baking

Bannontashen

This past weekend I celebrated Purim, a Jewish holiday/carnival in memory of the time that we almost all died and then didn’t, again. We’re commanded to get drunk! Adults give children noisemakers on purpose! Sometimes the rabbi wears tights!

Here’s the story: King Ahasuerus of Persia kicks his wife to the curb because she doesn’t want to do a striptease in front of all his friends.

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To find his next queen, he has a mandatory beauty contest for all the young women in his kingdom. After a lot of anointing and parading he chooses Esther, a young Jewish orphan in the care of her uncle Mordechai. She keeps her faith a secret and lives in all the bliss that comes with being forced out of her home to marry a royal manchild.

Ahasureus has an advisor named Haman, who really gets off on asserting his authority. Soon after the wedding, Haman decrees that everybody in Persia has to bow down to him. Jewish people aren’t really into genuflecting though. When Mordechai refuses to bow, Haman decides that the reasonable, proportionate response is murdering all the Jews.  Ahasureus not only okays this plan but gives Haman ten thousand silver talents to get it done.

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The Unfuck Yourself Cake

This cake scared the shit out of me.

I intended to bring it to board game night, my first time back after returning to the East Coast. This cake was meant to be a yellow cake from my favorite recipe, filled with chocolate mousse and wrapped in chocolate frosting. It was also the first cake in almost five months made with the blog in mind. I thought that as soon as I started baking again I’d start writing again, and once I started writing I could figure out some smart, funny way to explain my move back to DC.

Here’s how that went.

  • I didn’t start baking until 10 at night
  • I realized I forgot to buy cake flour
  • I stood at the kitchen counter for thirty minutes debating whether to go back to the store or just give up
  • I didn’t have a single clever thing to say

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Beatrice and Benedick Pie

“Prince, you look sad. Get thee a pie.”
-Benedick

I made this raspberry-rhubarb pie to stuff into my face while watching Independent Shakespeare Company’s Much Ado About Nothing at the park. The filling is tart and bright like Beatrice and Benedick’s banter; the crust is rich and full of flakes like Leonato’s household. It’s a ridiculously satisfying pie for a ridiculously satisfying play.

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Making pies isn’t all that different from telling a story, and this pie is an excellent mirror for Much Ado About Nothing. Every character responds differently to the pressures of the plot, and every element in a pie responds differently to the heat of the oven. The most interesting part of a story and a recipe is the ways in which characters and ingredients combine and play off of one another through the conflict/oven. Nobody wants to watch Don John be a dick to his brother with no preamble and nothing at stake. His dickery is much more interesting when he uses his brother’s sense of honor to pit him against sweet, maidenly Hero on her wedding day. But before the play reaches that dramatic wedding scene, the characters need to mix together, form relationships and alliances, and plan for a future that can be threatened by Don John’s plots. So too must the ingredients for the pie crust be stirred, cut, mixed, chilled, and rolled out before going in the oven.

There are two main romances in Much Ado About Nothing: Hero/Claudio and Beatrice/Benedick. Beatrice and Benedick steal the show, like the rhubarb-raspberry filling of the pie. But their romance wouldn’t be possible without the machinations of Hero, Claudio, Leonato, and the rest. Beatrice and Benedick’s love is given structure and poignancy by the romance and trials of Hero and Claudio, much like fruit fillings are supported by pie crusts.

(Note: All the screenshots in this post come from Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing, which is a ridiculously joyful interpretation with an unparalleled butts-to-rhyme ratio. There is a sample under the Read More link.)

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Early Morning Mojito (Cake) (And Also Mojitos)

This cake is the unholy, beautiful love child of mojitos and egg transmutation. The chiffon cake layers, which get their airiness from whipped egg whites, are delicately sweet and intensely lime-flavored; the mint frosting is soft and light under a crisp outer layer. The whole construction is ridiculously airy. Mojitos are made to be drunk when it is impossibly hot outside and milk makes your whole body want to explode. In that spirit, this cake is dairy free and enjoyable even when it is stupidly fucking hot outside.

