Friday, February 18, 2011

Miette Cookie Class ...Or ...Wasted Weekend

Oh my little Miette, how I once cherished you.

Miette, is an adorable pastry/candy shop found around the Bay Area of California. When I walked into their Hayes Valley shop last year, I felt like I was 7 years old in Willy Wonka's candy shop. Their brightly painted furniture and fun wallpaper make it feel so inviting you want to pull up a chair and spend the day gazing at the picture perfect displays of candy, cookies, and cupcakes.

Who can take a sunrise
Sprinkle it in dew
Cover it in chocolate
and a miracle or two?
The candyman
The candyman can
The candyman can cause he mixes it with love and makes the world taste good

In November my friend found that Miette was offering classes on their sugar cookies, (I love the cookies that match their adorable wallpaper.) and we eagerly signed up for the next available class. 
The long awaited class was finally here. Last weekend we made our way to Miette, excited to see their 3rd location, and anticipating the wonderful things we would make in class. After a few minutes of wandering around the waterfront looking for the sugary jewel, we finally found Miette, but it was a far cry from what we were expecting to find.

We walk into the tiny corner shop to be greeted, or not greeted, by stark warehouse looking walls, a small half empty case of lonely cupcakes,  two small tables with candy displayed, and an indifferent employee behind the counter. This was not the Miette I fell in love with. Where was the charm, this was what I would call a hole-in-the-wall. Oh well we were still excited for the class.

We waited in the small shop for the class to begin, when the "chipper" employee at the counter notified us "he's ready for you" and pointed toward the open door that lead to the bakery. (I love warm welcomes)

We walked into the bakery, ready to learn the secrets of Miette's gorgeous cookies, and... it was like going to Disneyland as a child and seeing Mickey remove his head, exposing some sweaty teenager. 

The instructor, Jeff, was very friendly and you could tell he enjoyed what he did. He showed us examples of his amazingly detailed cookies, and began to tell us step by step how we could frost cookies to look like his. We spent most of the class talking about the basics, rolling pins, cookie cutters, food coloring, and piping bags. Making our own piping bags was one of the most informative parts of the class, and Jeff's instructions were extremely clear. Then the wheels fell of the bus, and by no fault of Jeff's. When asked about the cookie recipe used we were told it was not given out. Instead we were given a recipe by Betty Crocker. (No joke. It seemed a little shady to me.) We then began learning about how to make the royal icing. Jeff explained that royal icing could be made two different ways, with egg whites or with meringue powder. Miette uses meringue powder for safety concerns with using raw egg. I was glad to hear this, because although I eat my fair share of dough and batter, but I wouldn't serve raw egg to other people. We went to our stations to make the first step of the royal icing, but for some reason we were given egg whites. Why weren't we making the same icing they use on their cookies?

Finally it was time to learn how to decorate the cookie. After a brief lesson on applying the icing, we went back to our stations with about a hour left of class, rushing through decorating the 6 cookies we were given. We didn't even have enough time for our cookies to dry before it was time to leave. We boxed them up and left out a side door because the actual store was closed. (At 4pm on a Saturday, during a class. Told you we were rushed.) We walked to our car shaking our heads. What just happened?

Why didn't they have us make the royal icing both ways in class? Why didn't they give us the recipes? Why didn't they give us more time for the actual decorating? Why was the shop closed when we left? Why did this class feel like a spur of the moment idea?  I could have signed up for a local class at Joann's or watched a youtube video. I came to this class and spent $65 (And $11 in parking.) because it was Miette.

This experience has only made me realize that the $250 I spent at C.I.A was well worth it. (5 hours, C.I.A apron to take home, you eat what you make and still have some to take home, you get the recipes, and you feel like you are doing something special. (Let me add, parking is free too.) 

This has completely changed my view of Miette, their shops seem to have an innocence about them, but behind the curtain is just a man (or woman) pretending to be the powerful Oz.

*Update - Funny thing, the $65 Miette cookie class didn't want to share their recipes, but look what I found today on Amazon. It looks like my instincts were right, it's all about how to make a quick buck.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day

My favorite thing about Valentine's Day................the sweets.
Miette Cookie Class (I will blog later about this "class")

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Box Of Chocolates....Cupcakes

Last week I got an email from Taste of Home with the subject of Box-of-Chocolates Cupcakes. That was all I needed, without even opening the email I started picturing making cupcakes that looked like a box of chocolates. (Now you know, many of my ideas are not original, just improved) :) The box of chocolates I envisioned was a box of 12 chocolates (cupcakes) in brown wrappers, filled with actual chocolates, then frosted to look like the chocolates that are inside.

I originally thought about baking the chocolates inside the cupcake, but the new devils food cake batter I tried was so thin I decided to play it safe, and just fill the cupcakes after they were done baking. Filling them after also helped me remember what chocolate was in what cupcake.

After the cupcakes were filled I frosted them according to the candies inside. Actually I'm lying, I started to do it that way but it looked boring, so I used artistic license to jazz up a few of them.

