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Entries in experiments (11)

Saturday
Nov082014

Can You Ship an Ice Cream Cone?

I've always wondered about this, and maybe you have, too: can you ship an ice cream cone in the mail?

The obvious answer is no. Ice cream melts quickly, is highly perishable, and would likely arrive as a puddle. When regular carton ice cream is shipped, it's packed all crazy in dry ice, a shipping method which isn't quite as accessible as popping a stamp and dropping an envelope in a box.

But still. I wanted to know...how would an ice cream cone arrive? 

So, in the name of science, I decided to do a little shipping experiment.

I shipped myself an ice cream cone in the mail.  

First, I assembled materials: I printed a shipping label (I shipped to myself), got a padded envelope and airtight bag, and got in the car.

Next, I went to the closest ice cream shop, which happened to be Baskin-Robbins, where I picked up a scoop of mint chocolate chip. With sprinkles, because, well, rainbows!

This cone never saw what was coming.

Then, I performed the following steps, which you can see in photo form: I packed the cone in the airtight bag, gently forcing excess air out, and sealed it. I folded it over and put the cone in the envelope, which I then sealed. I approached the mailbox with trepidation. Would this work? The package felt cold in my hand. 

The very next day (which is impressive because as odd as it sounds, in Santa Fe the mail goes to Albuquerque to be sorted then comes back) I had a special arrival. It still felt cold, but I think this was just because it was a cold day. The envelope felt pretty much the same, if a bit thinner.

When I opened it up, here is what I found:

Ice cream cone massacre!

Although actually, that having been said, it wasn't as bad as I had feared. I had feared a lightly green dripping mess arriving in a soggy envelope. This was actually pretty tame, and the cone held its shape way better than I would have thought.

After considering it for a few moments, I put the entire bag in the freezer, aligned just so, so that the ice cream could pool in one portion of the bag and re-solidify.

At this particular moment, it's still in the freezer, and I'm pondering eating it. I know it got warm then cold again, but I am alarmingly not scared of bacteria, eating cookie dough willy-nilly and cake batter with a vengeance, and I haven't died yet. 

Would you eat this ice cream cone after it had been mailed?

Saturday
Sep282013

Can You Bake Doughnuts Instead of Frying Them?

Apple Cider Doughnuts

When it comes to baking, I'm an experimenter. How 'bout you? 

Usually, my experiments involve making things more rich, more sweet, more indulgent. But this time, I was actually tempted to make something more virtuous. Maybe I'm maturing, after all. (or maybe not)

To set the scene for you: I was making some tasty apple cider doughnuts for my most recent Craftsy entry. Gosh are these things good. To make them even more apple cider-y, I made a glaze that had apple cider in it, too. They really came out splendidly.

Apple Cider Doughnuts

But I wondered, as I was cutting out the doughnuts for the third or fourth batch of frying three at a time, "what would happen if I baked these puppies?" so I decided to give it a try. I set the oven to a temperate 350, placed some pre-cut doughnuts on a baking sheet, and popped it in the oven.

Apple Cider Doughnuts

I let them bake for about 20 minutes. And when I took them out, here's what I found:

Apple Cider Doughnuts

To give more of a comparison, here's a side by side with a baked and a fried doughnut. Same exact dough, two distinctly different end results.

Apple Cider Doughnuts

So how do they stack up, flavor-wise?

Short answer? They taste good. But in terms of a comparison? That is tougher, because they are more different than you'd think, based on the fact that the only difference is the cooking method, and I used a flavorless vegetable oil. Here's a picture which features a few variations: top, a fried and glazed doughnut, then going clockwise, a fried doughnut unglazed, then a baked and glazed doughnut. 

Apple Cider Doughnuts

The baked doughnuts are tasty, but if you did a blind test, you'd never even guess they're a doughnut. They kind of have the texture of a Starbucks scone--you know what I mean when I say that, don't you? Sort of like a slightly coarse, sweet bread? Pleasant enough, and they tasted like they'd be great with cream and jam, or lightly buttered. But they weren't as much of a stand-alone indulgence as the fried doughnuts. They were more like lightly sweet apple biscuits.

Once I added the apple cider glaze, however, they were more of a stand-alone treat. If you're looking for a healthier way to enjoy doughnuts, you might want to give it a try. They don't taste exactly like a doughnut, so I won't make that claim, but they don't taste like suffering. 

