Food Stuff

My baking stone is all messed up and I love it

Why I bought a baking stone in the first place

I started making pita bread shortly after learning to make hummus. I lucked out on my first attempt, a hasty decision before a party that wound up being a hit, and I’ve barely let a day go by since without a jar of it on the go.
I was still eating store-bought pita bread, because I was under the impression that making bread required some obscure magic that I probably couldn’t access. But then, one day, I ran out of pita bread.
The struggle is real?
I didn’t want to go anywhere. I just wanted to eat my hummus. I made my first batch of pita bread that day, and I’ve barely had a reason to go to the store since.

Makin’ balloons

Pita bread made pre-baking stone.
You just don’t forget your first balloons.

Like most things, my pita bread gets better with practice, and the most satisfying part of the process (apart from eating it, a skill I was born with) is popping those floppy little disks of dough into the oven and watching them puff up into magical gluten balloons. It didn’t always happen, until I finally got around to buying a baking stone.

For those unfamiliar, a baking stone is porous and retains heat brilliantly, and it’s great for not burning things and for absorbing excess moisture. I won’t pretend to know the full science behind it, but it creates perfect conditions for pita bread, and pizza. I finally picked one up recently, and my first use resulted in the most incredible pita bread balloons I have ever seen. I might even take a picture next time.

Speaking of pizza…

Baking stones are also called pizza stones, unless I’ve been lied to, which I’ll never fully rule out. What I picked up is called a pizza stone, and it worked on non-pizza baked goods (more like baked bests), so I’ll keep running with that. And it inspired a brilliant friend to suggest that I try making pizza with it.
I did, and it was amazing, and now my life is full of pizza and so am I. I’ll probably do this once a week, which means that this baking stone is not going to get any prettier.

Lather, rinse, and go buy another baking stone because you just ruined yours

The thing about these things is that they require special care. You can’t pop yours into the dishwasher and walk forth into a regret-free life. You can’t even use soap because it’ll absorb it and impart a lovely soap flavour into anything you bake with it for the rest of your life. Your cleaning options involve scraping and rinsing and nothing else. They also say that the inevitable stains and discolouration add to its charm. If I think about it as a visual record of all the flour-based joy this stone has brought me, I can think of it as something pleasant instead of horrible gross stains. I’ll take it.
Food Stuff

The Goldilocks Zone of DIY Candy Corn, part 1

Candy corn may not seem like the most timely obsession, but I have enough love for the stripey little triangles for the entire year. When I have it on hand, I only crave more. Paired with my fledgling obsession with making delicious treats, the quest to make my own was inevitable.
I’ve tried it twice, and I have yet to nail it. Candy is hard, you guys. Also, it’s said that humidity can ruin candy, and that you shouldn’t even bother trying to make candy on a rainy day. I live in a famously rainy climate, and on top of that, I live on the water. Not by the shore, not with a lovely bay view, but literally on the water. It is always an environmentally bad time for me to attempt candy.
But I love candy corn, and I hate candy rules, so I tried it anyway! I’ve erred in two opposite directions, so I’m pretty sure my third attempt will be just right, and then I’ll have the Goldilocks threshold for homemade candy corn all figured out, and I’ll never have to wait for post-Halloween sales ever again!

Candy Corn: my first attempt

I decided to go with Alton Brown’s recipe, due to the great reviews and it being the first recipe I looked at. I find it easier to make decisions when there’s one option or less.
Candy is tricky, even when the elements aren’t against you, so it’s absolutely crucial to have everything measured and laid out. Molten sugar doesn’t wait for anybody. It’s also a good idea to preheat your oven to around 300°. I’ll tell you why soon.
If this is your first sugar-boiling rodeo, make sure to watch your candy thermometer carefully. I’ve boiled a few sugars in recent days, and I’ve observed that the temperature definitely does not rise at a consistent pace. Once it’s boiling, it’ll slow down, and you might want to wander off and pick up a new hobby. Then, somewhere around the 200° mark, the temperature will decide to make up for lost time and it’ll climb and climb, and hopefully you’ll be there to catch it.
Despite thinking I’d learned a lesson with my lollipop adventure, I was slow to react at this point. I had reached the magic 230° mark, but I let it go over by a few degrees, and this is probably why my first batch of candy corn was so chewy.
This stuff hardens quickly (especially when you’re an overboiling genius like me), which makes the final steps of kneading in two different colours, squashing them together into a triangle shape and cutting the individual pieces challenging, and it’s probably not all going to get done in one go. If the visuals aren’t important to you, by all means skip the colouring.
Because mason jars make everything look lovely.
Because mason jars make everything look lovely.