I think they turned out pretty cute. I could have taken more time on the frosting and made them look cleaner, but I was a little over extended, baking two different breads (4 loaves total) and making spaghetti for dinner, I am not Super Woman after all. :) (Don't tell my family that though.) Not only were they cute they were delicious, and because I hand picked the chocolates inside, there was no need to poke your finger through to see if raspberry filling was lurking inside, they were all Sugartarian approved.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Red Velevt Cupcakes

I have never been a fan of red velvet, in fact I have only tried it once not that long ago.(The cream cheese frosting has always kept me away.) I decided with Valentine's Day coming up, and my mild acceptance of a cream cheese frosting, it would be a good time try red velvet cupcakes. I was in for a surprise, as far as I knew the red in a red velvet came from the cocoa powder and vinegar and baking soda, apparently that is wrong. The first recipe I tried, Magnolia's Bakery Red Velvet,  shocked me when it called for 6 tablespoons of red food coloring. That couldn't be right, so I tried making the recipe with less. Well, I guess the recipe was right because using only a tablespoon made my red velvet cupcakes look sickly. Slightly brown, slightly pink.

This called for another attempt. This time I used Americas Test Kitchen Red Velvet recipe. I still didn't follow the directions completely, instead of using 4 tablespoons of red food coloring I used a tablespoons or so of red food gel.

They turned out beautiful, but I just don't get it. What is so special about red velvet cake? Why not just use your favorite vanilla cupcake recipe and add a little cocoa powder and red food gel to make it red? I won't be making Red Velvet Cupcakes anytime soon, but if you want the recipes I used here they are. Magnolia Red Velvet Cupcakes  or America's Test Kitchen Red Velvet Cupcakes, if I had to choose I would make the America's Test Kitchen recipe, it had a better texture and flavor.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Culinary Weekend

This past weekend I took a one day class at The Culinary Institute Of America. Do I even need to say what the class was.....Baking At Home - The Desserts. We started in a classroom on the 3rd floor of the beautiful Greystone building at 9:30am sharp. After a short introduction we were split into teams and assigned the desserts we would be making. Team 1: Sour Cream Streusel (sour cream, gross), Team 2: Chocolate Souffle Cake (two words chocolate and cake, perfect), Team 3: Warm Lemon Pudding Cake (sounds mushy, I will pass), Team 4: Strawberry Frozen Yogurt (you know how I feel about strawberries, and I don't like yogurt either), Team 5: Turtles and Rustic Fruit Galette, which all teams would make as well.(turtles I like, fruit galette rustic or not sounds a little too healthy). So can you guess which one I got? Or the better question, which one I didn't get? I didn't get the Chocolate Souffle Cake (originally), I got the double whammy Strawberry Frozen Yogurt.

We went into the enormous kitchen, all the way to the back, past all the poor souls in the other "real food" classes, and found our table. In my group was a semi-local couple with a limited amount of baking experience, but hard workers and really nice too. We were told at the beginning our frozen yogurt probably wouldn't be finished in time because of its preparation time, so our team got to work immediately. We work really well together, reading the directions and multi tasking between all three dishes. Since I had more experience (TOOT TOOT, tooting my own horn) I tried to help more verbally and let my other two teammates be more hands on.

We had our galette dough made and in the refrigerator in no time, and moved on to our more time consuming Strawberry Frozen Yogurt. After my teammates hulled and sliced the strawberries, we let them soak in the lemon and sugar solution and moved on to the turtles. We toasted our pecans, made our caramel and our turtles started to come together. I do believe the exact quote by our instructor was "you guys are awesome":) While the Turtles were cooling we went back to working on our Fruit Galette, rolling out our dough, preparing the apples, and then finally putting it together. Our galette turned out beautiful, even becoming a sample for the other students.(TOOT TOOT) :)

We worked so hard and so fast we were able to choose another dish to make. Thankfully we were all on the same page and wanted to make the chocolate souffle. While working on the souffle, we finished making our Strawberry Frozen Yogurt, even though it wasn't expected to be done. We did it, we finished all three of our assigned items and had our "extra credit" in the oven just in time for our lunch break.

Lunch was pretty impressive. All of the classes displayed their food at the tables in the center of the kitchen for everyone to try. There were soups, rice, vegetables, big chunks of meat, something that had veal in it, and tons of other things that I wouldn't eat. I did try our Strawberry Frozen Yogurt, and I have to say it was really REALLY good. (Then I got a seed and was over it.) The galette looked so good it tricked me into trying it, not so good. Apples are bad enough raw, then you make them mushy by cooking them, no thanks. Then there was the Chocolate Souffle Cake, another trick on me. I have never tried souffle before, it's always sounded suspect, and I was right. Even with the words Chocolate and Cake in the title it was beyond gross. I can't even describe the funky texture, but at least I have now tried souffle, and I don't have to do it again. The best thing we made were the Turtles, chocolate, caramel, and pecans, you really can't go wrong. (Unless you added fruit)