Apple Cider Doughnuts

As a final observation, the baked version seemed to keep better (especially when glazed). You know how a fried doughnut that is more than a few hours old just starts to taste sad? That didn't happen with the baked version--they maintained their flavor for at least a couple of days at room temperature, whereas the fried ones had to be frozen to keep well.

If you'd like to see the doughnut recipe and try baking them for yourself, visit Craftsy. But instead of frying the doughnuts, bake them in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until golden. Baked or fried...enjoy!

What's your most recent baking experiment? 

 

Friday
Jul272012

Cake Mix Science

Frosting Cake

I remember when I was young, observing my mother make cakes, and how something always kind of bugged me: the difference between cake batter and frosting.

Consistency-wise, the cake batter and the frosting really didn't seem terribly different to me--why did they have to be treated so differently? One went in the oven, and the other had to wait til that part was cool and was then spread all over the baked part.

Frosting Cake

But what would happen if you just combined the cake and the frosting before baking? Could you streamline the process?

Frosting Cake

Although I'm much older now, I'm clearly not wiser, because I took the time to see what would happen today. I conducted my experiment with Duncan Hines Butter Golden Cake Mix and Whipped Fluffy White Frosting in a tub.

Frosting cake

I started out by respectfully following the directions. The mix asked to be combined with 3 large eggs, 1/2 cup water, and 7 tablespoons of softened butter. I did so.

Frosting Cake

Per the directions, I mixed it in a large bowl in my stand mixer on low speed until combined, then jacked up the speed and mixed for four more minutes. Meanwhile, the oven was preheating.

Frosting Cake

And then I went rogue. I took the entire tub of frosting, and folded it into the cake batter. It made the consistency of the batter silky and sticky. And delicious.

Frosting Cake Frosting Cake

Here's what it looked like before going in the oven.

Frosting Cake

I spread the thick batter in the prepared cake pans and baked it for 22 minutes, as suggested on the box. I divided it between two 9-inch cake rounds. I baked one first, in case I messed up.

I know you're not supposed to, but since I was already breaking the rules I opened the oven part-way through baking. Here's what it looked like. Weirdly it looked like it had mini marshmallows in the middle.Frosting Cake

When I took the cake out of the oven, here's what greeted me.

Frosting Cake

It was a bit jiggly in the middle, but it appeared to have set on the sides and top. So I let it cool for a while - a long while, about 2 hours. During this time it deflated somewhat. 

Frosting Cake - after cooling

Then I flipped it over on to a plate. It was gooey in the middle, but not really liquid. More pudding-like, or gooey butter cake innards-like.

Frosting Cake

I thought "since it already has frosting, does that mean I don't have to frost it?". And then I quickly answered myself: "Don't be stupid, of course you still have to frost it."

So I did. And I added sprinkles.

Frosting Cake

When cut into at room temperature, the center was quite gooey. Cutting was kind of difficult. I got frosting on my fingers...but I made it out of this situation OK.

Frosting Cake

After chilling the cake in the fridge, cutting was much easier.

So how did the cake taste? It was actually pretty good. It was more dense than a typical cake--while it had risen in the oven, it deflated into a dense round after cooling. It was somewhat like a Philadelphia butter cake or gooey butter cake in its texture--crunchy on the outside, gooey and creamy in the center. 

Actually, I'd go so far as to say I'd do this again. The slice I had was decidedly tasty--very moist, and extremely decadent. Final word? I want more.

Thursday
Jul262012

Macaroon Experiment

Macaroon experiment

Recently, I thought I would make a nice batch of macaroons. After all, macaroons are pleasant. They're nice. They're really easy to make. I had plenty of dough (or is it batter?). And while baking the first tray, I thought to myself, what if I experimented a little bit with various macaroon mix-ins? I happened to have chocolate chips and nuts, so really, that's what I went with.

Nuts

I tried several different combinations, including macaroons with pecans, with almonds, with walnuts, and with chocolate chips (respectively); then, I tried a version of each with each of the nuts paired with chocolate (pecan-chocolate; almond-chocolate; walnut-chocolate). And finally, I did one which had all of the nuts and chocolate chips. I labeled them on my baking sheet, as you can see:

Macaroon taste off

after baking them up, it was time to taste what I had created. Here are some tasting notes:

Macaroons

Pecan Macaroons: the toasty pecans added a nice crunch to the macaroons, and made the flavor sort of buttery-rich. A very nice addition indeed, but I suspected that they'd taste even better with chocolate.

