When Life Gives You Lemons.

Last week was a full moon. Last week, I was very emotional. Maybe the two are related, maybe not. But either way, I was feeling a little “life is giving me lemons-ish” all week. I tried talking to people about it, and although that helped in the moment, as soon as I was alone again, the lemons returned. Usually, I’d go for a run when I can’t shake that feeling, but I recently was diagnosed with Tendonitis in my left ankle. That means no running. For a while. This might have been the biggest lemon of all. Not being able to run is the most frustrating thing that has ever happened to me. So, what did I do? I started riding my bike and swimming.

A whole new world.

A whole new world.

These things are great, but the problem is that I’m not very good at them, and I was pretty good at running. So it’s like starting all over again. After a few bike rides though, I am really starting to enjoy it. So much so, that I want a new bike now. So maybe this particular lemon can become lemonade after all.

Even so, I still had the full moon blues, as I like to call them. I needed something else to help me break out of this funk. So, I turned to the only other thing I could think of that always helps me feel better – baking. And not just random baking for the sake of baking; this called for the big guns – baking with purpose.

I thought about who might want/need some baking in their life. I immediately thought of two people, and went to work. The first project was a Pink Lemonade Cake. I found the recipe here, however I made a few changes, as usual. I used pink lemonade concentrate, I omitted the lemon juice, and I had no milk in the house whatsoever, so I used the one cream-based product I always have on-hand without a doubt – vanilla ice cream. I used 1/3 cup ice cream blended with 1 cup of water. It worked perfectly.

An experiment in pink.

An experiment in pink.

The cake was well-received and devoured by all. I was feeling happy because others were happy. This was helping.

All that remained.

All that remained.

Baking project #2 was a beer bread. I’ve made beer bread before, and it has yet to turn out anything other than delicious, so I picked up some beer (Chocolate Pumpkin Porter by Evil Genius Beer Company, to be exact), and made yet another good-lookin’ and equally good-tastin’ Beer Bread.

The beer makes the bread.

The beer makes the bread.

The bread was a hit, too, and I was then able to surf the emotional wave right out of the end of the week and safely back to shore.

For now.

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The Best Sweet Beer Bread.

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Ok, so I know I said that last week I made the Best Beer Bread, and I still stick to that claim. However, the other day, I tried again, with a different beer this time – something just a little more dessert-like. What was the beer, you might ask? Why, it was Creme Brulee Stout, by Southern Tier Brewing Co.

a sweet, sweet beer.

a sweet, sweet beer.

The only problem here, was that the recipe as you may remember, calls for 12 oz of beer, and this bottle was, alas, 16 oz. Oh darn. The only solution was to drink the remaining 4 oz. Oh the perils of being a baker. 😉

more beer than bread.

more beer than bread.

Well, needless to say, the beer was delicious, and I was even more excited now to see how the bread would turn out! It smelled amazing, and it appeared to have been baked to perfection. Now, the hard part – waiting for it to cool, so I could try it.

hurry up.

hurry up.

Finally, the cooling hour had come. It was time. Time to slice. Time to taste. Time to judge and be judged.

worth waiting for.

worth waiting for.

Well, it was definitely worth the wait. It’s hard to say at this point which beer bread was the actual best – I think it all comes down to personal preference. This one was a little sweeter, which, anyone who knows me would know that sweeter is my bag. Not everyone digs on sweeter though, so let’s just call it a draw. This one shall be bestowed with the title of Best Sweet Bread Bread. If you’d like to try is, use the same Beer Bread Recipe as previously posted, but use the Creme Brulee Stout. Remember to only use 12 oz – and to drink the rest. Never let great beer go to waste.

Recipe: The Best Beer Bread.

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Here’s the recipe for the Sweet Baby Jesus! Beer Bread I posted the other day. Keep in mind, you don’t have to use Sweet Baby Jesus! beer (although it really was super delicious) – you can use whatever beer you like! I plan on doing a lot more experimenting with this one…

The Best Beer Bread.

What you’ll need:

3 cups flour, sifted

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup sugar

1 12 oz can of whatever beer you like

1/4 cup melted butter

What you’ll do:

Preheat the oven to 375. In a Large mixing bowl, whisk together the sifted flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Pour in the beer, and mix with a spatula until it gets thick, then finish mixing it by hand, until it forms a somewhat flaky-ish ball. Grease a loaf pan, and pour dough into the pan, spreading it out evenly with your hands. Pour the melted butter on top. Place the loaf pan on a sheet pan (sometimes the butter overflows while baking) and bake for approx 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

 

Sweet Baby Jesus Beer Bread.

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I forgot how good Beer Bread is. The other day, I was home from work, and really wanted to bake something, but I didn’t want anything super sweet or that took too long to make. I began flipping through my binder and came across this old recipe I had for Beer Bread. I’m not even sure where it came from, I’ve had it for quite some time – it was pre-pastry school! But I remember it being extremely delicious, and not super complicated. Being engaged to a complete beer geek, I was also 100% sure we would already have some kind of beer in the house that would work perfectly. Little did I realize just how perfectly.

perfection.

perfection.

