Spasmodic Baking: Meringues

As a general rule of thumb, I’m not to be trusted in the kitchen. However, I’m slightly better with the oven. I sporadically bake cake and cookies and the like (you can count on it around my birthday), and it usually turns out kind of tasty. In “Spasmodic Baking”, I share recipes I’ve done.

I recently had that arbitrary itch I get to bake, so here I went again. It was my friend’s birthday, but there was another friend who needed a pick-me-up, and in general, giving food to friends is fun. So there I went.

Many years ago, I tasted hard meringues at a party, and I fell in love (they are kind of magical, aren’t they?). I decided to try to make them myself for the next party I went to. It was a disaster. I didn’t bargain for how much time it actually takes to make, wasted a horrible amount of eggs whipping non-pure egg whites, and ended up with rather skimpy, half-wet sugar-things to take the party. I forgot about meringues after that.

For some reason, as is happening to me recently, this random memory popped back into my head with no particular evident stimulus, but it’s nice to know that my brain still remembers treasurable things even if I can’t remember them. At any rate, I decided to make meringues.

The four things you need to know about making meringues are that they are very low cost in that barely any materials are required, very high cost in that a lot of time must be invested in order to make them, the instructions NEED (in all caps) to be followed to a T otherwise you won’t have meringues, and that they are tasty beyond belief.

The ratios I report are for a large party amount of meringues (I believe I gave ~4 each to around 12 friends; some got more than 4 (birthday and such) and I made two sizes, small and large), but if you want less, just reduce the number of eggs and sugar proportionally (3 eggs -> 3/4 cup sugar, 2 eggs -> 1/2 cup sugar, etc.).

What you need:

  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract
  • a beater
  • two baking sheets
  1. Separate the egg whites into a mixer bowl. You MUST not have a TRACE of egg yolk, or they will not whip right. If you are not confident about your ability to crack eggs safely, crack them into a separate container first and then add them to the bowl. (Unfortunately, I was too lazy and wasted two eggs cracking them straight into the bowl; I got a bit of yolk and had to start over.)
  2. Beat the egg whites until you have soft, stiff peaks (raising the whisk(s) out will make little points that slowly fade instead of slopping like liquid).
  3. Add the sugar 1 tbsp at a time, completely dissolving the sugar in before adding more. Once all the sugar is used, make sure the mixture is smooth and not grainy.
  4. Add the vanilla and mix in.
  5. Line the two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  6. Here you have an option to use spoons to put balls on the sheets, or pipe the meringues on. I chose to put the mixture in quart-size bags and pipe with just a simple infinitesimal corner cut off. If you want to be more fancy, you can do a big star piping tip.
  7. You can really pipe in whatever shape/size you want! I just made traditionally-sized ‘dollop’ things with their little Hershey Kiss-style pointy top. Something else you can do is mix in food coloring to do more than just the regular off-white color. As mentioned, I piped out of quart bags. I had to use two, and I colored each a different color.
  8. Now, with the oven at 225, put the sheets in for around 90 minutes. You are drying the meringues, not baking them. Make sure to give them all the time they need. Simply because I was paranoid, I stayed near the oven the whole time. Once they start showing signs of crack lines, or generally being dried out, you can turn off the oven. Leave them in there for another 15 minutes or so to continue drying and cool a bit. You need to have complete patience here.
  9. Once they’ve been out of the oven for 5 minutes or so, they should come off the parchment paper well.

If your meringues start browning in the oven, that’s your option–whether you would like browned meringues or not. If you don’t want brown meringues, turn the oven off if you’ve fulfilled most of the 90 minutes. Otherwise, I’m not quite sure what to tell you–my meringues did not brown, and neither was I going for browned.

In terms of storage, I decided to go for in plastic bags in the fridge overnight. I think really anything would be alright, as long as they’re protected from moisture. Even if they are, I believe they can be re-dried.

I made my own instruction set by combining previous knowledge and the best advice from approximately four internet recipes and two book recipes. If you would like to make variants or just need general comprehensive meringue advice, this recipe was very elaborate.