Macaroons

Almond Macaroons: The almond was subtle, working in tandem with the coconut for a slightly creamy flavor. Subtle. Nice, but no "wow" factor.

Walnut Macaroons: This was a nice flavor complement, giving the macaroons a decidedly "nutty" taste and crunch. But once again, no "wow" factor.

Chocolate Chip Macaroons: Now we're getting somewhere. The mellow sweetness of coconut against the rich chocolate chips--a very nice combo.

Choco-Pecan Macaroons: Wow, it gets even better! Sort of like a magic cookie bar of a macaroon, this was a very nice combo. I'd eat a whole tray of these.

Choco-Almond Macaroons: We're going into Almond Joy flavor territory here, and if you like them, you'll like this cookie combo. If not, this isn't your nut combo. Can you tell I'm not hugely into Almond Joy? 

Macaroons

Choco-Walnut Macaroons: Once again, nice. You've got that magic cookie bar thing going on again, and it's a very pleasant association, in my opinion. 

Macaroons

All mixed together Macaroons: Actually, pretty good. The flavors of the nuts were not distinct, they just kind of merged into "nutty" as a flavor profile. But combined with the chocolate, nutty was not such a bad thing. I'd do it again. I have no regrets.

Overall? My favorite combo was the chocolate chip pecan macaroon. They had contrast, texture, and a great flavor. I want to eat my weight in them, and I think you will, too. Here's a recipe.

Coconut Macaroons

Makes 2 to 3 dozen cookies

 

  • 14 ounces sweetened shredded coconut, lightly toasted
  • 14 ounces sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • a healthy handful of whatever nuts you'd like, or chocolate chips, or both

Procedure

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Combine the toasted coconut, condensed milk, and vanilla in a large bowl. Set aside.
  3. Using an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites and salt on high speed until firm, but not stiff, peaks have formed. Gently fold the egg whites into the coconut mixture. If you want, add any mix-ins at this point
  4. Drop the batter onto sheet pans lined with parchment paper using either a 1 3/4-inch diameter ice cream scoop or rounded tablespoonfuls.
  5. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on the sheet for several minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Monday
Oct252010

Swiss Miss: Deep-Fried Swiss Rolls on a Stick Recipe

File under "Things you should never do, ever": Deep-frying Swiss Rolls on a Stick.

Oh, who am I kidding--you totally should. Because as I learned when I found myself with a slight excess of fry batter (from when I was deep frying Halloween candy, natch), not only is the deep fried Swiss Roll delicious, and like just about everything, it's even better on a stick.

And now, I'm delighted to share the method by which you can make this magic happen in your very own home.

Oh, and if you enjoy seeing Swiss Rolls being tortured, you might like to revisit the Little Debbie Death Match!

Deep-Fried Swiss Rolls on a Stick

  • 12 Swiss Rolls 
  • 8 cups vegetable oil, for frying
  • 1 1/2 cups flour, divided
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Procedure

 

  1. Begin by freezing your Swiss rolls: insert the sticks, and place them on a plate or cookie sheet. Freeze them for at least 2 hours, until they are solid and frozen throughout.
  2. When you're nearing the end of the chilling period, start heating the oil for frying. Pour vegetable oil into a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan until it is three inches deep (the amount of oil you use will depend on the size of your saucepan). Turn the heat to medium-high, and insert a candy/deep fry thermometer. Heat until the oil reaches 375°F.
  3. While you're waiting for the oil to heat up, prepare your frying station and batter. Place 1/2 cup of flour in a bowl and set aside. Place the remaining cup of flour in a small bowl and mix with the baking powder and salt; add the milk, vinegar, and oil, and whisking the wet ingredients into the dry until you have a relatively lump-free, smooth, thick batter.
  4. Remove the frozen rolls from the freezer. It's go time.
  5. Dredge each roll in flour, covering it completely. Happily, it's helpful that they're on a stick so you won't get batter all over your fingers.
  6. Quickly place the battered Swiss Roll into the heated oil, holding the end of the stick and being careful not to drop it and cause oil to splash up (you might want to wear gloves for safety, 'cos hot oil can HURT, but I lived dangerously and to tell the tale). It will fry up quickly. 
  7. Once the treat has reached an appealing golden hue, remove from the hot oil and place on a plate covered with a paper towel to absorb excess grease. Repeat the battering and frying process with the remaining Swiss Rolls. While frying, be sure to monitor the temperature of the oil and adjust your heat up or down accordingly, as the candy will melt if it is too hot, and it will take too long to fry and become greasy if the heat is too low.
  8. Let cool slightly, but serve while still warm.