In the fridge, I found a six pack of Sweet Baby Jesus! It’s a chocolate peanut butter porter, and if I remembered correctly, the beer bread tastes best with a darker beer. Not only was this one dark, but chocolate AND peanut butter???  The planets could not have been more perfectly aligned. I went forth and crafted the dough.

dough with beer.

dough with beer.

I greased the loaf pan, put the dough in, drizzled melted butter on top, and baked it. Not until after I tasted the dough though. A few times. This was some good dough.

baked beer.

baked beer.

I just loved the way it looked, fresh out of the oven – kinda like how I imagine the surface of the moon. Only much tastier. I let it cool, and waited patiently for my fiance to get home, so I could show him what I made, and more importantly, we could eat it. After what seemed like an eternity, he came home from work, and we sliced into the bread.

finally feasting.

finally feasting.

This was not good. I mean, it was really really good, which made it not good, because I did not want to stop eating it. It also inspired me to start thinking about other beers that would work well in the recipe….a whole line of craft beer breads…I think I’ve found my true calling.

the best thing since sliced beer bread.

the best thing since sliced beer bread.

Any suggestions for a beer to try? I’m always up for experimenting. 🙂

Baking Crossroads.

I am at a point where I can’t decide what to bake. I have four things in mind, and each sound fantastic in their own way. Each are also very different – some more sweet, some more savory; some more dense, some more fluffy; some look pretty, some honestly, kinda don’t. Three of them I’ve made before; one I have not. One was a request, the others are just because. So…what should I do?? Maybe you can help.

Here are my four options:

#1: Irish Soda Bread.

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This is one I’ve made before (actually twice before). It’s rather light, not overly sweet, kinda crumbly, and full of raisins. It’s also timely, with the pending arrival of St. Patrick’s Day. Did I mention how tasty it is?

#2: Beer Bread.

bread of beer.

bread of beer.

This one I’ve also made before, but apparently have never written about it. I was sure I had posted it when I made it last, although that was about 3 years ago, when I was just starting the blog, so I suppose it was overlooked. So that’s actually giving it an edge here. Also, my boyfriend is obsessed with fancy beer, so I have plenty of fun options to get creative with this time around!

#3: French Macarons.

the mac daddy.

the mac daddy.

I have definitely made these before AND posted about them. I also ate a bunch of them while on my Paris Patisserie Tour, back in the summer of 2012. I haven’t made them since then, and I’ve never made them in colors – only vanilla and chocolate in their natural state. I think because in Paris, they tasted so completely heavenly and looked so beautiful, I’ve been intimidated to make them ever since. I mean, come on – look at these:

the real thing.

the real thing.

Can I do that?? I’m not sure. But maybe it’s time to find out. PS – this one was the request. I do love baking something I know someone really wants…

#4: King Cake.

I have never made this, so i have no photo to provide. I have eaten it, and I have loved every bite. I have researched recipes, but they all seem pretty different, so I’m a little lost at where to start. The one that I’ve eaten and savored sort of reminded me of a cheese danish. But some recipes don’t even have any cheese products in them – so what am I to do?? I did come across one recipe that sounded like it would yield a very close result to the cake I call King. And I love a good experiment. So there’s that.

So, there you have it.  Four very deliciously different paths to head down, all leading to very equally appealing results. What’s a baker girl to do?? Help!

Ye Olde Beer and Cake.

So, I have this thing with combining baking and alcoholic beverages. For a while, I was into making cupcakes that represented various cocktails, such as the mojito, or the piña colada. When I discovered an old prohibition-era recipe for bourbon cookies, I got into making said cookies with other hard liquors (see Honey Whiskey Balls). But now I have a brand new idea, that actually stemmed from a pretty old one. I decided that I was going to make chocolate beer cupcakes this weekend for a Memorial Day Party I was attending. I made similar cupcakes once before, but this time I used a different beer (Harpoon Chocolate Stout) and my standard chocolate cake recipe.

the not-so-secret ingredient.

the not-so-secret ingredient.

The cupcakes turned out great – just as I had envisioned. The beer toned down the sweetness, and the cream cheese glaze icing gave it that little something fabulous. Together, they made the perfect combination.

beer + cake = tlf.

beer + cake = tlf.

However, this is merely the beginning. The success of these cupcakes spawned a discussion – it would appear that beer and cake seem to go together. They’re like, MFEO. And at that moment, I realized what I needed to do: open up a tavern/bakery that features the pairing of the two. And I shall call it: Ye Olde Beer and Cake.

let them eat cake (and drink beer).

let them eat cake (and drink beer).

Now this tavern/bakery (tavernakery?) would specialize in selecting beers and cakes that are the perfect match – flavors and styles that go together like bread and butter.  It’d be like…heaven.

heaven is a cake on earth.

heaven is a cake on earth.

