Jesurgislac’s Journal

August 24, 2010

Tuesday Recipe Blogging: Bring On The Sweet Stuff

You have a cake or a cookie or a muffin.

Actually, this is the Internet, so I don’t know if you really do, but pretend, okay?

How can you make your ordinary and undistinguished cake or cookie or muffin or fruit loaf or WHATEVER, really, look special? Cover it with more sugar!

Icing or frosting, the basics:

The best invention ever; if you’re icing a whole cake, do it twice. The first layer is the crumb layer.

1 cup powder sugar (aka icing sugar). This is very, very fine-grained sugar that blows about with a puff of air. You can sub in 1/3 of a cup of cocoa for 1/4 cup of sugar, if you want to make a chocolate icing.
2 tablespoons liquid.
1 teaspoon glycerine, if the cake is not to be eaten immediately: it saves the icing from drying out.
Optional: 1/2 teaspoon of additional flavouring, if the liquid is not sufficient.

The liquid can be anything. Use wine or brandy or liqueur for a rather grown-up taste: use lemon or lime juice for something sharper. Use coffee if you are making a chocolate cake. Coffee icing on a chocolate cake is THE WIN, if you can’t make chocolate ganache, see below. You can even use a tablespoon of water and a tablespoon of vanilla essence. Put the icing sugar into a big bowl. Wear old clothes. Shoo the cats out of the kitchen. (Their hair will stick to the icing. Yuck.)

Add the liquid to the powdered sugar, and beat well. The icing sugar flies about the kitchen. You’re grateful I told you to wear old clothes. If the icing seems a little dry, add small amounts of more liquid, but it should be fairly thick and sticky for the crumb layer. You can expand this recipe just by doubling quantities. Four tablespoons of liquid is one-eighth of a cup, to be added to 2 cups of powdered sugar .

Spread on the first layer of icing. It will take up crumbs from the cake, but that’s okay. No one will see it. Cover the whole cake. You can use a knife dipped briefly into boiling water to make sure it doesn’t stick.

Wait for the first layer to cool and dry. It doesn’t need to set completely.

Mix up the second batch of icing – this can be a little bit more liquid BUT NOT MUCH – and pour over the first layer. Presto: you have a perfectly frosted cake.

Buttercream is even easier and you use it to layer the cake together. So, if you just frosted your cake according to my instructions above, you should now take it apart to put in the buttercream frosting, cursing yourself for not reading my instructions to the end.

1 cup of soft brown sugar.
2 tablespoons butter or vegan margarine.
1 tablespoon vanilla essence, or other flavouring of your choice. You could also add 1/3 cup cocoa, or a couple of tablespoons of honey.
Beat the soft butter into the sugar until you have a thick brown paste. (You could, of course, use plain white granulated sugar and use food colourings, if you want sparkly colours instead of the yummy brown-sugar-butter-vanilla flavour. Peasant.)

Spread the buttercream on one layer of the cake. Cover thickly. People will thank you for it. Drop the second layer on top of the first. Repeat as necessary.

Chocolate ganache: Melt 8 ounces/200g good chocolate in 1/4 cup of soy milk. (Heat the milk till it’s quite warm, not boiling, break the chocolate into the warm milk in small pieces, put the bowl with the milk into a larger bowl with just-boiled water – and stir the contents of the bowl until the chocolate has all melted. This is a foolproof technique: the milk doesn’t need to be kept VERY warm to melt the chocolate, and a bath of very hot water around the bowl works a treat.) Add a tablespoon of maple syrup or honey. When the chocolate is all melted, spoon the liquid ganache over the cake. When this sets, it will be like solid chocolate, only slightly softer. Delicious. You can use this to layer cakes together or to cover them or even as just a layer on top of the cupcake.

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January 6, 2009

Tuesday Recipe Blogging: Cookies!

Nothing separates our common language so much as baked goods. In Scotland, where I grew up, a cookie was a yeast-leavened cake, a sweet dough made with bread flour, baked in individual rounds with a very smooth glazed surface on top, sometimes with currants or raisins kneaded into the dough, often with large crystals of sugar sprinkled on the top.

