Friday, May 25, 2012

Whole wheat soft pretzels

I saw a version of this recipe for pretzels on the Our Best Bites blog--they post great recipes that are manageable and that my kids will actually eat.  This one only took a few ingredients and looked pretty easy to do, so Ben and I made them on a Saturday morning.

I replaced the white flour with white whole wheat flour...I like to trick my family that way.  If I use whole wheat flour, the color is a tip-off and sometimes they reject the idea on sight.  This kind looks like regular nothing-good-for-you white flour, which increases the likelihood that they will actually try the food.  It worked, they totally fell for it and didn't even notice.

The OBB post suggested making them into bite sized pieces rather than the traditional pretzel shape and trying them rolled in a cinnamon sugar mixture rather than salt.  We made half of our pretzel bites with salt and half with the cinnamon sugar; since it was our first shot and we didn't know what to expect.

Simply put, they were amazing--they really do taste like the giant soft pretzels you see at concession stands.  The cinnamon sugar bites were the favorite and disappeared quickly; the entire family loved both varieties and the entire batch was gone by the end of the day.  We might have to give the traditional soft pretzel shape a try (or a circle, for that matter...just a full size pretzel)--it might limit me to one or two.  It's so easy to justify 20 when they are little like this!

A note about the process: it looks very involved and maybe not worth the effort, even though the list of ingredients is short.  You do need some time for the dough to rise, but the whole boiling prep looks much more intimidating than it is...I promise.

Whole Wheat Soft Pretzels (adapted from Our Best Bites)

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (110-115 degrees F)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 package active dry yeast (I used rapid rise yeast)
  • 4 cups of white whole wheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons salted butter, melted
  • Vegetable oil spray for dough prep and baking process
  • 10 cups water
  • 2/3 cup baking soda
  • 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • additional melted butter, salt, and cinnamon sugar mixture
  • a little bit of powdered sugar, milk and vanilla for icing
Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. Add the flour and butter. Use the dough hook attachment on the mixer at low speed until well combined. Increase the speed slightly and knead until the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl (this will take several minutes).  If the dough is too sticky, more flour can be added a little bit at a time until you get the right consistency. Move the dough to a container that has been lightly sprayed with vegetable oil.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise for about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 450 F and prep cookie sheets lined with parchment paper sprayed lightly with vegetable oil.

Roll out the dough in manageable pieces, then shape your pretzels or cut them into bites.

Boil 10 cups of water and the baking soda in a large pot.  Put the pretzels in for a 30 second stint (this takes a while because they can't all be crammed in at once), then get them out by using a slatted spoon or spatula to allow the water to drain out.  Put them on the cookie sheets and brush them with the egg wash.  Add salt if desired.  (If you want to make the cinnamon sugar pretzels, leave them unsalted.  After baking, brush them with a little bit of melted butter and sprinkle with the sweet stuff.)

Bake until the pretzels reach the desired color - start checking them at 12 minutes.

Drizzle the cinnamon sugar bagels with a simple icing made of powdered sugar mixed with milk (I always start with half a cup of powdered sugar and a tablespoon of milk, then add more milk a little bit at a time until I get the consistency I want).

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Barbie cake

I never thought I would have a reason to make one of these; two boys with interests in electronics doesn't allow much room for this type of cake. 

This cake wasn't for a seven year old girl with glitter all over her arms, though.  One of my friends wanted this cake for her husband.  She had promised that when he graduated she would get him a KU Barbie cake.  I wasn't there for the conversations, but in my mind this was something he said he wanted as a joke several times over a few years, and when they celebrated his PhD graduation there was no way the cake could be anything else.

She bought the Barbie and did some research online about how to make a cake with a full Barbie doll rather than one of those creepy half Barbie picks.  I was initially unsure about the stability of a cake with a huge hollow area in the center, but there were no problems at all.  I baked two batches of cake and divided it into three pans:  a nine inch round, an eight inch round, and a small pyrex glass bowl (around six inches in diameter).  I used a round cookie cutter to cut out the centers of each layer as I filled and stacked the cake, then added a generous amount of frosting around the outside.  I'm a believer in adding frosting rather than sculpting cake if I can get away with's less trouble and well, it's more frosting.  I knew the dress needed to be red or blue for a KU feel, and both of those frosting tints can add a bitter element to the flavor.  Let's just say there was enough regular (in this case, chocolate malt) frosting underneath that blue frosting to be able to scrape that off and still have a nice cake experience.

Here is Barbie, getting ready to put on her dress. I wrapped her up in cellophane to keep her as frosting-free as possible and helped her step into her gown.

I was a little bit preoccupied with the Barbie hair.  I kept worrying about that getting into the frosting and wanted to do everything I could to keep that from I french braided her hair.   

And the final touch: a poured sugar Jayhawk (I made the silicone mold with a cookie cutter) with an LED light behind it at the base of her dress. 

I used the cake scraps and leftover frosting to make chocolate malt cake pops.  I couldn't let that go to waste...

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Textured copper pendants

These pendants both have a texture and contrast element to them that I adore. 

They are constructed in the same fashion, using a dapping block to create both the "seat" and the domed pieces of copper. The seats are copper discs with the centers cut out and dapped.  This was a new technique for me, so it probably took much longer than it should have...but I'm definitely planning to do more.

I wanted a lot of contrast and added texture to the center pieces before soldering them into the seats.  I hammered the smaller disc and then heated solder over it to add some color.  After the solder flowed over the entire piece, I sanded it off of the raised areas--a simple technique that creates a great effect.  

Every time I add color with the solder like this, it comes out a little bit differently; the amount of solder that I sand off varies from one project to another. 

The center of the larger disc has some fine silver mesh soldered to it--the grid pattern is still visible but the texture around the edges of the grid are irregular.  Love it. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Rice krispie cake

Last year I made this cake for my niece's birthday:

The top part of the mushroom is a giant rice krispie treat--an easy way to form something in a round shape by letting it set up in a pyrex bowl. I covered it with a layer of frosting and then fondant. 

Simply put, it changed the way I looked at cake. I've always been someone who tolerated a thin layer of cake under my frosting, but the idea of having rice krispie treats with frosting never crossed my mind before that. My sister had the same reaction to the rice krispie cake that I did, so I made her a little cake (I refer to it as rice krispie cake, but there is no actual cake involved) of her own for her birthday last May.

Then there was the Monster House rice krispie cake for Ben's birthday:

It's my sister's birthday again, and when we returned from our day of carnival caking, I made her a rice krispie cake covered in (too much) frosting and then fondant. 

Never tried it?  It's really simple--just make the rice krispie treat mixture and pour it into greased cake pans. Let it set up and then treat the rice krispie rounds like you would any cake...fill, frost, decorate.  They do take a  bit more effort to cut through than a real cake, but it's worth it.