Friday, October 24, 2008

Friday Fair Isle

Happy Friday everyone!

First of all, a big big congratulations to my talented MIL, Alison, who was recently accepted into the Deep River Valley Artisans Guild in Ontario! Congratulations! This is a big deal! It is really quite amazing what she has accomplished in one year. She has definitely moved on to being a full fledged ceramics artist now. She makes some really incredible things. I'll take pictures of her work next time I visit her, and perhaps in the near future she'll have her own website up and running! Or at least an Etsy shop of some sort!

I've started my first fair isle mitten, and it's actually not as difficult as I'd imagined. My main challenge so far is trying to knit more loosely than usual, which will probably mean that the second mitten will be totally different than the first, but what can you do. Hmm. I guess I could have gone up a needle size, but apparently I thought of that too late.

These are called Daina Mittens by Tuulia Salmela. I am loving the pattern - easy to memorize too, which is a plus. If only I had a little bit of red yarn for the little dots between the circles, but, oh well. I am really trying hard to make do with what's in the stash right now.

This Sunday we are traveling to Bethlehem, PA for the next 5 days to find ourselves a new home. We've got several appointments lined up, but I'm finding that a lot of people don't allow pets. How can they turn away a cat as cute as Gatsby?? Anyhow, I just hope that we're not still hunting by the end of our five days. Aside from apartment hunting, I'm hoping to stop by the Tuesday night knit group at UnderWired to meet some new friends, and on Thursday I'm booked for a tour at the Art Institute of Philadelphia. I can't wait to see Philly - I've heard only good things about the city.

Have a good weekend, y'all.

Wish us luck!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Short Row Hat & Entrelac Scarf

Two finished objects to show you today!!

D, while working, was taken hostage as the model of my photoshoot

Let's start with the hat... a bit of a surprise, actually. One of those sudden urge knits. After finishing the scarf, I had about a ball and a half of the Mille Colori left so I thought I'd try the Short Row Hat by Veronik Avery, which had been on my to-knit list for a while, and...

Excuse the unwoven end poking out the top

Wow. The pattern is sooooo interesting. Awesome. Super addictive to knit. I literally couldn't put it down because I was so intrigued by how the colours were coming together and the way the hat was shaping itself. Although it looks like entrelac, the diamonds are actually cleverly done with short rows. And, the hat is neither knit top down or bottom up; it's sectional. Sooo cool. This must have been such a pain in the butt to design, but what a great pattern!

Hat Pattern: Short Row Hat by Veronik Avery
Scarf pattern: Entrelac Scarf by Allison LoCicero
Yarn: Lang Mille Colori, 3.5 skeins for scarf, 1.5 skein for hat
Needles: US8 circulars and dpns

This wins as the fastest project I have ever knit - I started on Friday afternoon and finished on Saturday evening, and I'm guessing it took about 7 hours from start to finish. Measured in other terms, this hat equaled 8 episodes of the first season of the West Wing.

Trying to photograph the top of the hat on myself.
Clearly, not such a successful idea.

I am really excited about wearing these now that the weather's getting chillier. I know they're not meant to be a set, but I kind of like them in combination, although it is a whole lotta squares. What do you think? Hat and scarf together are a little too much?

The Cat is Mellowing Out

After 8 years of aloof, anti-cuddle, anti-lap behaviour, Gatsby's personality is beginning to change. Occasionally, you will find him seeking a cuddle these days.

Only, he's not fully committed to the full lap cuddle yet... He's started doing this funny half-draping thing on your lap, with his hind legs firmly planted on the couch.

Too funny.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Showing up at 6am for work really stinks

...especially when you do it on the wrong day. Worse, it's pitch black outside and cold. And I was locked out of the bakery for what seemed like ages (well, 25 minutes) since I arrived way before the Friday baker. Why the hell would my boss schedule me to work at 6:00 if no one arrived until 6:15 at earliest??