These are really fun to make and so enjoyable to eat. They can be very eloquent, or just a fun party dessert. Since I had very little homework that night and had the time budget to spend on this, it was so worth having some myself and giving out smiles to some of my friends as well. Perhaps I’ll do it again soon.

Sidenote: impatient, forgetful me did not take pictures. Hopefully you know what they look like; if you don’t, the internet is always there for you.

Spasmodic Baking: Meringues

Spasmodic Baking: Simple Sugar Cookies

As a general rule of thumb, I’m not to be trusted in the kitchen. However, I’m slightly better with the oven. I sporadically bake cake and cookies and the like (you can count on it around my birthday), and it usually turns out kind of tasty. In “Spasmodic Baking”, I share recipes I’ve done.

A couple weeks ago now, it was my grade’s turn to help bring snacks to youth ministry. Normally, I would be one of those majority who doesn’t make any effort and just comes and enjoys the snacks, but for some reason I felt like I should bring something, and then of course I was baking.

I really wanted to bake, but it was already giving of more time than was comfortable. So I decided to make the simplest cookies I could. Like it-can’t-get-any-easier than this simple. Google found me this. Off I went.

A disclaimer note: Of course, as it is with most “super easy” recipes, beware, tis only so for those who know how to bake. ‘Beginner’ and ‘easy’ are very separate, and personally, until I gained some experience baking, any recipe advertised as ‘super quick’ or ‘easy’ wasn’t actually. You may bumble if you’re not familiar with basic baking things, but you can ask someone. Hopefully your mom knows.

Ingredients (all things I wanted to already be in my kitchen, and were):

  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 sticks of butter, at room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

The only ‘difficult’ thing here is the creaming step, and I’ll say what I’ve said before: room temperature butter is very important. If you must, you can soften it in the microwave for a bit beforehand.

The oven goes at 375 F.

  1. Combine the flour, baking soda, and baking powder in a bowl.
  2. Cream together the butter and sugar in another bowl.
  3. Beat the egg and vanilla into the butter/sugar.
  4. Blend in the dry ingredients bit by bit (not all at once).
  5. Roll into little balls and bake on ungreased foil for around 10 minutes or until golden. The tops will crack open prettily.
  6. Once they come out of the oven, let them cool on the sheets for a bit (this is important or they’ll come apart) and then let them cool more on cooling racks.

For some reason, I had some really small, tiny cookies because I was far underestimating the size of cookies. I guess I was trying to make as many as possible since the youth ministry is big, but I went too small for a couple of batches. I also had some browner ones and lighter ones; it got really varied because I forgot about one batch in the oven for two too many minutes.

Since I was just bringing it to share, I ended up piling them all on paper plates, and they received a captioning card something like, “Sugar Cookies (small or big, cooked or cooked a little more, solid or cookie cracked, all the same)” (they all did taste the same).

Due to different things, I didn’t come out to have snacks until way after everyone else was released to, but when I finally came out, the cookies were completely gone, plates and all. All I was hoping was people would like them, and it sounds like they were? I couldn’t quite watch them go or see to know, but my friend said when she went to have one they were gone. Left to guess how good they were, I suppose.

Spasmodic Baking: Simple Sugar Cookies

Spasmodic Baking: Lemon Bars

As a general rule of thumb, I’m not to be trusted in the kitchen. However, I’m slightly better with the oven. I sporadically bake cake and cookies and the like (you can count on it around my birthday), and it usually turns out kind of tasty. In “Spasmodic Baking”, I share recipes I’ve done.

This week, I had a strong, sudden need to bake something. I suppose I was thinking of trying to find a recipe that could be my recipe, something simple that I could just whip up at any time when potluck-type things bloom out of nowhere. However, I subsequently decided that was a bad idea, limiting myself to just one recipe when there is an endless amount of them to try. I don’t think I’m going to find a stick to a regular recipe any time soon, but nevertheless I still wanted to bake this weekend since there was a spaghetti dinner for my cross country team.