After everyone finished lunch, we went back to the classroom to wrap up. We talked about measuring in oz/gr compared to cups, now I have seen the light. Yes, I knew using a scale gave you more precise measurements, but it has always seemed like such a pain. Somehow in that moment it just made since, a cup of flour on Monday might have more or less flour than a cup on Tuesday. (Kind of like my jeans, always the same size but some days they fit different than others.) Maybe if I had used a scale when making my chocolate chip cookies so long ago, I would still be getting the same results. The instructor's real passion was more bread than desserts and it really rubbed off on me. I am not going to stop making desserts any time soon, but he really got me thinking about how wonderful bread is. I hope you are ready to see some bread recipes in the future.
When the class was over I took home some of our Turtles, Fruit Galette, and the Chocolate Souffle cake, a Baking at Home cookbook, and a C.I.A apron. I had such a good time, I am thinking about going back for more....maybe the Chocolate Class.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Super Bowl Treats

Not only are these super cute, they are THE BEST tasting Rice Krispie Treats EVER! These are not the dry Cocoa Krispie Treats mom's bring into class room parties, (sorry mom's) these are creamy triple chocolate Krispie Treats. The secret is in the chocolates, cocoa powder and high quality milk chocolate. They are even decadent enough to cut into hearts for a Valentine's Day treat for someone special.

Triple Chocolate Rice Krispie Treats

3tbs butter
4 cups mini mashmallows
1/4 cup cocoa powder
6 cups Cocoa Krispies
2 oz milk chocolate, finely chopped

Butter a 13x9 pan
Melt butter, marshmallows and cocoa powder in a large sauce pan over medium heat.
Stir until completely melted.
Remove from heat.
Stir in milk chocolate.
Add Cocoa Krispies and mix until well coated.
Spread evenly into prepared pan. (spray CLEAN hands with cooking spray to help spread Krispies in pan)
When cool cut with greased cookie cutters.

For the football design: melt white chocolate and pipe on stripes using a piping bag fitted with a #4 tip.
The nooks and crannies in the Krispie Treat make it hard to get smooth lines. It was killing me.

You still have a few minutes left to make these for you Super Bowl Party :)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Sweet Weekend

I have been so busy lately with baking, classes and weekend trips that I haven't been able to blog. That means that I have a bunch of junk to write about and will be bombarding you soon with all of it, probably all at once, and in run on sentences. :) The latest trip I took was with a group of girls to Bodega Bay California, by way of Napa. It was a fantastic getaway with a lot of laughing, a fair amount of drinking, and of coarse plenty of sweets to eat.

Our first stop was something I have been wanting to do for a while, a chocolate tasting at the Culinary Institute of America Greystone just outside of Napa. The only "tasting" I am somewhat familiar with is wine tasting, and I loathe wine tasting. More than not liking the taste of wine, I detest pompous wine tasters.  I went into the chocolate tasting pessimistic, ready to be irritated by some fool who thip thip thip's the chocolate in their mouth and then says something like, "I love the bouquet... this would pair well with veal".

I am happy to report the tasting was amazing.  I thought I knew the difference between chocolates and the different processes chocolate goes though but I found out I didn't really know much. I have done my own "scientific" taste tests in my kitchen between high-end chocolate and chocolate compounds,  I have even compared brands, but I really didn't know what made them taste different other than the "quality", and price.
We pulled up a seat at the Flavor Bar and were given labeled trays of chocolate, two crackers, a cup of water and a set of head phones to watch the instructor on a large flat screen TV.  The 15 minute tasting video took us step by step cup by cup through the different tastes of chocolate from the cacao bean, nibs, cocoa powder, cocoa butter, unsweetened cocoa, bittersweet and semi-sweet chocolate, and compound chocolates.  The end of the tasting was the most interesting, when we learned about the terroir. (I am using an accent in my head while writing "terroir" and I have my nose in the air) Terroir refers to the region the chocolate came from, which influences the flavor of the chocolate. It sounds pretentious, but you can really taste the differences between the Venezuelan, Ecuadorian, and Madagascan (sp?) chocolate. Each had a very distinct after taste (I am pretty sure that's not the proper term), Venezuelan (my favorite) had a fruit flavor, Madagascan was very citrusy and Ecuadorian was floral (yuck! but not bad enough for me not to eat it).

After the video was over I purchased a 8 piece box of Greystone Chocolates as a more informed connoisseur :) The chocolates I bought were just OK, but with my all time favorite chocolates just down the highway at Woodhouse, I probably won't be buying any of these chocolates again. The chocolate tasting on the other hand, I would do again in a heart beat.

We made one more stop on our way to the coast at the Korbel Champagne Cellars. I am not the right person to review champagnes, I am sure they would be delicious in a cupcake:)

When we reached Bodega Bay we almost immediately headed to the cutest shop in town, Patrick's Taffy Shop. Love it! How could you not love the ocean weathered pink and white striped candy shop. The shop is literally filled with taffy and a few shelves of retro candies too. I probably wouldn't care if it was filled with fish, I would still loiter in front of the shop because it is just so damn cute.

It was such a fun trip and I can't wait to do it again soon.


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