Thursday, February 27, 2014

A little update

Just a quick post today with a few updates.  I have been really busy lately, between getting ready for tax time (I dread it every year) and restocking for my jewelry business and studying for my class.  I am pleased to report that I passed the Food Standards and Sanitation class with a B+ and am now ServSafe certified (with a 95% on the exam!). I start up with my Kitchen Skills class on Wednesday and have had to gather a LOT of (expensive) supplies for that. I have my kitchen tool kit with good, super sharp knives, which I have never had before! And my uniform and kitchen shoes. And of course, the class book. So I am all set to go! It will be a real challenge to wake up at 6am to get ready to head to class. I don't usually have to be up so early, so it will be an adjustment, for sure, but it is just one day a week for 7 weeks. I am looking forward to learning a lot of new things.
I have also kept busy in the kitchen, testing out new recipes and learning a lot. We got a pizza stone and I hope to try out some bread recipes soon, and I have even been doing some savory cooking from scratch. I have had some very successful cookie recipes and some great icing experiments.  I plan to write more about that, I just haven't had the time. I am taking photos along the way to document, at least. I think I have some good ideas and unique approaches to coloring icing that is going to become a signature twist for me in my baking! It's all very exciting and I can't wait to play more! But first, I have to finish those pesky taxes...ugh!

Monday, February 10, 2014

Sweet Skills: Chocolate Icing Application

I recently wrote about using cocoa powder instead of food colorings to color royal icing. I first used the chocolate icing as the dark color to contrast against the white icing base. My next experiment was to do that in reverse... to try white on a chocolate base.  Another experiment I wanted to try was to see if I could ice a cookie in the base color more quickly and easily using a knife or spatula or spreader, as opposed to outlining and then flooding the base using a pastry bag. I thought that maybe skipping the step of filling a pastry bag and flooding the cookie with icing might be a step that I could skip and I could keep the pastry bag for the detailed parts. I got the icing to a good consistency and tried all three tools to spread the icing. It was a bit harder than I expected, mostly because to get the smooth effect I like, the icing tended to flow off the cookie. I put them on a cooling grid and let the extra icing drip off.  It worked pretty well, but I think that was only because it was chocolate icing on a chocolate cookie.  The colors of the cookie and icing were very close, so any drips on the side of the cookie and areas that I scraped icing away just blended in.  I think that technique would have been much sloppier looking if the cookie and the base icing were different colors.
 After the chocolate icing base dried, I did some detailed work in white icing.  Now that I look at these cookies in photos, I like them fairly well.  They certainly were delicious!  But I didn't like them at all at the time. The white icing looked like Elmers school glue to me, and I had a hard time thinking of anything else. Maybe it needed to be tinted a little bit so it wasn't so gluey white. Perhaps my white icing was a little too runny, so I didn't get the crisp lines and dots that I wanted. At least I like the graphic-ness of the dark and light colors.  I can see a lot of potential there.
 So this experiment was trying two new skills: 1. applying the icing base without a pastry bag and 2. doing a light on dark design cookie.  I think the first skill taught me that I really like doing the base icing with the bag, and it's actually not that much slower or more time consuming.  The end result of a flooded cookie base is far better than having to clean up drippy icing.  And the second skill is definitely something I will try again, maybe with a tinted color on top of the dark, or a finer tipped bag, or thicker icing. Overall, lots of sweet learning here!

Royal Icing Experiments

I have always loved royal icing, before I even knew what it was called.  I've always been attracted to detailed decorated cookies that look like little drawings made with sugary paint. I was even curious about trying to decorate cookies myself over the years but was intimidated by the piping bags and the sugar and the egg whites. I thought my hand wasn't steady enough, or maybe I was scared that I might not be able to learn how to adapt to drawing with a pastry bag, or I thought I didn't have the right kitchen equipment. But then I took my first Wilton class and used the recipe that they print in their books and on the can of meringue powder and found it wasn't quite so difficult after all!

The Wilton icing recipe is super easy, but after making it a few times, I was curious about other ways to make royal icing.  I tried out Sweetopia's icing recipe (how adorable is that illustrated recipe, by the way?).  It has more steps and ingredients, but I found the end product to be far superior. I think the key is dissolving the meringue powder in the water before adding it. And probably the cream of tartar helps too, even though there is already some in the meringue powder. And that's another thing I learned...not all meringue powders are equal.  I had purchased some Ateco Meringue Powder to use for casting sugar skulls, so one time when I made icing, I used that in place of the Wilton.  I found it to be much better flavored and scented.  Something seems a little... off with Wilton.  It's got a very subtle bad egg smell to it, I have noticed. I really love making this royal icing.  It's so fluffy and beautifully white and soft.  I love watching it develop as I keep mixing and mixing, I love the patterns that the mixer makes, and I love squishing it around with my spoonula. I kind of want to jump in and go swimming in it.

 And now that I have a base recipe that I really like, I have been tweaking it a bit, adding flavoring, and experimenting with color. I found a link on Pinterest to LilaLoa's blog post about using cocoa powder as a starting point to making a rich black icing without adding a ton of gel coloring.  I love that idea of using a basic ingredient to make color instead of something less natural, so I started experimenting with cocoa as the exclusive ingredient for color.  As a bonus... the icing tastes like chocolate!  I use a dark chocolate powder and the resulting icing ends up being dark grey-brown, which contrasts very nicely against the basic white icing. I really love making this royal icing.  It's so fluffy and beautifully white and soft.  I love watching it develop as I keep mixing and mixing, I love the patterns that the mixer makes, and I love squishing it around with my spoonula. I kind of want to jump in and go swimming in it. I am starting to experiment with more colors and flavors now! I hope to make another batch of icing this week and try out the new colors.  I will make sure to take lots of pics!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Fresh Finds: Ugli Fruit and Other Citrus

Over the summer, while going to Eastern Market with Jason to get our weekly produce, I started a tradition of picking up a new fruit or veggie every week.  I especially love fruits of many varieties, but there are still many that I have not tried, especially ones that I have only started to see recently from the vendors at the Market who specialize in ethnic and unusual produce.  I have tried quite a few that I liked, such as starfruit and persimmions, and a few that I wasn't quite sure about, like dragonfruit and prickly pear.  Now, when I am shopping, I keep my eyes peeled for unusual fruits and I try to pick them up when possible.  It's a little harder in the winter, though, as there just aren't as many fruits in season.  Recently, I tried a few citrus delights that I wanted to blog about.  One of them is the Ugli fruit.
This Ugli fruit was about the size of a grapefruit, but with a bright green peel, not unlike that of a lime.  I thought it might be very sour like a lime or bitter like a grapefruit, but I found it to be pretty much like a standard orange.  The peel was very thick and hearty and had a lot of pith, but the fruit itself was quite soft.  I had a hard time cutting it into bite sized chunks for our morning fruit salad (with a apple and a few dried strawberries).  As I cut into the flesh, it mostly just turned to mush.  It would probably be great to juice, but I think they are a little expensive for that.  I think the novelty of the green peel was fun, though, and it inspired me to consider trying the next new thing I tried... candied orange peel!

One of my friends bought a small tub of candied orange peel to go with a lovely gourmet cheese plate we made with our foodie friends.  Actually, I have had candied orange peel before, but technically, I think this was glacĂ© peel, which is perhaps a little different. I have had candied peels in baked goods and in chocolates and candies, but it was a delicious candy all by itself.  Now I really want to make candied peels... maybe try some lemon, maybe some ugli fruit peel, maybe grapefruit.  We have made candied ginger at the house before and it's pretty easy to do, just a bit time consuming.  I think the peels would be great in muffins, as a little chewy texture here and there.

Finally, my last new citris find was Kumquat, which I tried for the first time last weekend!  Another friend made a yummy vinaigrette salad dressing with them, but I tried a few of them before he smooshed them all up.  They were so good! Small, grape sized yellow/orange colored fruits... sweet citrus flavor on the outside and sour on the inside.  I loved that you eat the whole fruit, peel and all. Very delicious. Now that I know how much I like them, I am going to look for them at the market, although I think they are not very common.

Those are my Vitamin C filled fresh finds this week!  Yum!

Daydreaming and Branding

I mentioned in my last post that I was doing some graphic work with logos and business cards.  Some of that has been for this blog and bakery project.  It is possibly a bit premature to be diving into logo design and branding, when I don't really have a culinary product to sell yet. But it is something I really love doing, and I have really realized how much I enjoy it in this project, so I have been telling those nay-saying voices in my head to just shut up and enjoy the process.

I chose the name Sugarwood because it is similar to my business name of Earthenwood, which I have been using for over 15 years.  I wanted something that was sort of similar, so it could be easily remembered for those who are familiar with my Earthenwood branding.  I did decide to split Sugarwood into two words for the logo, though, because having a long name for a business has always frustrated me, graphics-wise.  I wanted a round or square logo this time around!

Once I settled on the name, I started to gather together the online things that I might eventually need if I develop into a business.  Email address, domain name, blog, facebook page, instagram.  I even picked up the etsy shop name, even though selling anything culinary online would be WAY down the line, if at all.  But I figured it would be best to grab it now, in case it gets grabbed by someone later. I know this lesson from branding Earthenwood.  It's very frustrating if someone buys up something using your business name and sits on it, so it's best to get it all under your control from the start.

In addition to the logo and graphic work, I have started thinking about packaging and display... which is another love of mine.  Again, it's kind of hard to design packaging for a product that doesn't yet exist, but I can design the overall feel.  What materials do I like, what colors?  What kind of "feel" would I want my products to have and what kind of packaging will best show them off?  If I have a table or booth at a market, what kind of display could I have? From business cards to product bags to signage to tablecloths...I like to think of the entire package, not just the product.  Mostly this means a lot of daydreaming while on Pinterest or packaging sites like Papermart.

Since I plan to pair up my baked goods with my hand painted ceramics, which are linear and illustrative and mostly black and white, I decided to go with black and white graphics.  I am mostly drawn to white porcelain in my ceramic work, so I want to use a lot of black accents for display and packaging for some contrast.  I will likely add some grocery-kraft-paper brown in the mix, too, because I have always loved kraft brown and I think it warms up the stark black and white.  It also brings in a bit of the "wood" element of the store name. I am imagining the cutest little bakery themed booth with all of these things! See how much fun it is for me to daydream?

Sweet Skills: Lettering Practice

Over the holidays, when we had a house FULL of sweets and snacks, and it was ridiculous (downright dangerous!) to consider baking any more cookies or sweet things, I still wanted to play with sugar.  At the time, I was also doing some graphic work, designing a logo and some new business cards, and so I printed off a few pages of alphabets and graphics to trace in royal icing.
I took the printed paper sheets and slid them under the clear plastic of the Wilton Practice Board that I had from my class. Then I filled my pastry bag with some leftover royal icing and a small decorating tip and traced away!  It took a steady hand and concentration, but I was pleased with the results. 
I think this is a really great way to get some good practice with a pastry bag.  It's a very different kind of tool for me and I am not used to using my hands that way, so the practice is very helpful.  And I think that lettering in particular is good to practice, because you can learn spacing and steady line quality while getting the feel for the style of a font.  Hopefully, with enough practice, I will become comfortable with writing on cookies and cakes the way I write onto my ceramics.
I also did some scrollwork, because I love the look of them but have a hard time free handing them, for some reason.  I love the old school tattoo design feel that they have and I can see myself using them with lettering inside of the scrolls.

The part that might be the most fun about doing this is when the icing is all dried, you scrape it off, and the little icing lines become sprinkles! And then there is a clean slate to start anew...