so I look forward to making another batch soon.

Pretzel wink!

homemade pretzel, winking