I almost cheated on the challenge because of the cake - did I really need to make two elaborate bakes this week? The answer, I suppose, is yes. I thought about just swapping the cake out for this week’s challenge just because I could, but I decided against it. If I’m committing to this challenge, I’m going to seriously commit. Enter the sweet dough.
So what is a sweet dough, anyways? It’s a yeast-leavened, enriched dough, meaning it has fat, sugar, and possibly eggs in the mix. The dough I settled on, King Arthur Flour’s Roasted Strawberry and Cream Cheese Rolls, had all three.
I’ll admit that there were tears this week - yeast tends to be my mortal enemy and I’m not confident in my ability to work with it. Those little beads really get to me, and I’ve been defeated by them far too many times to count. My dough never rises properly and it’s super frustrating. In addition to my struggles with the dough this week, the majority of the roasted strawberry filling ended up on my countertop instead of in the rolls. The recipe called for Instant ClearJel, a starchy powder that thickens acidic fruit mixes. I didn’t have any on hand, so I used cornstarch instead, and the filling didn’t coagulate as it should have. Hopefully my Science of Food & Cooking class this semester helps me out with my yeast and thickening woes.
Once the rolls came out of the oven, I slathered them with cream cheese frosting and called it a day. Everything's better with cream cheese frosting.
I made a cake this week...but it had nothing to do with this baking challenge.
Now that we’ve settled into the ‘burbs, we decided it was time to have a little housewarming gathering to show our friends the new place. We had an extremely successful taco bar followed by an Oreo cookies and cream layer cake to celebrate one of our friends’ birthday. I’ve always had dreams of being an impressive cake-maker, but I’ve never had the chance (opportunity?) to actually make a beautiful cake. This one featured three layers of vanilla cake with crushed Oreos sandwiched with chocolate fudge frosting, all covered in Oreo frosting with a chocolate ganache drip and crushed Oreos on top.
I prepped like a pro, dusting the pans with flour and taking extra care to measure my ingredients exactly. Imagining I had my own Great British Baking Show illustration was the only inspiration I needed. It took all morning to bake the cakes, layer them, crumb coat the outside, refrigerate it for a bit, frost the entire thing, refrigerate some more, and drip the ganache. In the end, it didn’t turn out as beautifully as I’d hoped, probably due to my lack of cake decorating supplies, but it tasted delicious and it was a huge hit at the table.
Week 4: Drop Cookies - Whipped Shortbread with Mini Reese's
Week 2: Russia - Pryaniki
Sometimes, when I'm lying in bed at night, I start writing things in my head. It's not normally random - I'm usually thinking about a paper I'm working on or something for work. I usually forget what I wrote in my head by the morning because I never make the effort to actually write anything down (and unfortunately my brain doesn't have the ability to record yet).
This idea came to me while lying in bed at night.
I had read about reddit’s 52 weeks of baking challenge earlier in the day. I checked the page out, looked at some of the recent posts, and considered doing it myself. I wasn't convinced yet, so I let the idea slide and went on with my day. Noah came home from work, we ordered Thai food and put together our new futon. We watched a few hours of community, Friday night check in-ed, and got ready for bed.
As I lay in bed, I started thinking more about the challenge. I started thinking about a career after grad school and how Noah wants us to start our own company. I thought about both my past and my future in writing and how I'm still not positive what my “writing voice” sounds like. I thought about how happy it would make my family to see my writing again (it's been a rough few months) and how I've neglected my portfolio for awhile. Plus, I just paid the annual fee for my website so I might as well make the most of it, right?
So this first post comes to you from my bed. I'm typing this in the notes on my phone Noah snores next to me and Basil the dood is curled up at my feet. I'm going to text myself so I remember about this in the morning. Maybe it's the start of a yearlong journey. Maybe I'll only last a week. Maybe no one will read what I wrote. But if you see this post, it means I'm going to try.
The first week’s challenge is to redo something you made last year or to try something from the 2018 challenge list. Since I just discovered the challenge yesterday, I decided to check out the 2018 list. This recipe covers two of the previous challenges - Italy and Copycat. It’s also something I’ve tried making once before, though to be honest I only vaguely remember it.