Then I found out the schedule said I was working Saturday, not Friday. I was absolutely livid - surely my boss changed the schedule on me last minute. On the way home I'm having a mental shouting match with him about not messing with my schedule and making last minute changes without telling me!

When I get home and look at my scrawled note, oops. Did I really write Saturday??

I'm having one of those weeks. So, it's Saturday at 5:20am, and I'm giving this another whirl. Hopefully I can't screw up twice in a row!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Super Cutie-pie Zoobies

Holy moly! Craft mania today in the Knitticrafty household. I can't believe it, I actually sat down and attached all the heads on these little animals!! Now I just need to paint some faces on them..wait and see what becomes of this little zoo.

(Oct 17, 08 - I forgot to mention that the pattern for these animals comes from the book Play Quilts by Kristen Kolstad Addison)

I'm going to bed super early tonight, as I am expected to crawl to work at 6am tomorrow. I think I am pretty sure I don't see bread and breakfast pastry baker in my future...anyhow, enjoy the animals.

Entrelac, Socks and Mohair

Though it may not seem it, I've actually been knitting... from left to right:

1) Mohair Portrait Scarf by Veronik Avery in Kidsilk Haze (which, I confess, is some of the most expensive yarn I have ever splurged on...) I got a good chunk of the scarf done en route to Zarafa's wedding.
2) Entrelac Scarf by Allison LoCicero in Lang Mille Colori, which I bought THREE years ago in Chicago. Wow, that was a long time ago. I am loving knitting entrelac. I don't even know what that word means, but it's lovely. This thing is addictive to knit. It's hard to put it down.
3) Socks for Veronik by Mona Schmidt, from the Interweave Holiday Knits 2007 issue. I'm using some weird string-like variegated blue sock yarn I bought on sale a few years ago...can't wait to be done with it.

It feels like forever since I finished a knitted project! I've got all sorts of things piled up in corners around the house and I've been lazy about finishing them. Urgh. I wouldn't say I'm in a crafting rut, b/c I've always got lots of ideas for things I want to make, but I'm definitely in a 'get it done' kind of rut. To up our motivation, Devon convinced me that we should both post our progress shots every day we craft; accountability should theoretically result in some increase in productivity.

Well, this is totally not the craft I intended on doing today, but what the heck. Sewing can wait. I blocked the partly knitted entrelac to see how big it got, and boy did it grow in the water. It's a big one! I think I can bind off now...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Crossing Borders

So, my boss calls me this morning and asks in a strangely cheerful but accusatory tone, 'Are you making the buckeyes over there??'.

Me: 'Um, yes. Is everything OK?'

'This woman just called me to say she loves our buckeyes. She wants six dozen shipped to Texas this week. So. Can you make them?'

Me: 'Sure'

My buckeyes are infiltrating Texas!!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Making...of an Assistant Pastry Chef!

I suddenly just remembered: somehow, with all that's been going on in the last two weeks, I forgot to mention something very exciting....ready?

I was promoted to 'Assistant Pastry Chef' at the bakery! My first actual pastry position! Yippee!

Not made by me, but you get the idea.

As soon as I said yes, Imposter Syndrome set in... What? Me? I don't even have professional training! What do I know? The title definitely sounds a lot more impressive than the actual work I'm doing. Translated in objective terms, it just means that I'm working out of the main bakery several days a week, starting early morning (6am...yikes), and only doing cake decorating and finishing pastries. And, honestly, right now I'm definitely the new kitchen bitch (ever read Heat by Bill Buford? His descriptions of being a kitchen bitch are hilarious - a great book, I'd highly recommend it).

So far, it appears I have been assigned to carrot cake and strawberry shortcake duty. The cakes are already baked, so I do the leveling, cutting, filling and finishing and slicing. I've decorated about 30 cakes at this point. When I'm not doing cakes, I'm assembling pastry sampler boxes and keeping the pastry display case nice and full. I fill eclairs, cannolis, decorate cupcakes, mini cheesecakes, sugar cookies, petit fours, truffles, brownies and more. Last week, I piped something like three hundred Jack o' lantern faces - the bakery is on a big Halloween kick - and my hand muscles ached for days afterward. I'll probably develop a huge thumb muscles soon.