 

Wednesday
Jul072010

Brownout: A Tale and Tasting of Two Brownies from 1923

Brownies are undoubtedly delicious, but when it comes to the story of their origins, things are less clear. While today's not the day to delve into that at great depth (soon! promise!), we are going to take a moment to discuss a bit of the brownie's ties to The Boston Cooking School Cook Book.

As I learned here, the 1896 edition of the Boston Cooking School cookbook was among the first known publications to feature "brownies" - but this version was really more like a blondie, little individual cakes garnished with nut halves.

However, as I learned here, the 1905 version of the book had a brownie redux, and this time, they had chocolate. 

But then, in the 1923 edition of the Boston Cooking-School Cookbook, with no explanation at all, there are not one but two chocolate brownie recipes--simply labeled "Brownies 1" and "Brownies 2". There were a couple of differences in the recipes--most notably the absence of butter or oil in #2, which seemed to get all of its fat content from eggs and nuts. In both cases though, the brownies are only a cousin to the brownies we know today, which are generally far denser and more chocolatey than these ones (and I vote that modern chocolate-y ones have evolved into higher states of deliciousness).

Well, naturally this prompted some curiosity, and so I baked up a few batches of each (sans nuts) and put them out at my store with this sign:

Big surprise: people were more than willing to take this challenge. As for the results?

File under duh: people wanted a combo. Tasters mostly preferred the flavor of Brownie 1 (what with its delicious butter), but overwhelmingly preferred the chewier texture of Brownie 2. Which is to say...Brownie 1.5 takes the cake?

A big thank you to the generous tasters and their input. Here are the two recipes, BTW.

Brownies 1

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
1 egg, unbeaten
2 squares chocolate, melted
3/4 teaspoon vanilla (to mix things up you could also use almond extract, as I did in one batch)
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup walnut meats

Procedure

Mix ingredients in order given. Line a seven-inch square pan with paraffine paper. Spread mixture evenly in a pan and bake in a slow oven (I did 325 for 30-35 minutes, just until dull on top). As soon as taken from
oven turn from pan, remove paper, and cut cake in strips, using a sharp knife. If these instructions are not followed paper will cling to cake, and it will be impossible to cut into shapely pieces.

Brownies 2

2 eggs
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (or almond extract, as I did in some batches)
2 squares unsweetened chocolate, melted
1/2 cup walnut meats, in pieces

Procedure

Beat eggs lightly and add remaining ingredients. Spread evenly in a
buttered 7-inch pan and bake in a moderate oven twenty minutes (I did
350). Cut in squares.

Friday
Apr172009

Saving Cake: Various Methods for Reviving Dried-Out Cake

Saving Cake: Can Dried-out cake be saved?

OK. So earlier this week, we bought a batch of cupcakes and purposefully let them dry out overnight. Why? Well, because we wanted to experiment and see if there really was a way to bring cake back to life if it were accidentally left out uncovered for a long period of time (hey, it happens). Well, thanks to your help and suggestions, we've tried out various theories, ranging from steaming to booze-infusing to acupuncture-esque procedures; here are our findings.
First, a few notes:
The cupcakes we used were a mass-produced variety, purchased at QFC (a local supermarket chain). Why so? Well, we weren't sure if they'd be delicious afterward, and we didn't want to waste good cupcakes on the experiment. However, the texture of the cake was moist to begin with. Please note, however, that results will differ depending on the type of cupcake!

 

Boiling waterLetting it steep

Solution 1: Let it Steep
What we did: Poured boiling water in a teacup and then suspended the cupcake in a tea strainer above. Boiling water was only poured to below the point where the strainer reached, so that the water didn't touch the wrapper.
The reasoning: The steaming water would infuse, and re-moisten, the cake.
The result: The texture of the sides and bottom of the cake did benefit from the steaming, however the inside of the cake was still rather hard and stale-tasting. The frosting began to melt on the sides. Overall, not worth the annoyance. Grade: C-

 

Steaming the cakeMicrowave!

