Sunday, September 12, 2010

Labor Day Baking

Rainy Lake

Like many Minnesotans, I went "up north" for Labor Day weekend.  The beginning of September can be a sketchy time near the Canadian border - it might be 85 degrees and sunny, or you may need a stocking cap and fleece jacket.  Last weekend, we got both, so on the fleece jacket days, I baked.

The best part of baking up on Rainy Lake is the kitchen in our cabin - the amount of counter space is equal to the square footage of my entire apartment back home, and it has... (wait for it...) a Kitchenaid Mixer.  I have got to get me one of these.  This one's been around for probably 40 years, and it's still kickin' like it was the day it was brought home from Sears, I'm sure.

Behold, the exact moment when Kevin falls off the wagon.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
I'd like to start this post by giving a shout out to my friend, Kevin, who has been off sugar, wheat, eggs, and dairy for the last few months.  In one weekend of baking, I totally destroyed his cleanse, and I'm not sure he'll ever forgive me.  But I know a little piece of him secretly liked it.

My new desktop wallpaper.
Since my last chocolate chip cookie experiment was such a disaster, I decided I'd start out the weekend with a sequel.  I did have a timer on this go-around, which made things much easier.  The cookies came out of the oven looking like perfect, storybook treats, and they had the texture of chewy awesomeness.

Here's what I think about these cookies, though: The fat in them is all shortening, and I used to think it was totally interchangeable with butter or (god forbid) margarine, but this turns out not to be the case.  My experience has been that Crisco gives baked goods a chewier texture, but let's face it: the stuff tastes like wax.  While those cookies were good, I felt like I could have been serving something that I got out of a clear plastic box from the baked goods aisle at Cub.  I want my cookies to have flavor, man.  So I'm gonna use butter next time and see how it changes things.

Peaches & Cream Pie
After making the cookies, I was sortof on a flour & sugar high, so when my friend Kate suggested we make a pie, I kindof couldn't stop myself.  We decided to take a walk on the wild side and see if we could make up a recipe, so we went through the pantry to see what possibilities were before us: oatmeal, jello, half a bag of white chocolate chips, marshmallows, graham crackers, and a can of peaches.  The forecast wasn't looking good.  But then we looked to our other resources: a bunch of 50-year old cookbooks.  We found a recipe for Vanilla Creme Pie, and then Kate said, "Hey!  What about a Peaches & Cream Pie?"  So we had our recipe.

Kate & our pie
Kate had never made pie crust before, so she took on this part, and it was delicious.  We had some coaching from Kevin, who advised us to a) make sure the butter was cold, and b) make sure our hands were cold when working with the butter.  Something about the gasses that are released when butter warms up?  I can't remember.  But the crust turned out well.

The next part was the filling, which Kate whipped up while I tried to figure out how to make a meringue.  Longstoryshort, our pie was gorgeous.  I don't know why people freak out about meringue.  It's totally easy if you have a KitchenAid Mixer.  *sigh*

I want to eat this picture.
Cinnamon Rolls
I really really wanted someone to stop me from making these cinnamon rolls because I feared that by this point I might put myself into diabetic shock from all the sugar I was eating.  But we had to eat something for breakfast, and I had already bought the ingredients.  And I hate wasting things.  So I made them.

A little tip: this recipe makes 8 batches.  What I mean by that is that this recipe will yield about 50 cinnamon rolls, so you'd better be hungry, or you'd better have 13 children, or - for the love of God - you'd better share with your neighbors.

This was the first time I had made anything with yeast in the dough (except maybe baking bread with my mom when I was seven), and I was so delighted by how it turned out.  The cinnamon rolls were out-of-control good (I think I had four of them at breakfast, and maybe another two for an afternoon snack) and it was surprisingly easy to do.  I think the trick to cooking and baking is that you have to a) be patient, and b) enjoy the process.  But that's probably true of everything in life.

Anyway, a few things I would recommend with this recipe:
  1. It calls for a boatload of butter.  Use a boatload of butter.  (If you're dieting, just eat one instead of four.)
  2. The frosting calls for an entire bag of powdered sugar, but I think I only used 1/2 to 3/4 of a bag - I like the texture of a thinner frosting because then it can seep into all the crevices, making everything extra delicious.
  3. These rolls really are best when they're right out of the oven.  I mean, they're a long ways from terrible if you wait to eat them in the afternoon (Ha! As if you could wait that long...), but they're really at their prime when they're all warm and gooey and the whole house smells like sweet sweet breakfastlove.
I've done a whole lot more cooking/baking since Labor Day, but I'm not good enough at blogging yet to be able to keep up!  More soon...

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