It's been a good experience so far - creatively, there isn't much room to grow, but two important skills I'm learning are speed, and efficiency of movement. When you make a cake at home, it's different - you make all the components yourself from scratch, have endless dishes to do, but you only have one item to focus on. Everything you need is within an arm's length. At the bakery, it's the opposite - everything I need is pretty much at my disposal, but spread out all over the place, so I have to remember to grab all the equipment at once, otherwise it's endless trips back and forth. Also, I'm not making one, but at least 3 or 5 or 8 cakes, so it's not like I have endless time to spend perfecting my decorating. Perfectionistic tendencies can be good, but unless you're a fast worker, it will hold you back. Right now I work way slower than all the other pastry cooks - but I'm learning.

When I was reading The Making of a Chef, one of the things Michael Ruhlman talked about was the organization and multitasking involved in cooking, and the importance of having your 'mise en place' (everything in its place); in particular, a mental 'mise en place' that serves as your road map to getting everything done. My mental 'mise en place' currently sucks. It's getting better, but it's hard to remember everything. Part of this, I think, will come with experience and getting to know my way around the kitchen. Right now, it's a lot of "Oops, forgot the cake board. Oh, I need almonds too. I forgot the spatula. Damn, I should have grabbed the cake comb while I was getting the board:. What can I say, I'm learning.

Multitasking and organization are probably two of my best strengths, and, as weird as it sounds, are two things I love about working - aside from the specific skill needed for the job, that is. The more variety there is, the more to be done and to be organized, the more planning involved, the more excited I am about it. I seriously get a rush when I am in multitasking mode. Some people get it from daredevil stunts, some people get it from performing on stage...I get it from planning and organizing stuff. My last job, which was totally unrelated to pastry, was multitasking heaven. I loved doing clinical work and seeing patients, but looking back, I think I liked the organizational challenge just as much. Wedding planning? Moving? Don't get me started :)

The last few months of working in the bakery has got me thinking a lot about why I enjoy pastry work, especially cake decorating. The two I just mentioned are definitely part of it. Here's the rest of the list so far: I enjoy the crafty aspect, the making-it-with-my-own-hands satisfaction; the artsy aspect of it, in the decorating and detail work; the learning aspect, in mastering new techniques, skills, methods...there is so much to know! Plus, the small business part of it really interests me too...organization galore! But that's for the future. For now, I've got to get through carrot cake boot camp.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Here comes the Bride!

Did you guess what the white dome was?

This past weekend was Z's wedding shower and bachelorette party, and I made her this little bride cake for the occasion!

I can't quite remember when the obsession started, but for the longest time I have wanted to make a Barbie doll cake (just ask D). I saw one like this on Cake Central, and loved how elegant it looked as a black dress form modeling the wedding gown. Inside, it's a lemon cake, doused in lemon syrup, filled with lemon curd and blueberry preserves, and iced with cream cheese frosting under the fondant. All the details are piped with royal icing.

I have to say, this is my favourite cake to was a super fun to decorate - just like being a kid again and dressing up my dolls. I want to make another one already!! I guess I can, now that I own the Wonder Doll cake pan. Any future brides out there? :)

So, Saturday morning the cake traveled (quite well!) to the shower, where it received many 'oohs' which got a bit embarrassing (although, really...who minds a little ego-flattering??) It appears the bride-to-be enjoyed her she is, about to make the first cut:

If you look carefully, the groom is peeking out of her hoodie

Between nine of us, we ate about half the cake. I heard that Kodiak enjoyed a nice big chunk of shower cake...lucky doggy!

Ouch! That's my bum!