Solution 2: It's a Wrap
What we did: Per the suggestion of a CakeSpy reader, we wrapped the cake in a wet paper towel and then microwaved it for 20 seconds (in two ten-second intervals).
The reasoning: You know, cos someone told us to. And we do what we're told.
The result: While we can't explain the science behind it, we can say that it worked! The cake was warmed and seemed to have been nicely moistened all the way through; the frosting was ever so slightly melty around the edges, but still solid. It is important to note, however, that if you use this method, the cake ought to be consumed immediately. Grade: A-

Cake and bread
Solution 3: Bread n Buttercream
What we did: We placed the cupcake in plastic with a slice of bread and let it sit for several hours.
The reasoning: A big shrug here--we read somewhere on the internet that this was a good solution.
The result: Like, OMG! It totally worked! After a few hours, a thin layer of condensation had formed on the bag; after about six hours when we removed the cake, it was--no joke--almost like new. One taster thought she detected--just maybe--a touch of yeastiness in the flavor, but she didn't stop eating it. This one yielded the best texture of all. Grade: A

Solution 4a: Simple Sugar Solution
What we did: Spooned simple syrup on the sides of the cake and let it sit for a few moments.
The reasoning: Simple syrup is an age-old trick used to keep cakes moist; if it's worked for others, it was worth a try!
The result: It had a nice effect, but only on the outer edges of the cake--the inside was still a bit hard. Grade: B+

Kill it!
Solution 4b: Simple Sugar Solution Part 2
What we did: Same as in the above, but this time instead of simply spooning it on the sides of the cupcake, we first pricked holes all throughout with toothpicks.
The reasoning: Poking the holes would allow the liquid to permeate more of the cake and give it a nicer, more moist, balance.
The result: It did work slightly better than simply applying the simple syrup to the sides, as the center of the cake seemed softer and slightly more yielding. Grade: A-

Solution 5: Booze it on Up
What we did: Once again, the cake was poked with toothpicks, but this time we poured some whiskey on.
The reasoning: Alcohol is a known preservative--and, you know, we like to party.
The result: In terms of moistness, this actually worked slightly better than the simple syrup; however, the flavor was rather assertively alcoholic and perhaps a bit much. Grade: B-

Airtight cakeUncovered

Solution 6: Signed, Sealed, Delivered
What we did: We sealed the cake in an airtight container for several hours.
The reasoning: We figured that this might capture some heat and moistness in the cake.
The result: Meh. It made a slight, but not large, difference in the cake. The frosting, however, did benefit from this method better than others. Grade: B-

 

Butter!Butter
Solution 7: Better with Butter
What we did: We filled a turkey baster with butter (a syringe would have worked better, natch, but this is what was around), jammed it into the cake and gave it a healthy squeeze.
The reasoning: The butter would infuse deliciousness throughout the cake from the inside out.
The result: Butter hasn't experienced such violation since Marlon Brando got his hands on it in Last Tango in Paris. Unfortunately, the butter didn't do much for the texture of the dried-out cake. It just made it kind of crunchy and greasy. Now, we're not opposed to a little grease now and then, but this time it just seemed unnecessary. Grade: D

So, having abused cake in so many ways, is there really a definitive answer? Can dried-out cake be saved? Well, it will never be the same as when it was freshly baked, but we certainly did learn some tricks for coaxing just a little bit more life out of a sweet morsel. Of course, sometimes you just hit the point where you've got to give up on the cake--at which point you might want to consider some of our other favorite suggestions: using the crumbled cake for bread pudding, as layers in a trifle, or simply eating it soaked in milk. Sublime.


Cake in milk

 

Thursday
Jul242008

Breadwinner: A Sweet and Carbohydrate-Laden Bread Pudding Challenge

Bread Pudding Faceoff
Bread Pudding. At one time, it was a poor-man's dessert, borne of necessity--a clever use of day-old bread which proved that leftovers didn't have to taste like dull sacrifice.
Bread Pudding ExperimentHowever, these days it's come into vogue, and makes frequent appearances on fancy restaurant menus, dressed to the nines with sauces, seasonings and fancy non-leftover breads made for the sole purpose of the pudding...yes, it appears that bread pudding seems to have all but forgotten its humble beginnings.