In the UK generally, however, a cookie is a name for a specific type of sweet biscuit – large, thick, and chewy, often enriched with pieces of chocolate or dried fruit. These are also called American Cookies, like the sweet mini-cakes that get sold with coffee are called American Muffins….

(And let’s not even get into what we call scones/Americans call biscuits, what we’d call biscuits/you’call a cracker or a cookie… Someday, I will cope with the distinction between turnip/swede/rutabaga, too.)

Was reminded of my resolution to continue Tuesday Recipe Blogging regularly in 2009 when Gary Farber posted a link to this fabulous article in the NYTimes on Butter Holds the Secret to Cookies That Sing.

The key points in the article are: never melt butter in the microwave (I keep butter in the freezer, and take it out to slowly defrost the night before I plan to bake with it) and cookie dough needs to be as cold as possible when it goes into the oven. (Which is why many recipes advise rolling the made-up dough into a cylinder, wrapping it in clingfilm, and leaving it in the fridge until you’re ready to cut slices off and bake.)

That said, I love making biscuits. Or supervising their making. The basic ingredients are just flour and fat and water, and sugar for sweet biscuits, and you can keep several children quiet for hours by proposing the treat of making biscuits, then letting them mix and roll out the biscuits, and cut out shapes with a knife (fancy cutters restrict the imagination…), then baking the biscuits, and finally getting to eat what they made, as well as (key points) picking out a few of the best to give to their parents when they get home (I’m speaking as a childminder) and clearing up the mess afterwards. (And enforce good manners by requiring children to ask politely and respond with goodwill to requests for shared equipment, otherwise they get banned from the biscuit-makers table. So far the threat of banning has always been enough. But then, I mean it.)

But there are some recipes which I think of as cookie recipes, mostly the ones which are, yes, thick, rich, and filled with good things… and usually found on American websites.
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December 31, 2008

About me

I got this idea from Renaissance Guy. Herewith a list of random items. Comment to let me know what you can identify with.

I purposely kept all my political opinions off this list, or almost all, because that’s something I’m fairly sure we already know about each other if you read here regularly.

1. Learned to read at the age of three and have seldom stopped since.

2. My favourite kind of novels are the sort that include large amounts of expository information in the narrative – Victor Hugo, J. R. R. Tolkien, Robert Graves, Octavia E. Butler, K. J. Parker, C. J. Cherryh.

3. Milk chocolate should be at least 40% cocoa. Dark chocolate should be at least 70% cocoa. White chocolate is not actually chocolate at all.

4. I hardly ever get around to watching a movie when it first comes out. I’m much more likely to watch it 2 years later when it’s on TV or someone loans me a DVD.

5. Though going to the cinema or the theatre with people who want to sit down and talk about it afterwards is a treat.

6. I’m fascinated by ancient writing: by the invention of writing and the development of the concept.

7. I’m fascinated by writing – by the ability to convert thoughts in the head to symbols on the page and vice versa.

8. I eat peanut butter on bread with tomato ketchup.

9. I like Marmite.

10. I’m a lifelong vegetarian, and while I try to be polite about it at all times, i really don’t understand how people can enjoy eating meat.

11. I loathe having a meal with someone who feels they’re entitled to make negative comments about what I – or anyone else at the table – chose to eat.

12. I love making bread.

13. Once Willie Nelson has sung any song, it’s a wonder to me that anyone wants to listen to anyone else sing it.

14. Good dialogue is the single thing most likely to attract me to a new TV series.

15. I’ve only been to one live music event in my adult life (not counting church services with choirs) and I came away thinking that it worth having had the experience of hearing Willie Nelson sing live, but I couldn’t understand people who actually wanted to go to events like that on a regular basis, what with the amount of time spent hanging about, the people in the audience singing along so you can’t hear the person we all paid to hear very well, etc.

16. Wine is better than grapes. Beer is usually a waste of good grain.

17. Very dark rich real ales and beers are totally worth it, though.

18. Amy should have died after she fell through the ice. Beth should have lived to grow up and keep house for Jo, who should have continued to write thrilling stories and never married anyone.

