Baking - A Quarantine Activity
Before the pandemic and being in lockdown, I baked sweets sporadically, more often during the holidays. Like many other people, I turned to baking as an at home activity. I inadvertently revved up the baking to the point where I was keeping a running list in my head of recipes I wanted to try. I still wouldn't call myself a baking expert. I'm more of an amateur at home baker who is not bad at following recipes. Recently, my husband and I began a little bake sale via ig (cookiesfortheppl) with scone-sized cookies and plan to make a portion to a local organization.
I've really come to appreciate how satisfying it is to set out to make something and within a relatively short span of time, you get tangible, edible results. It's not instant gratification, but as far as aiming to meet an objective within a small time frame, baking or cooking in general, does provide an outlet where you can usually watch your goals come to fruition within hours.
This is a bunch of things I baked throughout 2020. I really utilized the oven and kept myself occupied at home, just getting rounder by the day.
Chocolate Chip Cookies of normal size and height
Soft gooey cookies with melty chocolate chips, fresh out of the oven, are so satisfying. These are 50% granulated sugar & 50% brown sugar, which gives it a nice molasses flavor.
Almond Cookies with Chocolate Chips
A mixture of crumbly nut based dough in the batter can actually make the cookie taste a little lighter. Plus it reduces the moisture ratio, so the cookie doesn't spread out as much.
Matcha Chocolate Chip Cookies
I think the chocolate chips look like eyes, which can be kind of cute. I'm quite pleased with how uniformly shaped they came out. I could have used more matcha powder to make the flavor stand out, but some people prefer less matcha if they are sensitive to bitter tones.
I had quite a bit of almond flour at the time, so I decided to make some almond cookies, like the ones in those Chinese tins I had as a kid. These are not quite the same. For starters, I shaped them too flat and too wide. Also, these are not as quite as buttery as the ones I remember from the tin. Perhaps it's time I make another batch of these, since Lunar New Year is coming up.
Russian Tea Cakes
Mexican Wedding Cookies
These are some of my favorite cookies, to make and to eat. I prefer to make them with ground hazelnuts in the cookie dough. I prefer the flavor to other types of nuts. Also I like that most of the sweetness comes from the extra dusting of powdered sugar, which is totally up to your control (or whomever the baker is). It's a sugar that is easy on the mouth, because I find that granulated sugar is harsh on the roof of my mouth.
CAKES & PIES
Some people might disagree with me, but I think banana bread is basically a cake with bananas in the butter. It's definitely just as sweet as cake, and for sure, sweeter than bread.
I had ordered bananas in a grocery delivery and somehow ended up with 2+ lb. of bananas. So of course that led to a series of banana desserts.
Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips
I made 3 different loaves of banana bread, 1 plain and 2 with chocolate chips. I think the ones topped with chocolate chips look like a Coronavirus molecule.
Also, of the 3, I did one with a hand mixer, one mixed by hand, and one I blended in a BlendTec. The more high powered it is, the more loose the batter will be. So the one in the BlendTec rose the tallest, but unfortunately it is extra wet, loose, and low viscosity, so the inside of the banana bread needs more baking time to set. But doesn't the height with the crackly, mountainous terrain look nice?
Mixing by hand suffices and definitely creates a nice firm texture. A mixer may be best for evenly blending any chunks of banana into the batter, and may also help it cook more evenly.
Baked Banana Pudding with Meringue
I've always liked Magnolia's banana puddings, so I tried my own, but used the Chef John's (foodwishes) recipe with the meringue topping. Normally whipping meringue takes forever for me. At this point I had come into a KitchenAid, and it whips eggs whites very quickly, so the meringue was actually a bit overwhipped. Oh well, live and learn.
Banana Cream Pie
I love a good banana cream pie. With so many desserts I was rotating, I ended up freezing this one for a bit. I cut it, still frozen, and it tasted like banana custard ice cream, which is not bad, not bad at all!
