Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Belated Birthday Cake Post

The youngerchild turned 12 the other day and we had a little party with the extended family. I hadn't made a cheesecake in a while, and that is what the youngerchild chose when given the option, so I made a NY style cheesecake with a chocolate graham cracker crust. However, that wasn't enough chocolate, so I made a little ganache and topped the cheesecake with the ganache and then sliced strawberries. While the cheesecake didn't crack as much as the one I made in school last year, it did crack a little, so the ganache did a nice job of hiding that.

Another New Skill

Two days ago I learned how to make soap. I have a couple of friends who make soap, one of whom sells her products. I had saved up some beeswax and honey for her and brought it over so we could make soap together.

First of all, apparently beeswax isn't the best ingredient for soap, at least not in large quantities. A quick web search suggested only 1-2% of the total oil weight should be beeswax so we used... 10g. And it was a challenge to melt it and incorporate it into the mix.

My friend showed me how to calculate the lye content, make the lye water, and measure out the oils. What we decided to do was to hold some of the water back, boil it, and use it to melt the beeswax. It sort of worked, but the minute we added it back in the wax would solidify so there were tiny little flecks of beeswax in the soap. I still think it worked reasonably well.

She wanted to make a soap with layers, so first we made the basic soap, which is white. She used palm oil, coconut oil, olive oil and that little bit of beeswax. When you mix in the lye and whisk and whisk, it turns white (begins the process of saponification). After we added the scents (lavender with a little rosemary) she divided it into three portions. To the second portion we added about a tablespoon of  honey and the tiniest bit of turmeric. To the third, about a teaspoon of turmeric.

We poured the soaps one at a time into the molds, trying to keep the layers level in between. Then they sat, wrapped in towels, in an insulated bag, for two days. Today I picked up my oblong of soap, which looks beautiful, and cut it into eight bars. These will now sit for a month to finish the process of saponification and become lovely little bars of soap. They smell divine.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Treats

In the few days leading up to today, I was busy with work but also with baking. First, as a lunch box treat, I made Easter-themed Linzer cookies. In order to do this, I needed to get tiny little cookie cutters. Even with them being so small, the cookies needed to be a fairly large size to accommodate the challenges of asymmetric cut outs. Many of the rabbits broke, but here are some of the ones that made it:
The fillings were blueberry jam and strawberry lavender jam.

Today, in between Easter baskets, video games, an egg hunt and a walk to the grocery store, I made Puits D'amour (wells of love) out of quick puff pastry (butter, flour, salt and water, folded and rolled many times), lemon curd and meringue. Since they ended up being more oval than round, I took that as serendipity. They are egg shaped, after all.

Happy Easter!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Now I'm REALLY Confused

Today is a gorgeous, warm day, and I headed out to clean the hive up and get it tucked away. After all, the bees were dead, right?


I found the queen, still alive and kicking, with maybe 200 bees. Not enough to start a colony, I don't think. There was no evidence of any new brood. There was a LOT of honey. I decided to organize the hive a bit and removed all the burr comb, cross comb, and otherwise shaggy looking comb. I took some but not all of the honey. The bees even fanned a bit to let the rest know where the queen was. I tucked them all back in.

And then I contacted my mentor, who told me that was the right thing to do. Either they'll make it or they won't. He suggested I could get a new package and install them but I don't think I have the energy right now to make that happen. I'm going to let nature take its course.

Meanwhile, I'm busy extracting honey and rendering beeswax. And scratching my head at the tenacity of my hive. 

Monday, April 3, 2017

I Guess It Did

A month ago I reported that the bees were flying in the unseasonably warm weather, bringing in pollen and looking healthy. Sadly, we subsequently had a cold snap that maybe triggered the demise of the colony.

It's hard to know for sure. Were they weakened by the previous summer's drought? Probably. Maybe Queen Beatrix died for real this time. Anyway, after that cold weather, when it warmed up just a bit, I peeked through the window and saw one live bee carrying a dead one toward the entrance. I didn't see any more live bees; usually when light comes in the window they rush to it and that didn't happen. So I worried and I wondered if they were going to make it; maybe they just needed time to deal with that event and there were more in there that I couldn't see.

Nope. Yesterday I went again - it was 55 degrees and sunny, and they should have been flying around. I saw one live bee, sitting on the roof, and the hive floor had many dead bees. Even under the roof there were more dead bees, who all appeared normal to the eye, just dead.

On the advice of one of the beekeeping class instructors I have closed off the entrance to the hive to protect the honey that is still in there (they didn't run out, I can see some) and next week I'll open it all up and clean it out. I have a friend or two who make soap, and I can render the beeswax for them and save the honey for me.

This isn't the year for me to take on more projects so I won't get a new starter colony this year. I'll plan on the following year, if circumstances allow. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Birthday Boston Cream Pie

It's been a bit more hectic than usual in our household and I haven't had a lot of time for baking or any cooking, really. In fact, the elderchild commented on the amount of take-out we were eating! However, it was my husband's birthday and I needed to throw him a little party. So I made one of his favorite cakes: Boston Cream Pie.

For this, I used the go-to white cake recipe. Since we were not having cake on his actual birthday, I scooped out enough batter to make four cupcakes and frosted them with 1/4 of the recipe of fudge frosting. It was actually enough for only 3 cupcakes (apparently that day I was not good at math, I needed to make 1/3 of the recipe for 4 cupcakes) so I used the last of the saffron-white chocolate ganache from the profiteroles on mine. It was fine. Anyway, I made the cake in the tall ring from my culinary classes and stored the cake in the fridge until yesterday.

The next thing was to make the custard. I think that, after 30 years, my pots are finally starting to get thin on the bottom as things seem to burn more than they used to. Anyway, the custard had a very slight tinge of "toasted marshmallow" that maybe only I noticed. No one else seemed to care, anyway.

Last came the ganache: 54% chocolate with cream, butter and vanilla.

Then I trimmed the cake into two layers and tried to use my ring to make the cake look pretty. First I tried to put a layer of ganache on the chilled ring, but I'd trimmed the cake a little too small so there was a gap. I filled the gap and the middle of the two layers with the custard and then topped the whole thing with a layer of ganache and chilled it.

After I removed the ring, it looked way better than I had anticipated! I took the little bit of leftover ganache and piped some decorations then kept it chilled until almost time for dessert. After a dinner of cheese fondue, of course.

Not bad for my first attempt at Boston Cream Pie!

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Snowy Pi Day

This year, for Pi Day, I was prepared. I bought some pears before the snowstorm and today, with the help of the elderchild, made a maple pear pie. After slicing the pears, I let them sit with 1/2 cup sugar while we made the crust. Then I drained the pears and boiled the juice with some maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg and cornstarch to thicken it. This was mixed back with the pears before filling the pie crust. Here's the finished pie.
Note the vents - the elderchild carved at least 11 digits of π into the crust!
We had some of our neighbors over to enjoy it with us, and it was terrific! Also I made a raspberry tart with the rest of the crust; that was an afternoon snack.

In addition to all that, while the storm was dumping eight inches of snow, and then rain, on us, I made a gallon of yogurt, a batch of cornbread, a batch of chili, and also did a whole bunch of laundry. Oh, yeah, and last night I made bread. All sorts of lovely food!