Admittedly, we've always loved bread pudding the old fashioned way--but when we saw this recipe for sticky bun bread pudding that the lightbulb really went off--oh, the possibilities! If bread pudding is gonna be a fancy dessert, why not make it super sweet? And so recently we took it upon ourselves to test out a variety of day-old carbohydrates to see which might make a delicious (and perhaps tooth-numbing) sweet treat.

Here are the details:


Bread PuddingsWhat were the flavors? We made six types of pudding, swapping out bread for the following: birthday cake (with frosting), cornbread, frosted doughnuts (raised), lemon bundt cake, sugar cookies, and baklava. As a control, we made one batch of regular bread pudding to make sure everything tasted OK. It did.
What recipe did we use? We used this recipe, found online, making only a few changes--we omitted the cinnamon and nutmeg because we were using baked goods which had different sorts of sweetness that we weren't sure would work with those spices; also, we reduced the sugar from 2/3 cup to 1/2 cup, because the items we were adding were far sweeter than bread. It didn't seem to mess up the consistency for us.
Why did we choose these flavors? Some items happened to be around the house; for the rest, we just went to the food store and picked out what struck our fancy.

How did we make them? We prepared each filling in an individual cupcake cup--then we divided the custard-y batter part of the recipe and poured it in equal parts into the cups (heart-shaped, naturally).

 

As for the results?
Cake TimeBirthday Cake Bread Pudding
Birthday Cake Bread Pudding: We used a bit of the leftover cake from our recent love letter to cake in the morning for this one, breaking up one of the leftover mini slices so that it included frosting and sprinkles. We had high hopes for this one, but unfortunately we learned the hard way that birthday cake frosting smothered and baked in a pool of custard comes out...well, a little bit strange. The texture was ever so slightly gritty, and alas, in our opinion, a bit strange and un-delicious.
CornbreadCorn-Bread Pudding

Corn-bread Pudding: This one was surprisingly good, if leaning a bit more toward sweet-and-savory (largely due to the fact that it was not a sweet cornbread we used; combined with the reduced sugar in our pudding mixture, this yielded an end result that was only slightly sweet). When consuming it for breakfast the next morning, a dash of cayenne pepper made for a lively and rich treat, in which the sweetness was more of an aftertaste.
Just DonutDoughnut Bread Pudding
Doughnut Bread Pudding: We chose a raised doughnut, figuring the lighter dough would soak up the pudding ingredients better than a cake doughnut. The result was something like a challah bread pudding, if you've ever tried it, but slightly awesomer because of the chocolate icing, which melted into sweet ribbons within the pudding. A solid bread pudding indeed. 
Nothin Bundt CakeBundt Cake Bread Pudding
Lemon Bundt Cake Bread Pudding: The icing glaze gave that slightly gritty effect again, but in this case it wasn't as strange as in the birthday cake version (perhaps because it wasn't a butter-based frosting?). The result was very rich, but the lemon flavor, which did shine through (especially the next morning) added a nice lightness to the flavor while at the same time adding a layer of depth and complexity to the overall taste. Not the biggest standout, but worth a try.
Sugar CookiesSugar Cookie Bread Pudding
Sugar Cookie Bread Pudding: This one was good, but alas, not great. While this version had a nice texture--ever so slightly chewy without being tough--but was sort of bland because we had left out some of the spices in the recipe. However, perhaps it would have worked better with snickerdoodles or spice cookies.
Baklava, baby!Baklava Bread Pudding
Baklava Bread Pudding: By far and away, Baklava bread pudding was our favorite. It seemed an unlikely candidate, since the phyllo dough layers are already rather soaked with honey, but the added texture and slight crunch proved quite appealing; the combination of the nuts, honey and rich custard were rich as all get-out, but insanely addictive. 

 

Bread PuddingsBread Vs Bread Pudding
As for our thoughts? It's hard to top a classic, that's for sure. But then again, bread pudding has always been a recipe open to many variations, since it's generally up to the baker to decide what type of bread should go into their version. While several of our sweet versions might benefit from some tweaking, they certainly had potential--and what with bread pudding's renaissance as a fancy treat, we wouldn't be surprised to see more variations showing up on menus in elaborate, sweet, and delicious ways--already delicious versions using babka, piecrust, brownies and pancakes are dancing in our heads. But as for the big question...would we make any of these again? Oh, heck yes! 