As we were putting the groceries away today after shopping for cookie ingredients, I found some taco seasoning in the spice cabinet. Some important information I should probably share: I was looking for that exact taco seasoning earlier this week, but I couldn’t find it and had to settle on a new recipe for Korean Beef instead of the tacos I had planned on for dinner. Noah called it “a beautiful mistake” - the taco seasoning was there all along, but we ended up with a new favorite dish because of the mishap. I’m not sure what this 52 week adventure will bring, but I’m almost certain there will be some more beautiful mistakes along the way.
But the cookies. If you bake them right, they’re a perfect crisp-chewy, sweet-salty, buttery treat. The dough seemed a little too thick to pipe with a plastic bag, but I tried it anyway and turns out it was actually the right consistency. I’d suggest letting them sit for another hour after you spread the chocolate in order for it to set entirely. The cookie sandwiches have a nice crunch but they’re not crumbly like the store-bought kind. These are seriously better (and more indulgent) than the real thing - which is the goal of every copycat recipe, right?
Recipe: Homemade Milano Cookies from handletheheat.com
It was hard to pick a recipe for this week’s challenge, mainly because the theme is “Russia” and I know absolutely nothing about Russian food (despite my historical roots to Odessa, Russia). Luckily I have two friends in Boston who come from Russian families, so I quite literally “phoned a friend” (okay, texted) in order to determine what to bake. One suggested zefir, a Russian marshmallow. Intriguing, but I don’t have any piping supplies, so I decided to skip that one. The other suggested either pryaniki (which I ended up making) or piroshki (a Russian hand pie that can be made in sweet or savory variations).
I researched a bunch of pryaniki recipes and found that people have quite strong opinions about the humble cookie. They’re known as both Russian honey cookies and Russian gingerbread - doesn’t seem compatible, does it? Apparently, these babies are OLD (dating back to the ninth century) and therefore have tons of variations. Some feature a rather strong flavor with cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and other warm spices, while others are more honey-forward and filled with jam or topped with a glaze.
Side note: I had a horrible clove experience when I got my wisdom teeth removed a few years ago. Two days before I was supposed to head to Annapolis for the Pitt bowl game, I developed horrible dry sockets and experienced the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my entire life. The oral surgeon had to meet us at his office on a Saturday morning and packed my mouth with clove-soaked cotton pads. Much like how some of you can’t drink tequila due to horrible experiences, I can no longer eat (or smell) anything with clove.
Long story short, I decided on a honey-heavy, mint-glazed pryaniki recipe from jewishfoodexperience.com. They'll puff up in the oven and end up cakey and slightly sweet. The icing is a must, and it’s minty without tasting artificial.
While doing the dishes the other night after making the pryaniki, I had an epiphany - lemon zest. Just the tangy flavor the cookies needed. I didn't have any on hand but I'd definitely add some to the icing next time. Wait, is this how recipe adaptations are made? I feel so official!
Week 3: Sweet Dough - Roasted Strawberry Cream Cheese Rolls
Nothing super eventful happened with my baking project this week, which is honestly a relief after the mess I made last week with sweet bread. The theme for this week was drop cookies, which pretty much means any cookie that is spooned or scooped onto a cookie sheet rather than piped or rolled into a log and sliced. Basically, most cookies are drop cookies, so I took this week as an opportunity to experiment with a new recipe.
If you know anything about me, you’ll know that I am a SUCKER for shortbread. I love the sweet, salty, buttery flavor that this type of cookie has (it’s obviously my favorite Panera order). I’ve made a few kinds at home before, including classic shortbread as well as peanut butter shortbread with dark chocolate chunks. This time I went for a whipped shortbread with mini Reese’s plopped in the center. “Whipped” just means that I creamed the butter and powdered sugar quite well in the mixer before adding the flour and cornstarch. And let me tell you - these are DAMN good and soooooooo easy.
I’ll admit they were best fresh from the oven (let’s be serious, what isn’t?) but they didn’t suck the next day either. These cookies are little clouds of buttery goodness that will melt right in your mouth and the Reese’s gives them the hint of sweetness that they need. Just be sure to watch them in the oven because shortbread is notoriously easy to overbake. When you see the edges starting to turn a light brown, that means it’s time to remove them from the oven. If you wait for the top to brown, it’ll be too late and the bottoms will be burnt.
Next week is piping skills, so tune back in for another Becca Baking Meltdown :)
Week 1: Redo / 2018 List - Copycat Milanos
Hi, I'm Rebecca Berland.
writer, editor, self-proclaimed ice cream aficionado
Click here for more information on the 2019 challenge.