Considering the outer layer was ripped off and reattached, the inside doesn't look half bad:


This took a little bit of planning, as I didn't want to be making it last minute and messing up the decorating. So, my cake schedule was as such:

Tuesday: I made the lemon curd with Devon (in an impromptu baking lesson)
Wednesday: I made the lemon syrup and cream cheese frosting
Thursday: I baked, filled and iced the cake. There was a bit of a disaster with the cake - the entire outer surface ripped off when I was turning it out of the pan, probably because the cake was still too hot, and unfortunately this was one of the only times I didn't line with parchment thinking that a cone shape would be easy to invert. Luckily, I managed to salvage the outer portion and stick it back on and glue the whole thing together with the cream cheese icing. The whole thing went in the fridge in two layers of plastic wrap to settle.
Friday: Dyed the fondant, covered the cake and piped the royal icing details.

Having a schedule was really helpful, and I think being organized made the process more enjoyable, rather than running out of time for decorating (like I have done several times in the past). Plus, there would be time to make another cake if the baking didn't go well. And, it felt like there was less clean up because everything was done in stages.

1. Dye a walnut-sized ball of fondant black (wear gloves, or prepare to have black hands). Dye a large clump of fondant in ivory for the dress and the bust.

2. Covering the doll pick:

  • First, pull off Barbie's arms and head (I know it sounds mean but how else will you have a lovely dressform?) Snap off the little pokey bit on the neck. Form three tiny 0.5 cm balls of black fondant and press them on the neck and two shoulder sockets to create a smooth edges for the rest of the black fondant to mould to.
  • Roll out the remaining black fondant to about 1/8 inch thick and drape over the neck and shoulders, as if covering a cake. Gently press the fondant against Barbie's upper body.
  • To reduce bulk on the dress bodice, trim the black fondant where the top of the bodice will fall (just use a paring knife)
  • Next, wash your hands thoroughly! If there is any trace of black, it will stain the ivory fondant, so put on gloves if you have to (or, you can do these steps in reverse order starting with covering the cake first)
  • Roll out a walnut-sized ball of ivory fondant, and drape over the pick-end of Barbie's body. Carefully press the fondant against the doll to the edge of the black fondant. Again, using the paring knife, trim the ivory fondant in the shape of the bodice. Press the black and ivory edges together to form a complete seal.
3. Covering the cake:
  • Ice the cake so that it has a nice, smooth, domed shape. I applied another layer of icing to the photo below.
  • Roll out your fondant and drape over the cake, which will create the dress ruffles naturally. You can straighten the ruffles out a bit if they fall unevenly, if that bothers you. Trim with scissors or a sharp knife.
4. Almost done! Time to insert the doll pick into the centre of the cake:

5. Finally, make a small amount royal icing tinted in ivory. Pipe the dress details on the bodice, the waist, and the skirt, and anywhere else you want. You could pipe a necklace, or add ribbon trim, flowers, dots, lace...the possibilities are endless! (Gold or silver dragee would be pretty too - I searched my entire apartment but couldn't remember where I had stashed them, so no sparklies for me).

Last but not least, giving credit where it's due. Here's the photo from Cake Central that inspired my cake:

Whew, that was a long post. Enjoy!

What's this?

Still putting together the blog post, but here's a sneak peek. Can you guess what it is?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Raspberry Chocolate French Macarons

My first batch of the French macarons...and look! They've got feet! They've got feet!!

French macarons are infamously finicky to make, and supposedly even experienced pastry cooks can botch them up too, although probably far less frequently than amateur bakers. I had a lot of egg whites leftover from making a lemon tart, so I thought macarons would be a fun thing to try - they look so pretty and dainty. Tiny food is fun!

I had no idea French macarons were so popular to bake among pastry bloggers and foodies! I couldn't believe the number of blogs I found that referenced them. Here are a few: My Food Geek, Tartelette (who wrote a fantastic 'Macarons 101' article in downloadable pdf format), Serious Eats, Veronica's Test Kitchen, Mad Baker. You'll be able to link to lots of other info on macarons from these sites.