I definitely enjoying making pumpkin pies in the fall. Picking out a good sugar pie pumpkin, roasting it, and pureeing it until smooth, watching the pies rise in the oven, and then fall as they cool, even making the crust is satisfying to me. Normally I make a few and end up distributing them among friends and family. In the past I had made small, individual sized pumpkin pies, which are easy for sharing at parties, so nobody has to cut one up into multiple portions.
Last Thanksgiving, I only made 2 pumpkin pies, one for just my husband and me, and another for my in-laws, which I packaged in a spare baker's box. It actually looks like it could be store bought.
My sister-in-law requested pumpkin cheesecake. I wish I had taken a photo of the cross section. I can't believe I forgot. Normally I'm very good at documenting everything haha.
The magic of pumpkin puree, cream cheese, sugar and cream and a smooth consistency is all it takes to make a nice filling. Equally satisfying is the graham cracker crust with the magic of melted butter and of course, more sugar.
some cream cheese frosting included
Again, another bread that tastes like cake to me. When I poked the center, I thought it needed more baking time, but when I popped it out of the loaf pan, the edges looked rather dark, but luckily it didn't taste burnt.
Also, cream cheese frosting never hurt anyone.
Chocolate Hazelnut Raspberry Cake
For Mr. Joy's birthday, I opted for ground hazelnuts and chocolate in the cake batter with a very rustic, homemade looking topping of almond slivers to spell out Mr. Joy's name, and raspberries to shape a heart. I guess I was in the mood to make a cheesy Hallmark version of a cake.
Very similar to normal tiramisu, except topped with matcha powder, and the ladyfingers were soaked in green tea instead of espresso. I find that it's best to top tiramisu right before you serve them, otherwise the moisture turns the matcha powder very dark, and it almost looks black.
Not as pretty to look at, but I am always in the mood for tiramisu. Also, the layers look very interesting against the layers of my countertop.
This is not very pretty. I didn't plan to make an Oreo cheesecake. We had some leftover Oreos after making some Cookies & Creme cookies, so I decided to turn them into cheesecake and used some leftover cream to make a whipped cream topping. Not a bad way to reduce waste, and pretty tasty too.
Basque Burnt Cheesecake
(sped up 3000x)
This is another one of those foods that are not too hard to make, but difficult to perfect. When you make a pie out of cream cheese, heavy cream, and sugar, it's hard to make something that tastes bad. The extra effort into putting in perfectly pleated parchment paper (which I clearly did not do here), and straining it for a perfectly smooth mixture is what will make the rising and baking most consistent, not to mention create a more appealing color.
Pizza Dough Bread
I've really gotten into making pizzas lately. I wondered if pizza dough would make for good bread. I must say it is definitely not a bad use of yeast dough. I cut one loaf into sections, stuffed it with pesto and mozzarella for cheesy pull apart bread. With another loaf, I cut it into cubes and put it under a chicken roasting in the oven to crisp up in chicken juices. It ended up mimicking chicken stuffing.
I was very curious to make sourdough bread, but I kept putting it off, because I needed to make sure I had a good solid week to feed the starter. Once I finally started, I can honestly say that I still am not great at feeding something at exactly the same time everyday. After a couple of days, the starter had some bubbling action. A few days after that, I put it to work, and it was a very loose, liquidy starter, which made for a very wet dough. Unfortunately the sourdough came out quite dense. Good thing, slices of anything coated in butter and grilled over a cast iron surface yields very tasty results.
This was my first attempt at focaccia and I was surprised by how easy it actually is. It requires quite a bit of rising time, but there's not a lot of active cooking time to it. I was wary about how it would turn out, so I decided to go for a plain focaccia with no toppings. Just in case I ended up screwing up the bread, I didn't want to end up wasting rosemary, garlic, thyme, cherry tomatoes as well. The fluffy texture and crunchy edges were delicious. I look forward to making this again.
I have always preferred savory dishes to sweet ones, but 2020 was definitely a year that deserved some extra sweetness.