I literally just started looking through baking recipes on Food Network to see what there was–I was looking for something not too complicated, but tasty, maybe a cookie, I didn’t know. Eventually I decided on lemon bars.

This version is by Ina Garten, and just as a summary: the crust is mainly butter and the filling is mainly eggs, with some flour, sugar, and lemons in the middle there somewhere. It personally took me a while to make (forgetting about room temperature ingredients, trying to use a beater instead of a mixer, poking the heck out of lemons in order to squeeze them), mainly because I am not a very techniqued baker. But since I at least have some baking experience, and there weren’t too many ingredients, it came together, in time.

Ingredients:

  • For the crust:
    • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
    • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
    • 2 cups flour
    • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • For the filling:
    • 6 large eggs at room temperature
    • 3 cups granulated sugar
    • 4 lemons
      • 2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
      • 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
    • 1 cup flour
    • (optional) confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 large bowls (or 1 bowl and the willingness to wash and dry it in the middle)
  • method of creaming butter with sugar (I was inefficient and used an electric beater and a chopstick)
  • measuring cups and spoons
  • whisk
  • 9 by 13 pan
  • board (a large cutting board or mixing board will do)
  • knife
  • zester
  • measuring cup

Some very helpful tips: Get the butter and eggs to room temperature ahead plenty of time, probably at least an hour in advance. Aids in lemon squeezing are cool, too, if you have them. Otherwise get yourself a lot of time.

As I said last time I baked, I don’t heat the oven at the beginning because I never prep quickly enough. But when you’re ready to preheat it, put it at 350 F. For this particular instance, I warmed it up in the middle of the filling prep–after the ingredients were readied and before I mixed them together. Do it as you like, according to your own speed at kitchen-y stuff.

  1. Cream the butter and sugar together. I used an electric beater, but here’s some advice on doing it otherwise. The key here to not taking 20 minutes on this step is to have the butter completely at room temperature.
  2. Add the flour and salt and finish mixing together. If your beater/mixer and butter were cooler than mine, keep going with that. After I finally got fed up with my beater (and the fact that I hadn’t put the butter out ahead of time), I just got in there with my hands and finish mixing it.
  3. Finish kneading on a board, and then form into a ball-ish lump. Press it into your pan, covering the bottom evenly and making a ~1/2 inch border up the sides. No foil or nonstick spray required, it starts as quite unattaching butter and ends as a baked crust. Stick it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. You can keep going, in the meantime.
  4. Zest and squeeze the lemons. I chose four large lemons and zested and squeezed every last drop of life out of every one of them, and made the 2 tbsp and 1 cup exactly. (Also, without a lemon juicer or anything, poking to exhaust the juice out of these created another 20 minute step for me. Be more techniqued than me, friends!)
  5. Combine the flour, sugar, eggs, and lemons with a whisk until sufficiently combined.
  6. Whenever 30 minutes in the fridge has elapsed for the crust, if it happens during steps 4 and 5, or whether you have to kill some time after 5 to finish, stick it in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until it is “very slightly browned”. The moment I saw any color on it, I took it out. Let it cool down a little bit. (Leave the oven on.)
  7. Pour the filling into the crust. It’s okay (and good) if the edges of the crust disappear under the flood.
  8. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Let it cool, and cut it up into triangles. Dust it with confectioner’s sugar. (If you choose to put the sugar on before you move them to the serving platter, like I did, it’s likely a lot will fall right back off.)

My batch tasted quite good right off the pan. The crust was beautiful and crumbly, and the filling was quite, quite sweet (on the some-people-will-not-be-able-to-stand-it but anyone-who-doesn’t-detest-sugar-won’t-shy-away-from-it side). One slight downfall was that at the very end of eating it, in the back of your throat, that lemon is still biting hard–a lemon type of acid bite, not a pleasant acid bite. It’s a small price to pay, though, to eat the rest of it, besides confirming that fresh lemons were indeed just used.

Most of the edge pieces had a bit of a brown edge, since the filling contracted a little while baking and exposed the pale crust to the atrocities of direct oven exposure. I didn’t notice any difference in taste, but it did mean a little bit of cutting around the edges of the pan to get it loose (it didn’t stick at all to the bottom).