I, personally, could never. Candy corn is iconic, and the white/orange/yellow colour combination is a huge part of the magic. And it looks great in a jar. That preheated oven comes into play here: use it to soften candy that’s cooled and gotten too hard to work with.

(I said “hard”.)
This batch came out too chewy. I ate it anyway, and so did my friends, but I knew the potential for a better candy corn experience was attainable. I tried again, and I’ll try even againer.
Stay tuned for more thrilling tales on how candy corn can go wrong!
Food Stuff Life

Broken Mixer Heartbreak

When something lovely and infinitely useful enters your life, it winds tough roots around the very foundation of your existence. Especially if it involves your favourite way to spend almost every waking minute of your time.

That’s how I felt about our Kitchenaid stand mixer as soon as it arrived. It was beautiful, shiny and faultless. It was heavy like a monster and strong like bunny legs. Who knew these things could break at all?

But it did break; suddenly, and mysteriously, and thankfully while under warranty. Thanks to Kitchenaid’s crackerjack customer service policies, a new one is on the way, and I’ll only be mixerless for a week.

Talk about a crappy week.

I’m near the end of it, and I’m thankful for that. Am I thankful that I spent one of those days sick in bed? I have mixed feelings about it, and of course that pun isn’t intentional. This is serious business and I am sad. I’ve learned a few things:

  • Bread machines can mix dough, too! They have a cycle for it and everything. I’ve known this, but I’ve never believed it. I mean, it also has a “Jam” cycle, and that has to be a lie, right?
  • This pie pastry recipe, which is fantastic despite the fact that the word “whisk” has an h in it, is just as fantastic made with a handheld pastry blender. It just takes a whole lot longer.
  • Shredding chicken with forks makes me angry now that I know there’s an easier way.
  • I almost had to buy brown sugar instead of making it. Hey, did you know the shocking story about how brown sugar is made? Here, let me ruin your life too:
  • When I have a lot of ideas I could carry out that don’t even require the use of a mixer, all I want to do is make cookies.
  • I miss that mixer so much.

For now, the broken mixer sits in its prime spot on the counter. I’ll take a picture of old and new together in case I need to make false claims of being a frivolous rich person in the future (I won’t). And then I’ll have something to do with my hands again.

Update: the shiny new mixer arrived the day after this posted, and of course I took the photo. I am whole again.

The difference is one mixes better.
The difference is one mixes better.
Food Stuff

How not to make your own lollipops

I thought about trying something new. Ever thought of making your own lollipops? I hadn’t. Then I came across a beautiful recipe for flower lollipops. Aren’t they gorgeous? The answer is yes. Gorgeous. A quick check of the recipe told me that I already had most of the supplies, and that they would be quick enough to make that I could get a few tries in before the big day in case I didn’t nail it the first time. Always make room to screw up! I decided to skip the flowers for my first few tries, narrowing the margin for error a bit. And after a fruitless search for suitable molds, I also decided to try creating a mold out of corn starch, which widened aforementioned margin right back up. This video demonstrates the magic that I attempted. I picked my colour (blue) and flavour (champagne) on a lark and went for it.

Boiling sugar
The prettiest, angriest part of making lollipops.

I try to follow recipes carefully on my first try, but this time I got carried away and added the colouring and flavouring right from the start, despite the clear directions to add those at the end. Although I haven’t quite achieved perfect lollipops, I don’t think this was the problem. I think my mistakes were made later. My favourite part of the lollipop-making process is watching the sugar change as it boils. It’s about 86% frightening, and 24% distracting. That equals 110%, which is how much attention you need to pay to your candy thermometer at this point. Not boiling the sugar/water/corn syrup mixture will result in weird pockets of sticky, delicious gel, and boiling for too long can alter the colour as it approaches the caramel stage. I allowed both of these things to happen (yay)!

Freshly-poured lollipops
The greenish hue of the final product really shows here. Green is just blue with a bonus colour!

The first time, I misread my thermometer and poured out my lollies too early. They looked lovely, unless you had the audacity to touch them. On my second attempt, I ran upstairs to charge my iPad, like a double dummy. When I got back to the stove, the hard crack stage was history, and we were fast approaching blue carmel. I poured it anyway, and a few minutes later I had a tasty, edible lollipop! They came out greener than I was expecting, and the corn starch side of the lollies took on a weird crinkly texture. I’m assuming both are due to the overboiling until I can determine otherwise. I can’t wait to make these again, but I’ve learned my lesson: Never, ever go upstairs when making lollipops.