 

 

Sunday
Apr132008

Eat Your Veggies: A Mischievous Carrot Cake Challenge

Carrot Cake Challenge
Lately, we've been thinking about carrot cake. Really, when you think about it, it's a bit of a strange beast: a culinary crossroads where cake meets vegetable and yields a beautiful result. How did that combination come about, we wondered? Well, turns out carrot cake (along with other veggie-rich baked goods like zucchini and squash breads) came into popularity during World War II, when butter, eggs and sugar were in short demand. During this time, many baked were made using oil instead of butter, which yielded a dense, pound-cake like texture--and vegetables gained popularity because the water they release during baking yields a tender crumb, and they added a bit of natural sweetness.


However, in this day and age there's no lack of sugar in the Cakespy kitchen, and so we wondered--why not give a try to some of the other fantastic vegetables out there? Surely we could sweetify any veggies out there to see if they might be cake-worthy; yes indeed, it was time to make some mischief in the kitchen.
Not Just Carrot CakeMixing in the Veggies

 

How'd we do it? We took this basic carrot cake recipe (we left out the nuts) and separated it into small batches, subbing different veggies for the carrots into the cake batter and mixing them into individual cupcakes (we did make one carrot cupcake--you know, as consolation if none of them tasted good). All of the creations were topped with cream cheese frosting, and for added cuteness and discernibility, each one was crowned with a veggie garnish.

As for how it all tasted...

BroccoliBroccoli Cupcake 

Broccoli Cake: What can we say about this cake? Overall, the taste was vaguely...healthy; while it might help the taster feel more virtuous while eating it, it does not make for an ultimately satisfying cake experience. With the bitter and sweet flavors vying for dominance, there was a little too much going on with this cake--all things considered, we think we'll leave our broccoli for the more savory fare.  

Snap PeasSnap Pea Cupcake 
Snap Pea Cake: We had a good feeling about this one--like carrots, snap peas have an inherent sweetness; it translated nicely into cake form. The sweet and slightly crunchy bits of snap pea added a nice texture and sweetness; the tangy cream cheese complemented it perfectly. We'd definitely make this again!

 

RadishesRadish Cupcake
Radish Cake: This one was a pleasant surprise; it had savory, spicy flavor that crept up on the palate, ultimately blossoming into a complex, unusual flavor--one that perhaps might not be for everyone, but it certainly kept us coming back for more. Overall though, if served this cake not knowing it was radish, we might not have been able to identify the flavor.

ParsnipsParsnip Cupcake
Parsnip Cake: Once baked, the taste of this one was so similar to that of carrot cake that if it were a blind tasting, we'll admit we might have been fooled. In fact, it was only the aftertaste, slightly spicy, which gave away the vegetable's identity as the carrot's albino cousin. If you've got extra parsnips (not sure how often that happens), give it a try!


Brussels SproutsBrussels Sprout Cupcake
Brussels Sprouts Cake: Brussels sprouts are one of those foods that has a bad rep. And well, it's not hard to see why: they taste bitter. They're pungent. They give you gas. But you know what? We adore these ugly little sprouts. But in cake? Alas, no pleasant surprises here: while we still think brussels sprouts make a wonderful side dish, upon tasting the cake it became instantly evident that these two worlds were clearly not meant to collide.

And so, having done it, how are we feeling? Well, as with many of our experiments, there is so much to consider. Clearly, carrot cake has been kicking so long for a reason: it's a wonderful combination of flavors. While some of our experiments (snap pea cake, parsnip cake) were pleasant surprises, it's hard to say if we liked them quite as much as carrot cake--or if it was more the aspect of novelty appealed. All things considered, we think that carrot cake's status of the veggie cake of choice is not in peril--while certain variations were quite 
toothsome, we realize that the learning curve and marketing involved in making these cakes appeal to the greater public would need to be quite intense. Of course, when it does catch on after some celebrity chef says that Parsnip Cake is the next big thing--just remember where you spied it first.

 

Sunday
Jan132008

Cereal Treat Wars: A Rice Krispie Treat Challenge

 

Rice Krispie Treats and More

The Rice Krispie Treat: innocent sweet, or monopolizer of the breakfast treat empire?