After a ton of reading, I decided on a chocolate raspberry macaron based on this recipe from Epicurious, but used the basic macaron batter recipe from Serious Eats. I was honestly expecting my macarons to be pretty disastrous - cracked, mishapen and footless (macarons form little ruffles at their base if made properly). Imagine my shock when the macarons turned out beautifully! Yippee!

Actually, I should say they looked beautiful; the texture was a little off. French macarons are meant to be crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside. Unlike American style macaroons, they are made only of egg white, ground almond, and sugar. My guess is that I overbaked them, or that it had something to do with the egg whites not whipping up properly. No matter. I'm still very happy that they developed feet! Plus the chocolate ganache makes everything better.

A few notes from my first batch:

  • All the recipes said to leave the egg whites out at room temperature, with the length of time varying anywhere between 30 minutes to 72 hours! This freaked me out somewhat, as I was expecting a moldy mess, but it was fine. Apparently this helps them whip up to a greater volume.
  • I had trouble whipping my egg whites up properly, probably because there was some residual grease on the beaters (from making buttercream icing). Note to self: wash all egg white equipment very well next time, and wipe down with a bit of lemon juice.
  • The whites only ever reached a soft peak stage, so batter was quite loose and runny.
  • All the recipes and notes I read online said to mix the batter until it reached a 'magma-like consistency'. How am I supposed to know how magma flows if I've never seen it? I can only imagine. So I guessed.
  • When I piped my macarons, the batter was so runny that each one spread rapidly and looked very flat:
  • I left them out for about 20 minutes to form a skin (to avoid cracks, I think) and encourage the development of feet (I think)

OK, I'll be honest. Not all of them turned out is the tasty reject pile. Stay tuned for more adventures with macarons, this time with lemon!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Deep River Mugs

Last week D's mum mailed us our finished Deep River mugs - they turned out great! The glaze is looks so nice. Thank you, Alison! See here for pictures of the mugs before the glazing. I'm a little tired still, but since it's been so long since I posted something, I wanted to share something that didn't require too much chatter.

Ok. Here are the pottery pics:

D's glorious pencil jar

My morning coffee mug

The weather is gorgeous this weekend, so get out there and enjoy it while it lasts! Yesterday Z's bridal shower was actually outdoors in the sun (an unusual but welcome October experience), and we all went out for her stagette (a foreign word in Ohio) in the evening. Lots of fun, and there was a cake involved on my part - pictures to come soon.

This aftenroon we're heading out to try and see Bruce Springsteen on campus - maybe Obama will be there. Go Obama!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Happiness is a KitchenAid Pro600 Mixer

When I started my freelance cake work, I decided that I'd use my earnings to buy myself a stand mixer (actually, this may very well be the first gadget I've ever saved up to buy). When I was paid for my work in September, I finally had enough for the mixer - except that now I was short a coupon - you know those 20% off coupons from Bed Bath and Beyond they send through the mail all the time? That would take about $80 off the price! Sigh. I should wait for the coupon. Wait. Wait. Still no coupon.

So, I had been waiting for weeks (4 to be exact) for one of those coupons to come in the mail, and it finally arrived on Monday, and so I went out and immediately brought home my brand spanking new KitchenAid Professional 600 series stand mixer, with 6-quart capacity - that's a whole 14 cups of flour you can put in there!

Yes, I realize it's huge and clunky and takes up all my counter space. But I don't care. This things does wonderful, magical things - no more aching arms hand kneading bread dough, no more standing there for 15 minutes to whip egg whites! I can even walk away for a few minutes to go read the recipe!

I have been happily bonding with my mixer all afternoon - not a hugely high tech piece of gadgetry, but still totally exciting. I made cream cheese frosting (OK, a bit boring but whatever) but next I'm going to make a cake. And bread, to try out the dough hook. And then whipped cream to try out the beater. And many many more...