Friday, December 31, 2010

Let's Party Like It's 1785

It was a very pink year. Not the pink you think of, but a salmon-y pink. Pantone had a dirty salmon in its color preditions for 2010, but nothing bright like this.

I saw it in fabrics and in fashion, old and new.

In meat and in messages.

Near the King's palace.

In "just the right size" presents.

Or on just the label.

Fresh tulips from mom.

Even the compost pile can be pretty.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

How Willy Wonka Saved the Cookie Exchange

Mom was really into ordering premiums from the back of cereal boxes when I was a kid.

My kit came with Wonka bar molds, my favorite cereal characters and few holiday shapes.

 It's even "Made in the U.S.A." How great is that?

Also included were illustrated instructions and Wonka Bar wrappers.  I remember not wanting to use them up. Maybe if they had color copiers back then I would have.

Looks easy enough. Right?
Wrong. It doesn't work with CAKEPOPS batter. 
I thought if I froze them, they would pop right out like ice cubes, 
as they had showed in the instruction book.
After cleaning out the 2-sided Oompa Loompa mold a couple of days later, I tried again with tinted white chocolate. 
Appetizing... huh?
Yippee! It worked. My cookie exchange bag included hot pink cake balls and my precious divinity. I also made Santa's Buttons (from refrigerated fundraising cookie sale batter, how lame is that?) as a back-up.

And how about a witch to spread that holiday cheer?
 What cereal is she from anyway?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My Divinity Was Not So Divine

Growing up candy making was our holiday tradition. Fudge, divinity and caramels. I had tried making Divinity a couple of years ago and it didn't work. Is my equipment too advanced? So I gave it a whirl. The recipe is simple enough:
First I had to rig up the tippy candy thermometer:
Notice that tip on the bottom? Is that supposed to be there? I searched the internet, the thermometer manual. Nothing. So on it stayed, since it wouldn't come off.
First you boil the sugary syrup to 248˚. Be patient. While that is happening, you whip 2 egg whites in the stand mixer.
When the syrup reaches temp, I ladled half of it into a PYREX measuring cup to make it easier to pour into the whites (growing up we poured it from the hot pan, always tricky to do without burning yourself).
Pour the hot syrup into the running mixer while the hot syrup on the stove continues to cook.  The stand mixer is much easier than the hand mixer we used to use. I can still remember the smell of the motor burning out. Once the rest of the syrup is ready (272˚), that goes into the whites. The photo below shows you what happens when you pour it in too slowly. It started to solidify. 
That is not good. 
Time to get out the spoons. Actually 4 is better because when the time is right you will need an extra set of hands. Growing up we used wax paper. Mom put a dab of sticky syrup on all four corners of the wax paper to hold it down and keep it from curling up. Smart idea. But fast forward to 2010: I have silicone mats and that really worked great. Long handled malt spoons from the 60s are ideal to use.
 So back to the mixer. It mixes for a while and you have to figure out when it's ready. If you go too early it spreads out like this:
So I let it mix some more. I think it needs to cool while it mixes (maybe the metal bowl is keeping it too hot). This is how it's supposed to look:
Slightly glossy and holds its shape. 

Sure looks easy doesn't it? Well the test batch I made in November yielded only 6 good pieces. The rest were pancakes:
After sitting on the counter for a few days, they dried out a bit and were smooth and tasty.
After deciding this would be my cookie exchange item, I made this 3 times last weekend. Only the batch you see on blue tray (scroll up) worked. I wanted to add pink to the mix so I used red food coloring and almond flavoring the next batch, which was a flop.

Even though they set up, there were chunks of glass-like syrup strands throughout. It's supposed to be silky and smooth. So I punished myself again and tried again. I had to wash all of the dishes and start again. The 3rd batch did NOT set up at all, even after it cooled down it still didn't work. It spread out like pancakes. Inspired by this magazine clipping, I thought I could save them with a paint brush and some food coloring.

 It was after midnight on Sunday and I would need 3 days for these to dry out. So threw them in the oven with the light on to get them out of the way. Well you guessed it. On Monday I went to pre-heat the oven for pizza and of course I forgot they were in there. 

And the reason for all of the failure? Still not entirely sure, but my hubby removed the plastic from the tip of the thermometer. I have yet to try another batch. I'm not giving up. 

I decided to ditch the family recipe. Betty Crocker's got great reviews and didn't have the 2 stage temperature instructions. Since the ingredient list/amounts were nearly similiar, I thought it was worth a try. Here's the link to the recipe.

Getting it to 260˚ was easy. Like last time the mixing took almost 20 minutes-FOREVER! I was thinking "oh boy not again - why can't i make this?$#@$ candy"! Lucky to have a stand mixer to do the work. The batter is heavy. I started to use ice packs to cool down the hot stainless steel mixing bowl. I don't really think it's the mixing time, I think the batter just needs to cool down. I got a clue when I saw a recipe online that said to "cool candy to 220˚and then add to eggs whites". I might just do that next time to reduce stress on my good ol' mixer (btw, best xmas gift EVER!). 

Update December 2012:
Made 2 batches with Jeanie. First batch took 1/2 hour to get to correct temp.  Then another 1/2 hour of mixer time. We tried cooling bowl down with a bag of frozen green beans and ice packs. 
We discussed how our mothers made perfect little dollups of candy. We learned that smaller teaspoons work best for dropping candy. Here's how my new students' pieces were looking:
Jeanie's pieces were lookin' good:
For batch number two: Still took about a 1/2 hour to get up to temp of 260˚.
We let syrup cool to 220˚, and then poured into egg whites. BINGO! That cut the mixer time down to about 10 minutes. Maybe that was too cool, as brittle pieces started to form as I poured it (and burned my finger in the process). 230˚ would be what I'd try... NEXT YEAR.