I was able to cut it into a total of 48 small triangles, and take approximately 2/3 to the spaghetti dinner, where a good amount went (there were still a few when I left). After I brought the plate back home and refilled it with the rest of the squares, there were a scant few left. Combine that with Dad getting to the plate between when I arranged them and charged the camera to take pictures and I don’t have very impressive pictures, but there was approximately 3 to 4 times as much as there are depicted.

A random note is that the filling baked into a beautiful firm top, so the bars are easy to grasp top and bottom and still have the sticky, jelly sweetness in between.

Spasmodic Baking: Lemon Bars

Spasmodic Baking: Cinnasugar Monkey Bread

As a general rule of thumb, I’m not to be trusted in the kitchen. However, I’m slightly better with the oven. I sporadically bake cake and cookies and the like (you can count on it around my birthday), and it usually turns out kind of tasty. In “Spasmodic Baking”, I share recipes I’ve done.

Due to my ties with food science and thus, baking (thanks Science Olympiad!), I try to keep my skills reasonably sharp. Thus, it’s become a tradition for me to bake something for my birthday. Around a month before my birthday happens, I keep an eye out for recipes.

This year, I saw a tweet from Food Network for a monkey bread recipe. The description sounded too delectable not to try, and it was nowhere near complicated. I was able to create this sugar-cakeish-thing in about 1.5 hours the day before my birthday.

Monkey bread is called so because it is made of small morsels which can be pulled off with your fingers. This one is coated in cinnasugar (cinnamon and sugar) and boils down some caramel too after baking. The point is to be very sweet (not overwhelming, of course), so if in doubt, lean on the more sugary side.

This was very quick and easy to make; I did it as ungracefully as a non-baker can, but if you’re cooler than me, you don’t have to resort to microwaves and the like. If you’re especially talented with the oven and have more time than I do, you may be able to create your own dough instead of getting canned stuff.

What you need:

  • 2 16oz cans of biscuit dough (I used buttermilk; if they’re out of the regular kind, honey is fine)
  • a generous 1.5 sticks of unsalted butter (12 tbsp)
  • a generous 2 cups of sugar
  • a generous 1 tbsp of ground cinnamon
  • a 10-inch Bundt pan (I don’t own one, but I was able to borrow one. One of your acquaintances probably has one if you don’t)

The oven goes at 350 degrees. Preheat it whenever you feel moved to do so; every time I’ve baked in my life, I never started the oven when a recipe directs me to, since I’m slower at prepping than the recipe expects. The rack can just be in the middle-ish of the oven.

  1. Melt the butter in a medium-size bowl, using a microwave. Some tips: go slowly, use low heat settings and plenty of patience.
  2. Combine the sugar and cinnamon thoroughly in another bowl.
  3. Coat the inside of the pan with a thin layer of melted butter.
  4. Pop open the biscuit dough and separate the biscuits. Cut each into quarters. Now you have all the little pieces that will constitute the cake.
  5. Coat each biscuit piece in melted butter, and then in sugar. I kept one hand in each bowl to minimize mess-making. As you finish coating each piece, add it to the Bundt pan. You don’t have to pack them in, but press them snugly into the crevices.
  6. When you’re done, the dough will fill around 3/4 of the pan. Cover it with foil and pop it into the oven for 35 minutes.
  7. Take it out and uncover the pan, and put it back in for 15 minutes more. When it’s done, loosen the cake and flip it out on to a plate.

It was a big hit. The friends I shared it with were quickly excited about the idea of eating it and immediately started making up jokes about the ‘monkey’ part of the name. It disappeared quickly and somebody even called it “dangerous[ly tasty]”. For something so simple, it wasn’t bad. I usually don’t reuse recipes, due to me always wanting to try a new recipe (the infinite amount of them out there!) but if I ever decide to repeat something, I definitely will do this one again.

Spasmodic Baking: Cinnasugar Monkey Bread