 

Recently when we came across the Trix Treats (photo left, thanks to Lara) which were quite the hot ticket at an event at one of our favorite stores, Plaid Pony Vintage, our view of the ubiquitous marshmallowy treat was challenged. Seriously--who do they think they are exactly, those Rice Krispies? Are they really the only cereal that can successfully make no-bake treats? We decided to put this question to the test by making cereal treats out of several types of cereal to see if Rice Krispies really were the best choice. Here are the details of our experiment:

Who, Where, When: The lucky tasters were those in attendance at a New Year's Eve Party chez moi: an eclectic mix of indie rockers, chemists, video game testers, stationery company employees, and even a pizza delivery guy.
What: A tasting of six types of treats, including Rice Krispie, Corn Pops, Froot Loops, Raisin Bran, Shredded Mini Wheat, Frosted Flakes, and Special K.

Why these types of cereal?: They were the types that came in a Kellogg's variety pack; we aren't huge cereal eaters, so this seemed the least wasteful. Plus, those mini boxes are just so cute! No, we're not sponsored by Kellogg's.
How did we do it: They were made in the same method as Rice Krispies treats, just done in
small batches. Once made, we did put little signs on each batch so that tasters would know what types they were eating.
What was our Goal?: To see which treats would prove most compelling, popular and delicious.

 

So, how did each of the treats stack up? We've itemized the tasters' reviews below.


Mini Wheat Treats
Rice Krispies Treats (above): Just about what you'd expect. It was a solid batch, but surprisingly, not too much of a dent had been made by the end of the night. However, many of the tasters confirmed our suspicions that this was more due to the novelty of the other variations, rather than poor quality on the Rice Krispie batch.
Cereal Treats
Corn Pops Treats (above): These ones proved a delightful surprise! These elicited probably the biggest nostalgia response and lively debate (why is the bag made of foil rather than plastic? etc). They were also the first to go: people seemed to like the way that the corn-y sweetness mixed with the marshmallow, and enjoyed the unique, crisp yet airy texture.
Froot Loops Treats
Froot Loops Treats (above): Similarly to the Corn Pops Treats, these went fast. They had a satisfying crunch, but a large part of the appeal was their look: like little marshmallowy rainbows, they were certainly the best-looking of the bunch.
Frosted Flakes Treats
Frosted Flakes (above): Once again, very sweet. And while they physically resembled the Special K treats, but the texture was definitely more soft and less brittle, the sugariness of the flakes having nicely absorbed the buttery marshmallow coating. They were just about gone by the end of the night though, so we guess that all in all, they were grrreeeeaaaat! (sorry).
Raisin Bran Treats
Raisin Bran Treats (above): Not many people were brave enough to give these vaguely healthy treats a try, but everyone who did was pleasantly surprised. The bran lended a nice nuttiness to the flavor, and the raisins kept the texture interesting. The overall taste was not unlike a particularly sugary granola bar.
Frosted Mini Wheat Treats
Shredded Mini Wheat Treats (above): These were not pretty, but they were good. Not for the faint of heart though: with the frosted coating on one side and an allover marshmallow coating, the wheat was a phantom aftertaste to the extreme sweetness.
Special K Treats
Special K (above): These were very brittle--they didn't seem to absorb the coating all too well--but a lot of people professed to enjoy the crunchiness. These were not all finished by the end of the night, but they seemed to intrigue the guests; maybe it's all those weight-loss commercials they've had lately.

 

 

End of the party 2
So, to sum it up? More than anything, we think that it's an issue of texture with these treats; perhaps the reason for the success of Rice Krispie treats is that the namesake cereal's texture absorbs and allows the marshmallow to mix pretty consistently, where other cereals (for instance, the Shredded Wheat) didn't really absorb the coating too much, and looked much more marshmallowy and a little messier than the other ones. While the Froot Loops treats fall into the former category, the bright color of the cereal pieces was able to make up for the ill-absorbed marshmallow mixture.
So does that mean that Rice Krispie Treats remain the cereal treat king? Well, while we will admit that it's definitely a formula that "works", Rice Krispies Treats might have some competition: at the end of the night, not a single Corn Pops or Frosted Flakes treat remained, and only a small piece of Froot Loops treat remained. Apparently these treats had a certain beauty and texture that proved intriguing; a certain je ne sais quoi, if you will. And so, to close: watch your back, Rice Krispies.

Have you tried any other cereals that came out excellently? Let us know!

 

 

 

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