19. People who think Fanny Price should have married Henry Crawford and Edmund Bertram should have married Mary Crawford have really not been paying attention.

20. Russet apples are the best apples there are.

21. But any apple is good except for those big mushy ones, red or yellow.

22. The perfect fruit is a mango.

23. I read XKCD three times a week and always click on random to view some past XKCD when I do.

24. I try to use cloth bags or my backpack instead of plastic bags whenever I go shopping.

25. The arrival of the post used to be an exciting moment. Since e-mail was invented, the paper mail has become less and less interesting, but I remember when the sound of the letters falling through the door was a thrill.

26. I think Shakespeare’s comedies tend to be at least as scary as his tragedies.

27. I prefer cats to dogs, both aesthetically and as pet/companions.

28. But think a well-trained well-behaved dog is a pleasure to see, particularly a working dog.

29. But feel a cat leaping up onto my lap, curling up and purring till it falls asleep, is better than any pack-loyal dog.

30. While ordinarily I manage to separate my feelings about a writer’s political views from my ability to enjoy their writing, Orson Scott Card managed to make himself one big exception over the past four years, speaking as someone who was an enthusiastic fan for over twenty years before 2004. It’s not just that I disagree with him: it’s also that Card seems to be unable to tolerate widespread disagreement with his politics without becoming a jerk.

31. Favourite poets; Marilyn Hacker, Rainer Maria Rilke, Rudyard Kipling. I find this combination as weird as you probably do, but those are genuinely the three I’m most likely to sit down with and read their poems purely for the pleasure of it.

32. Allergic to dust/dust mites. Hate housework.

33. Keep favourite t-shirts till they have noticeable holes in them.

34. Prefer growing herbs to flowers.

35. Love the moment on any flight when the air flowing under the wing of the plane pushes the plane upwards away from the ground.

36. Ever since I first understood how the depth of the atmosphere, the angle of light through the atmosphere, and the human eye’s ability to perceive light, is why we perceive sunsets, I’ve appreciated sunsets all the more. Knowing how it works increases my aesthetic appreciation, not only for sunsets but for almost anything.

37. I like scented candles, but not candles whimsically shaped into amusing statues of wax to be destroyed by burning.

38. When reading Little Women I always identified with Jo. When reading Mansfield Park, I always identified with Fanny Price. When reading Ballet Shoes, I always identified with Petrova.

39. I hate all fizzy soft drinks, cola or sodapop or ginger.

40. I prefer still wine to fizzy wine, too.

41. I am an atheist.

42. I have read the Bible from Genesis to Revelations, and re-read most of the more interesting books multiple times in more than one translation.

43. I keep trying to do the same with the Qu’ran, and keep finding it less interesting, though I’m working on achieving a basic familiarity.

44. I don’t like celery.

45. I dislike mint: I still wish it wasn’t the default flavour for toothpastes.

46. Wikipedia annoys me greatly, even when I make use of it.

47. I love dunking a chewy cookie into a hot cup of tea.

48. About the only thing I think I would consider killing myself over is if the alternative were a protracted and painful death.

49. Goldfish are not pets, they are decor.

50. Blueberries are overrated.

October 8, 2008

Tuesday Recipe Blogging: 42nd birthday cake

It was a friend’s 42nd birthday. She is vegan (allergic to eggs), and a fan of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

I made a cake. The recipe was culled without shame from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World:

3/4 cup of flour, 1/3 cup of cocoa, pinch of salt, 3/4 teaspoon of baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon of baking power, sift all dry ingredients together in a bowl;
then,
1 cup soya milk (plain, unflavoured, unsweetened) curdled with a tablespoon of cider vinegar. Mix with 3/4 cup sugar (I used dark brown sugar), 1/3 cup oil (any unflavoured oil is fine: I used sunflower oil).
Sift the dry ingredients over the sugar, oil, and soy milk mixture and stir gently till everything is mixed together;
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