So anyway, there you have it. Keep an eye out for Ye Olde Beer and Cake, coming soon to a town near you. And just think, you can say you knew me when…

The Brussels Chocolate Shop Tour, Stop #4: Chocopolis.

DSC_0828I was starting to grow a tad weary after tour stop# 3, Leonidas, mainly due to the complete lack of sleep the night before, having arrived in Brussels at 6 am from New York, dropped my bags off at the hotel, had a coffee (or three) and breakfast, and dove right into the tour all before 9 am. It was now around 1, and I was quickly losing steam. I considered just returning the hotel at this point, taking a long overdue shower and nap, and heading back out afterwards, but as fate would have it, my proposed stop #4 just so happened to be on the way back to the hotel. And as I walked up to the entrance and was greeted by the large faux chocolate elephant, I realized there was no way I was just gonna walk on by. So, I decided to make one last stop for the day at:

Stop #4: Chocopolis.

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Appropriately named, Chocopolis was big – a chocolate metropolis for sure. I walked in and immediately to the right, were a few gentlemen around a hot chocolate station, sipping cups and chatting away in french. Behind the giant counter in the center, two women were actually making some chocolates, and encouraging folks to gather ’round and watch while they demonstrated their craft.

chocolate theatre?

chocolate theatre?

I grazed around the counter, while a third woman flitted about, tending to customers and asking me if I needed help (in french). Nothing had been calling out my name as of yet, so I declined politely and continued my perusal. It wasn’t until I began cruising the perimeter that I saw it – glowing like a full moon on a dark winter’s night, beckoning me to come closer. As the gravitational pull of awesomeness drew me, I reached up for it, the perfect combination of Belgium’s two greatest natural resources: Chocolate Beer.

the dream we all dream of.

the dream we all dream of.

Now I’ve had chocolate beer before, but it was a chocolate flavored beer – not a beer made out of chocolate. As I picked one up off the shelf, I was momentarily disheartened as I discovered these chocolate bottles were not actually filled with beer. I still thought I’d buy one, just because they were way cool. But as I began walking away from the shelf with bottle in hand, I started having second thoughts. There was no way I was going to eat this entire beer bottle in two days, especially with 6 more chocolate shops to sample! And carting it around Europe for the rest of the week or even eventually back to the states just seemed unrealistic. So, I placed the bottle back on the shelf, and hung my head. While looking down, I happened to notice a shelf of mendiants just below and to the left. I never see mendiants at home, and I loved them when we made them in pastry school, so…I picked out a mixed bag (white, milk, and dark chocolate) and was on my way.

it's in the bag.

it’s in the bag.

There was  even one super cool one that looked all outer spacey. I ate that one first, but all three varieties were slammin’. I just wish I could find mendiants more easily at home in New Jersey. I guess I’ll just have to start making them. I could start the next big dessert craze.

i got this.

i got this.

At this point, not even the best chocolate in the world could keep me awake. As I laid in bed, I drifted off to sleep while visions of fine Belgian chocolates danced in my head. Sweet Dreams, indeed.

Stay tuned for Day 2, which begins relaxed and refreshed at Stop #5: Pierre Marcolini – three floors of “club chocolate”.

mmmm…beer cupcakes.

So whenever I eat cake, I don’t think “Gee, you know what would go great with this? A beer!” Yet, somehow, the two can live together in perfect harmony in the form of one delectable small indulgence: the beer cupcake.

beer, meet cupcake.

I whipped up these little temptuous treats for a gathering this weekend. I can’t take credit for writing the recipe myself and I don’t know who did – I got it many years ago, and it has no name or website on it and I have no recollection of where it came from. I can say that I did make one minor adjustment, which some could argue led to a major improvement: I used a different kind of beer.

The recipe recommends Guinness, or something similar. I thought, heck, why not try a “fancy beer” – one with an exotic ingredient or unique taste. Or maybe just one that would seem to make the perfect mate to a chocolate cupcake. So, I browsed the aisles of the liquor store down the street, when, there it was, on the bottom shelf, screaming “I was made for your cupcakes!”

the only thing better than beer is chocolate beer.

Chocolate cupcake. Chocolate beer. These two were MFEO (that’s “made for each other” in the popular language known as “texting”). I topped off my little chocolate fellas with a creme mousseline – a topping/filling I’ve become quite familiar with in the recent weeks. The cupcake is on the dense side, so a light, fluffy, buttery mousseline complimented the denseness quite nicely, and was reminiscent of the foam on the top of a real beer.

dense in a good way, like Napoleon Dynamite.

In addition to being dense, the beer boosts the moistness factor up a notch as well. So cupcakes + beer = a moist, dense, delicious treat, to which nobody can deny. Make it a chocolate beer, and I think you may have found  a way to get us off this island, professor.

he wishes he'd thought of that.