In an ideal world, I made a beautiful four-layer cake the night before my roommate’s barbeque and greeted the guests with absolutely no flour on my shirt. In this world, I crushed my hand with a flat pack from Ikea and then got distracted by Parks and Rec, so I had to do all my shopping and baking that morning. If you learn one thing from me, learn this: always drink your coffee before going to the grocery store at seven in the morning.

On to the baking!

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This Bread Is Made Of Feelings

HEY GUYS GUESS WHAT I DID

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I MOVED ACROSS THE GODDAMN COUNTRY. I’m in LA now to pursue my dreams/whatever. I have a place to live, I have a day job, all’s well. And I’m scared as fuck.

Back at home in DC, I felt excited and energetic and vibrant. My whole sense of self was based on being loud and determined and larger than life. Yesterday, I came back to the house nervous because some dude was a dick in the gym and people keep beeping at me in traffic. I’m uncertain and lonely and fifteen kinds of homesick. And I thought, is this all it takes to make me feel small?

And then I thought, woman, you just drove 2,400 miles. Of course you feel small. Bake some goddamn bread and don’t give up after only three days.

So I baked some goddamn bread. Here’s how.

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Catharsis Cookies

You ever have a week where all you want to do is break things down to their smallest possible version, smash them flat, and bake them into submission?

Yeah. These are your cookies.

These cookies have other good qualities! They taste like summer. They are ridiculously thin and crisp. You can eat them by the fistful, the flavor profile only deepens over time and they stay good for weeks. But to be completely honest, the main attraction is shredding the shit out of some aromatics and then smashing stuff with a rolling pin.

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I’ve made this recipe about 6 times now, but I am only 55% certain that I have discovered all the possible ways to fuck them up. I do not understand cookies. Cakes, I get. Cakes, I can diagnose like a human pastry tricorder. Cookies? I have never known what is going on in those flat bastards. I may never know. So I did some things, and they worked, but I can’t really guess why. These are catharsis cookies, not Greek Theater 302: The Cookies Of Emotional Completion. Proceed with caution.

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Peppermint Patty Cake: The Rise of Eggneto

I love whipping egg whites.  My mixer works way faster than recipes think it will, so I always feel like I’m ahead of the curve. I like motors and going fast. And I get a great deal of joy out of bending eggs into unlikely shapes through by holding my hand in place for a really long time. It makes me feel like Magneto.

MagnetoSketch_Color_200-1024x757(original by Kyle Frink, may he have mercy on my soul)

That’s why this cake is such a joy to make. It requires nine eggs, whipped up to obscene heights and molded into unexpected forms. It’s also a joy to eat. The filling is silky, the icing shines, and the cake itself just dissolves on the tongue. Also, it’s safe for gluten-free and dairy-sensitive people to eat. (There is milk in the chocolate, so it isn’t completely dairy-free.)

A Brief Word on Baking For People With Food Sensitivities

Feel free to skip this part if you are making the cake for non-gluten-sensitive people, or already have a gluten-free kitchen.

I am a lazy, corner-cutting bastard by nature. But food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances are not to be fucked around with. This is how I try to keep my friends and assorted cake-eaters safe. It takes a little work, but so does all baking. You shouldn’t feel obligated to make someone a gluten-free cake, just like you shouldn’t feel obligated to make ANY cake. But if you do say your food is free of an allergen, there isn’t any room for error on your part.

Personally, I am a trash human being. I don’t trust a single thing in my kitchen to be free of gluten or any other allergen. I get so much flour on my countertops that you could probably drop my entire kitchen in a deep fryer and serve it at a county fair. If you are anything like me—and by that I mean, if you have any doubt at all that your implements are not 100% clean and could never have been exposed to gluten since you put them away—wash them again with hot water, soap, and a new sponge. Scrub down the surfaces you’re going to be working on, or at least put a bit of plastic wrap down to rest your equipment on.

Think about your ingredients. Is it possible that you stuck a used measuring cup or spoon in those ingredients? Could you have possibly failed to scrub all the flour out of that jar before storing sugar in it? If so, open up a fresh version. Fortunately, this recipe only calls for two ingredients that could have been cross-contaminated–sugar and cocoa powder–and they’re both pretty cheap to buy new.

ON TO THE BAKING.

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