Archive for January, 2012

January 31, 2012

TO-DO: #1 Channel the Inner Better Version of Myself

I have this daydream that when we return from our adventures in Moscow I will start selling chocolate truffles and my sister’s beautiful letterpress creations at New Jersey farmers markets. And become famous. And make millions.

I also always daydream that my little projects come out much better than they actually do. Case in point, my baking madness this winter. I made macarons, Christmas tree cake pops and chocolate truffles for Christmas. I also made NY Giants and SF 49ers matryoshka (Russian nesting doll) cookies for the football play off game. Now, I am not going to lie, I am proud of the results; however, I don’t think I am anywhere near “lazy-blogger/Russian-American-House Wife/Experimental-Baker Confectionista becomes famous by selling her good for an amature items at local New Jersey markets” ready. (P.S. I googled confectionista and it has already been taken. Rats! That would have been good).

My big problem is that I get super motivated, inspired and creative about ideas. Ways to make my baking or cooking better, more interesting. Ways to make myself better and more interesting. A lovely moment during the day or a Food and Wine magazine or a TV show get my head turning about new recipes, a homemade craft, event decor, projects to do with my future children, a new lifestyle, how to take advantage of my time in Russia, how to speak Russian better, or A GREAT BLOG POST. And then I write my to-do lists – for the next day, for the next month, for my lifetime. I spend all day organizing the next day/month/life in order to tackle these inspirations. And it stops there. I don’t go on. I just re-write the to-do list. So that is my secret revealed. I am much less cool than I seem (if I seem cool at all, that is). I forever have been interesting for my daydreams, but not for my realities.

So I return to my baking extravaganza from a few weeks ago to motivate myself to be the better version of myself and maybe inspire a reader. I may not end up selling anything anywhere, I may not become famous, and I may even have to let go of my millionaire dream, but I want to make an effort. And to make a successful effort I think you need to make progress. I am always one that wants to be good at something right away. I want to write my to-do list and the next day be an expert. This baking stint, however, made me really appreciate the progress that I made. How time, patience, concentration and practice allowed me to improve.

CAKE POPS

So last year for Christmas I attempted cake pops. I wanted to make snowmen. The shape didn’t hold so I opted for gift boxes. Square. Easy. I planned to dip them in chocolate candy coating and decorate them as I tried to channel my inner Bakerella. I wanted them to be colorful, festive, and unbelievably cute. But I couldn’t get anything to work-no coating, no color, nothing. They weren’t a total disaster, but they were plain. At 2a.m., in complete desperation to just be finished, I slapped on a fondant ‘ribbon’ with a lame excuse for a bow and this is how they came out:

This Christmas I decided to try again. Bakerella had Christmas trees on her blog that looked awesome and the shape seemed easy to manage. I think simply trying again made me already much better at making cake pops. Also not working anymore gave me more time to approach these patiently, which helps. They weren’t as perfect as Bakerella’s, but they were certainly more festive and professional looking than my first attempt. I am more confident about my ability to make cake pops. And I guess you can say quitting your job helps you make the effort to be better at little projects you’re passionate about. Maybe not the most fitting inspiration for everyone, but oh well:

MACARONS

I found a recipe for Peppermint and White Chocolate Macarons and really wanted to make them for Christmas. I was nervous to make these without practice (a rarity for me because I am usually too lazy to try something first) so I asked my mom to help while my husband and I were visiting the Bay Area. The two batches my mom and I made were a hot mess. I don’t even know why because my mom is amazing and we followed the recipe exactly (with irrelevant modifications):

I was crazy nervous when I returned to Jersey and had to make the macarons for real. I tried a different recipe and over-beat the egg whites to a curdled looking mess. I stood in my kitchen for a while, staring blankly at the wall and my stained apron until my concerned husband revived me and inspired me to try the original recipe again. Just calmly. So I did…only I put vanilla extract instead of peppermint (which I used in the filling instead). And they came out great – I was super excited. Practice makes (nearly) perfect I suppose…or should I say, fourth time’s a charm:

…seriously, Thomas Keller, let’s chat.

TRUFFLES

I can actually pat myself on the back here and say that I make pretty decent truffles. I want to explore more flavors and experiment with methods, but I am usually always happy with the result. Normally for the holidays I make Peppermint Truffles and they look like this:

This time, after having a milk chocolate irish cream ganache that wouldn’t set in my new and awesome silicone truffle molds, I had to opt for plastic molds to make a quick dark chocolate irish cream ganache in white chocolate coating. They weren’t as pretty as my peppermint truffles (in my opinion), but I am learning how to make them faster and less messy. So hopefully I can combine everything together and make them pretty and taste good as well…for my possible future farmers market days…

The silicone molds, when they work, eliminate rolling truffles – which is my least favorite part. These plastic molds eliminate rolling and dipping, which is also a plus. But the silicone makes more at one time in one sheet. So I am hoping to try those again soon (when I am back in the states). Plus the silicone molds look cooler. And my mom bought them for me.

MATRYOSHKA COOKIES

This is another example of improving on methods. When I first made these cookies I left virtually no time for myself to make them for a friend’s mom’s 60th birthday party. I made a cookie cutter with foil (that was another thing that didn’t come out as brilliantly as I had imagined). I had read a post from a lady who made her own camel cookie cutter. She made a camel and I couldn’t even make a nesting doll shape..which, let’s be honest, is like a 2D obese/melting snowman shape. My mother-in-law came over and spent the ENTIRE night helping me with these. God bless her!

We used store bought dough because I didn’t have time to make and chill dough myself. But the dough was so thin and didn’t hold very well. We came up with a very tedious and long procedure to bake them that went like this: chill, roll, chill, cut, freezer, transfer shapes to cookie sheet, oven. They actually came out great (almost 12 hours later):

Then my mom bought me actual cookie cutters. I made the cookies again with dough from scratch. The homemade dough held it’s shape much better. Although the dough required 2hrs of chilling time before rolling it out, I was able to just cut the shapes and put them straight on the cookie sheet. These are the ones I made for the game:

It took so much less time the second time around. I can’t wait to make these again and perfect the decorating!

So in conclusion: I rarely ever practice a recipe before serving guests, and I can’t say that this experience will make me do that every time, but it certainly helped me progress. I am hoping that I can take what I learned from this baking and the pride that I felt in my strong efforts and become a better and more productive version of me.

Less To-Doing and More Doing!

By the way…I rooted for the Niners: