FAQ and Update!

I’m still here! And I’m finally (finally!) going to finish baking through the MSBH. So look for new post updates for the handful of recipes left starting next month.

In the meantime, I wanted to do a FAQ post, as I still get lots of emails with questions about the blog, and particularly about the kitchen tools and equipment in my photos.

  1. Will you ever come back and finish the blog? Yes! See above. I think I have less than 10 recipes to finish before the project is complete!
  2. Where have you been? It’s been over four years, so a lot of places! I was very burned out on the project in 2012 and just couldn’t motivate myself to tackle the remaining recipes. I was interested in so many things besides baking and then my life went a little crazy in 2014 (in a good way) and hasn’t really slowed down since. But I find myself getting the baking bug again, and I’m eager to revisit and complete this project. This blog truly is one of the things I’m most proud of creating!
  3. What is your favorite recipe in the MSBH? There are a lot of gems, but the Cherry Frangipane Galette is hands-down my favorite dessert both to make and to eat. It’s so unique and pretty. The Pignoli Cookies are my favorite cookies; I’ve made them dozens of times. They’re a “grown up” cookie though, not so popular with kids.
  4. Is the MSBH a good beginner cookbook? Should I buy it for my friend (daughter, sister-in-law, dad, etc.) who has never baked before and will they be able to use it? I came to the book with a pretty solid history in baking, particularly with yeast breads, and so I’m not entirely sure if it’s a great “beginner” baking book. Martha is kind-of notorious for assuming home bakers and cooks already have a grasp of the basics and I’d say that the MSBH assumes that as well. I hope this blog and my photos have helped demystify some of the steps. I, for one, am a complete novice when it comes to the more complicated pastries and I think the struggles I have had with those recipes could have been alleviated by more detailed instructions or photos. I find myself wishing she had anticipated the hard parts and included tips. I plan on using YouTube videos and tutorials to prepare me for some of the remaining recipes.
  5. What baking pans (food processor, mixer, knives, wax paper, bundt pan, etc.) do you use? I will be writing a “Ingredients, Tools, and Equipment” post next. I will do my best to keep it updated. I also plan on updating individual posts with relevant sourcing links.
  6. I need a good ______ for a _______ dinner I’m attending. Recommendations?  It’s impossible to make perfect recommendations, but here are some of my go-to MSBH recipes for different functions I attend:

Fast, easy, last-minute dessert or cookiesDouble-Chocolate Brownie Cookies or Tarte Tatin

Dessert for a fancy dinner Summer Fruit Tart (can easily be made with other fruits)

Pot-luck savory dishEaster Pie

Pot-luck dessertSlab Pie or Sour Cherry Lattice Cobbler

Hostess gift / Gift for neighbor Banana Bread, Gingersnaps, or Torta Sbrisolona

Brunch main dishTomato Tart (if you’re tired of quiche!)

Vegan – Lemon Ginger Scones (use vegetable-based shortening instead of butter)

Slab Pie

[You can find the recipe for Slab Pie Pâte Brisée right here.  You can find the recipe for Slab Pie on Martha’s website right here. And finally, here’s why I do not include the recipes in my posts.]

Great recipe! Pretty quick and easy and the results, while simple, are quite impressive.

You start with a special recipe for Slab Pie Pâte Brisée which is very similar to Pâte brisée, I think it just makes a bigger batch. In fact, it’s almost more than one food processor can handle. (This is the food processor I use.)

Once the food processor has done its work, the dough is worked into two rectangles, one slightly larger than the other. These are wrapped and chilled.

The recipe is for one large 18″ x 13″ pie but I opted to make two smaller pies (about 12″ x 7″) using two different fruits. So once I had my two rectangles, I halved each of them so I’d have a bottom crust and top crust for two separate pies.

These are rolled out and placed in dry pans. (My favorite rolling pin.)

Fruit is prepared with a basic sugar mixture and poured into the pie shell. I opted to make one strawberry and one peach pie. The MSBH recipe’s first recommendation is for sour cherries, which would be awesome, but after two years of looking for them everywhere – even frozen – I had to give up and go with a different fruit choice. But I honestly think any type of pie fruit would be great in this recipe.

The top piece of dough is rolled out and placed on top of the fruit, the edges folded and crimped.

The top is brushed with a cream wash and pricked with little holes. Sanding sugar is optional but I highly recommend it. It is one of those little touches that goes a long way.

Then into the oven to bake. I had some juice leak out but otherwise they baked up beautifully. (Stack-able cooling racks.)

The best part about these pies is how easy they are to slice and serve. They would be perfect for a summer potluck or cookout.

I somehow had the idea to stack two different pieces, creating this pretty layer pie! You could get really creative with this and make some truly impressive dessert plates.

As for flavor and texture, it was delicious and perfect. The MSBH’s pie crust recipes are great and seem to be pretty foolproof. There’s nothing new or exciting going on here: it’s a basic fruit pie. But sometimes a basic fruit pie is just the thing, you know?

Have you made the Slab Pie from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook? If so, let me know what you thought in the comments!

Lemon Curd Cake

[I could not find this recipe on Martha’s website to link to, although there are lots of recipes for lemon curd, sour cream cakes, and frosting so you could probably poke around there and figure something out.  Here’s why I don’t include the recipes in my posts.]

I love just about anything baked with lemon and this cake is certainly no exception. It’s wonderful.  It’s also very, very lemony. So if you don’t like tartness in general or lemon in particular, you may come to a very different conclusion.

Sour cream, lemon juice, lemon zest, other cake ingredients. What’s not to love.

The batter was very easy to make and lovely to work with. (This attachment is similar to my mixer paddle that has a flexible blade that will clean the sides of the bowl as you mix.)

And it baked up perfectly! I’m sorry I didn’t get a shot of the baked cakes.

Each of the two cakes is halved, yielding four layers.

Some of that mind-blowing lemon curd goes in between each layer. The curd is the only thing between each layer of cake.

The frosting is a lemon version of the MSBH’s Swiss Meringue Buttercream.  This frosting – the Swiss Meringue Buttercream – is an absolute dream to work with. Making it gets a little involved but you end up with the fluffiest, creamiest, smoothest, most wonderful frosting.  To make this lemon version, you just add some of the lemon curd and stir it all together.

A crumb layer of frosting is applied and the cake is chilled before the final frosting is applied.

The recipe does not talk about this but once all the frosting was applied, I used a clean offset spatula dipped in hot water to smooth the frosting, making it look a little more “finished.”  I think I learned about this from one of Martha’s baking videos, although I don’t remember exactly. You just lightly drag the wet spatula over the frosting.  Wipe it off before dipping it back in the water but leave it wet to drag across the frosting.

The recipe then instructs you to use the remaining lemon curd to decorate the cake. It says to use a parchment paper piping tool but I knew that would be far, far beyond my ability.  I opted for a plastic Ziploc bag. I think the parchment paper tool would have created better looking decorations, certainly. And I will use one before this project is over. But this cake was not the cake for that, you guys. This cake was not the cake.

The use of layered pieces of parchment paper to shield your cakestand while decorating is a tip I definitely remember getting from one of Martha’s videos and she also mentions it in the MSBH.  It’s so brilliant. You just slip the paper out when finished and voila, the cakestand is clean and tidy without having to transfer the cake from somewhere else.

The decor is amateurish but I still kind of like it.

Per the instructions, you make a double batch of lemon curd for this cake but I had nearly 2 cups leftover. I think you could get away with making just 50% more.  Not that I minded having extra…

Okay, so like I said this cake is amazing. The cake part is moist and delicious, the curd is beyond-a-doubt incredible, and the frosting will knock your socks off. It also looks lovely and held up well for several days.  It is quite lemon-y and I can see some people being overwhelmed by the tartness that comes through in every bite. But those people should just get over it and love this cake for all that it is. Another delightful summer dessert that will surely impress a cookout crowd or picnic companion.

[I could not find this recipe on Martha’s website to link to.  Here’s why I don’t include the recipes in my posts.]

Okay, so. This is the beautiful layer cake that Martha is presenting in the cover photo of the MSBH.  The results of my first attempt are displayed above. From the top layer up, mine is lovely. The bottom three layers, however, leave a lot to be desired. I don’t know what went awry in the cake baking step of this recipe, but I clearly did something very wrong.

Also, it should be mentioned yet again, I am not so good at the cakes to begin with. In fact, when I finish the “Cakes” chapter of the MSBH, I think I will hold a poll here where people can vote on my “ugliest cake.” There will be some doozies, I guarantee it. This one here may very well be in the running.

You start out with a whole bunch of eggs, egg yolks, sugar, vanilla, and salt which is whipped together until thick.

A mixture of flour and cornstarch is added and just mixed in. There is no leavening agent like baking soda or baking powder. Then vegetable oil finishes the batter.

The flour gunked up at the bottom of my whisk and I didn’t notice this until after I had added the vegetable oil. I think this might have been what most adversely affected my cakes. I dug the gunk out and remixed it in as well as I could.

The batter goes into two round pans and then it’s baked.

The cakes baked up beautifully, or so I thought. When I removed them from the oven they were puffy and golden and delightful, although they did smell a little eggy and looked too bubbly.

The cakes quickly deflated like souffles and what remained were weird spongey fungus-looking things.  Hideous!

My morale was even more deflated than the cakes were. I really do feel a bit defeated when things don’t turn out. I hate to waste the ingredients and the time. I especially dislike how much it rattles my confidence to take on the more difficult cake recipes waiting for me later in this project.

These cakes were certainly salvageable, but I wish they had turned out better.

After the cakes cooled, I prepared my berries by washing them and made my whipped cream. The MSBH says you can add the insides of a vanilla bean to the whipped cream if you desire and you should! You should desire to do this! It makes the whipped cream so much better. (I left some of the strawberries with their hulls to use on the top of the cake to make it prettier.)

Okay so now it’s just a matter of assembling the layer cake.  Each round is sliced in half horizontally and one layer is placed on the cake stand.

It’s spread with a quarter of the whipped cream and topped with the berries.

Here’s something I learned: err on the side of using more of the berries rather than less. Really crowd them on there and get them all the way to edge, along with the whipped cream. I didn’t do this on my first layer and it doesn’t look very good. I did do this with subsequent layers and they look much better.

Even though it looks like I used more than enough berries and got my whipped cream close enough to the edge in the photos above and below, I really didn’t.

The next few layers are done in the same manner – whipped cream and berries and cake, whipped cream and berries and cake. Pretty simple.

And then of course the final layer of fruit at the top should look the best.  I found that halving the strawberries and putting several of them down first and then adding different berries a few at a time helped layer them in way that wasn’t too purposeful, but still looked nice. This step took a lot more care and attention than I would have guessed!

Okay, so let us revisit what the final cake looked like. I’d rather not, but let’s.

Pretty wonky. Also very tall and a little unruly. When it came time to slice it, I was just like, “This is not going to end well.”

Honestly, even the perfectly symmetrical version on the cover of the MSBH had to have been a beast to portion into slices. I also found it telling that there is no sliced photo of this cake in the book.

And, lo and behold, slicing made an even bigger mess of an already sloppy cake.

In hindsight, I should have used my angel food cake knife to slice it rather than a regular thin chef’s knife.  I really do think that would have helped avoid the cake smooshing down on itself.

One thing I definitely concluded after slicing and then eating some of this cake is that if you’re planning on serving it at a cookout or picnic (which I was until I realized what a nightmare it would have been) it should just be constructed as a trifle. Just cube or tear the cake into pieces and layer with the berries and whipped cream.

Granted, if this is baked and assembled well, it would be darn impressive. But a trifle would taste exactly the same and be so much easier to contain, transport, and serve – not to mention a lot faster. So that’s something to keep in mind.

The taste is quite good, but how can you go wrong with fresh berries and vanilla bean whipped cream in the summer??? The cake texture and flavor is lovely, even my ill-fated results. It’s velvety and vanilla-y and ideally complements the whipped cream and fruit. Indeed, the major flavor comes from the berries in every bite. Perfect for summer and utterly delicious.

Coconut Lime Lace Tuiles

[I could not find this recipe on Martha’s website to link to.  Here’s why I don’t include the recipes in my posts.]

These are great little summer cookies. There is just a little bit of flour in these and I think a non-gluten flour like almond flour or coconut flour could be used instead making these a gluten-free treat!

The main dry ingredient is unsweetened shredded coconut.

You start with a simple mix of brown sugar, corn syrup, and butter. This is all melted together…

…and poured in with your other ingredients which include a lot of lime zest.

Then it’s just a matter of mixing everything together.

These are very similar to the Chocolate Florentines I made quite some time ago. I revisited that entry before baking these and the tips I mentioned there came in handy, particularly the tip about making the cookies small because they spread out so much while baking.

So I started out using a teeny tiny cookie scoop.

One thing I noticed with the first batch that went into the oven was that some didn’t completely flatten. There would be this weird mound in the middle. I never ran into this problem with the Chocolate Florentines.

So for the next tray I smooshed them a little with my fingers before baking. This worked – no more middle mounds!

After baking, the cookies are almost immediately transferred to a rolling pin to cool – this gives them an interesting curved form, like a Pringles potato chip.

It doesn’t take them long to cool – just five minutes or so.  They are pretty greasy from the butter, although they do dry out after 20 minutes or so.

I experimented with some bigger portions and while I didn’t experience the same problems as I did with the Chocolate Florentines, the resulting cookies did end up too big and a little unruly.

I formed some of the bigger ones over tartlet pans to create little cups. I loved the way they turned out!

I will say that smaller is definitely better for this recipe. Unless you’re going to make bowls like I did above, stick with a teaspoon-sized portion of dough.  This will yield individual cookies that are about two-inches across, which is perfect for how sweet they are.

These taste a lot like candy but the coconut and the lime really come through.  They are very brittle but then become quite chewy as you chew them.  They were okay by themselves, but they were absolute dynamite paired with some vanilla ice cream. I would argue that this is the only way these tuiles should be eaten! Crunchy, sweet, and citrus-y paired with creamy vanilla ice cream – I have not had a better summer treat!

Pecan Apricot Torte

[You can find the recipe for this torte on Martha’s site right here. It’s not an exact version of the one in the MSBH, but it is very close. The MSBH recipe has more extensive instructions about mixing the torte ingredients. Here’s why I do not include recipes with my posts.]

This is another recipe for a rustic baked dessert. It was pretty easy, although the ingredient mixing requires folding and adding dry to wet gradually, so do be prepared to put forth some effort and take your time. It’s not a recipe for anyone in a hurry. I also found it to be frustratingly messy.

Once the dough is mixed, the baking, cooking of the filling, and assembly are quite easy and you end up with a unique and interesting torte that, I imagine, most of your friends and loved ones will have never tried before.

Toasted, ground pecans make up a good portion of the dry ingredients. I thought this was fantastic.

Eggs yolks are beat with sugar and then whipped egg whites are folded in to comprise the wet ingredients.

The MSBH does a really good job of explaining the process of incorporating the egg yolks with the egg whites. The instructions are procedural, clear, and concise. My one tip – when you get to where you’re combining wet with dry, use the biggest bowl you own! It makes the folding so much easier.

Once the ingredients are mixed, they go into a prepared springform pan to bake.

My torte fell while baking, but it wasn’t too catastrophic even though that crater is massive!

The baked torte releases from the pan beautifully and despite the crater in the middle of mine, I still had a lot of height to work with.

While the torte cooled, I cooked the filling which is simply a combination of dried apricots (one of my favorite foods ever) with apricot preserves. You will need to rehydrate the apricots first by simply cooking in some boiling water.

The torte is halved (I also trimmed the top to make it level where it had fallen).

The filling is simply spooned on top of the bottom half; the MSBH instructs you to allow it to spill over the sides. Then the other half is placed on top (bottom-side up). The final touch is to dust with powdered sugar.

Once the torte is in the oven, everything else was really easy.

I honestly did not enjoy this dessert, however. I love apricots and I love pecans, but this was just too dry and the torte and the filling didn’t really seem to want to go together – neither in taste or texture. I think it is very pretty and I really wanted to like it, but alas, I did not. Nobody did, honestly, and we ended up tossing more than half of it out after four or five days.

Even ice cream didn’t help much.

A Few Random Things

Hey all, just a few random things. Posting has been light as it always is in the summer but I did process a bunch of photos last night and will write and schedule those posts tonight and this weekend I’m going to do the unthinkable: turn on my oven and bake at least one (but hopefully two or three) MSBH recipes!

A few people have emailed me about the Lemon Curd Cake and how perfect it is for summer, and after making the MSBH’s Fruit Curd Tartlets a while back, I believe it since both recipes use the MSBH’s fruit curd (totally amazing stuff).

I am not looking forward to what the baking will do to my house – I’ve literally taken to using my toaster oven in the garage because even it creates too much heat. My little window air conditioner cannot keep up!

This is how I bake my beloved sweet potatoes in the summer – in the garage with the door open. I suppose I could get a grill, but for now this works.

And I had a technician come and give me a quote for putting in central air. It will be pricey, and even he thinks that the past few years have been “flukes” for Laramie in terms of heat (most homes in Laramie are not built with any air conditioning/central air because traditionally our summers were quite mild in terms of heat) but I’m not convinced.

This is the third year where we’ve had consistent 88°-95ºF days. With my luck, I’ll fork over the money for a unit and the cruel universe will allow Laramie summers to return to their sub-80ºF temps. But either way, I’d at least be able to bake comfortably!

Guess what’s super great as a fruit cobbler topping? The MSBH’s recipe for Graham Cracker dough! It’s dry and crumbly but still buttery and delicious and goes great with summer fruit like rhubarb, strawberries, and peaches.  I highly recommend it this way.  I bake the fruit part about 20 minutes alone and then crumble the dough on top for the last 30 minutes or so.

I’ve tried this whipped cream stabilizer from the King Arthur Flour company a few times now and it’s not worth using. It makes the whipped cream taste a little weird – kinda chemically – and gives it the slightest “chewy” texture. Plus it only half-works. My whipped cream didn’t melt in the fridge after about an hour like it would usually do, but it also didn’t stay fluffy. It turned into a thick Cool-Whip consistency. Not good. Give it a pass, says me.