The Great Nailed It Bake-Off

My roommate, Annie, and I LOVE to binge baking shows. Something about the thrill of watching people create delicious (or sometimes not at all delicious) baked goods satisfies us both to no end. After comparing herself multiple times to the struggling contestants on the Netflix show Nailed It, Annie decided it was time to actually put her skills to the test. Not knowing at all what she was in for, she asked me to create a baking challenge for her to complete in our apartment. Let’s just say I didn’t hold back.

So, after hours of brainstorming and of culinary preparation, last week at 10:30 a.m. we kicked off the Memorial Day “Great Nailed It Bake Off” in our apartment. What follows is a summary of the saga that ensued throughout the day…

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Annie surprised herself with how nervous she was, but she suited up for the day nevertheless. Initially hating this apron, she’s grown quite fond of it over the course of  this year. She was ready.

The first task was revealed: Royal Iced Steelers Cookies. She only hesitated for a moment before diving into the kitchen.

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Her confidence only grew over the next hour and a half, during which she sped through the challenge, enthusiastically pulling cookies out of the oven and inserting musical interludes. (She created three perfectly tailored playlists specifically for this occasion).

She finished with a hefty five minutes to spare, and it appeared that she actually had indeed “nailed” it. IMG_3589

Unfortunately for Annie, who’d continuously stored her cookies in our freezer between layers of icing, I withheld an important bit of information: royal icing does not set in cold temperatures.

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So the cookies didn’t look quite as…perky, a few minutes later. But this didn’t endanger Annie’s spirit. She was proud of her success–and of the job she’d done on our kitchen–and welcomed the next challenge.

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That is, until she found out what the next challenge was. Round 2, inspired by The Great British Bake Off’s “Technical” challenges, was an apple galette. Not just any apple galette, but a Warm Apple Galette with Spiced Toffee Drizzle from @thebakefeed.

 

 

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https://www.bakefromscratch.com/warm-apple-galette-spiced-toffee-drizzle/

A galette is essentially a pie without a pie pan: a sheet of pastry folded around a fruit filling and baked. Annie did not know this, nor did she have a picture to help her. Needless to say, her enthusiasm dropped drastically when she discovered the evil I’d unleashed upon her.

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A lot less singing and a lot more grunting occurred this round. But, after a frightening mandolin slicing technique that threatened the safety of her fingers, a hilarious over-abundance of apples, a personal rendition of the “fold and pleat” method in the recipe that she called the “hug and squish”, and a cooling technique that involved walking through our apartment with the galette, she presented a final product. (On our personal “gingham altar” in honor of the show)

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Despite undercooked pastry and a soggy bottom that would have sent Paul Hollywood into panic, it tasted pretty darn good. Perhaps my favorite part of the round was when she engineered a tool involving a spoon, paper towel, and tape to sop up the leakage (from the 5937397 pounds of apples she’d tried to shove into one circle of pastry). She posed with her invention after finishing the challenge.

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Nothing, though, could prepare Annie for what I had in store for the finale. I wanted challenge three to be something dear to her heart, something that would prompt her to muster up all the baking energy she had left left in her. So, for her “Showstopper” challenge, I decided to have Annie create this…

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Toothless Cake!! The product of three hours of prep work the day before, I unveiled this cake as the final element of Annie’s day. Her reaction did not disappoint.

She was ecstatic. When the timer began, though, her joy instantly transformed into a focus that was unmatched by the rest of the day. I watched as she silently glided through the kitchen with a laser gaze, fueled by the image of her beloved DreamWorks dragon.

With her intensity, I knew I could look forward to something grand at the end of the day. However, when I came back to the kitchen 2 1/2 hours later for the reveal, I had no idea just how spectacular the creation was that awaited me:

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It was ADORABLE. Her cake, that we came to lovely refer to as The Bat, exceeded every expectation I held. It was decided. Annie may have been the only contestant, but she won with this cake.

After confirming that the taste was just as spectacular as the exterior, we wrapped up our baking extravaganza. Six hours of baking behind her, Annie was exhausted, overheated, and dyed a vibrant shade of fuchsia, but so very proud.

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We both crashed that night in sugar comas, thoroughly satisfied with the result of our little event–it was an experience we truly will never forget. And we haven’t brought ourselves to throw away the bat just yet; he greets us with those bug eyes every time we enter the dining room.

Annie is plotting her revenge on me in the form of a Chopped themed challenge. Stay tuned 🙂

If you’re ever in need of a little spontaneous fun in your household, perhaps consider the possibilities that lie in the kitchen. I promise it WON’T disappoint.

There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God…

Ecclesiastes 2:24

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Blending with Tea: Three Smoothies!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted any healthy recipes, but these were much needed. After a highly emotional weekend with ample occasions of eating my feelings, my body was in desperate need of something fresh! Plus, I had a full container of kiwis left from some kombucha I flavored last week that were desperately calling to be utilized (ha– I really do sound like a healthy blogger this week!)

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When I say I ate my feelings, though, I’m not referring to a nice indulgent dessert, a proper “treat yourself” evening. I’m talking about pajamas, ugly crying, graham crackers and tub frosting. That’s exactly what my roommate and I experienced on Friday–it was the night our other roommate Allie, our best friend, got married. We’d spent the entire day with her and her mom, helping her prepare for the ceremony and assembling the bouquet and doing whatever else needed to be done. It was such a sweet day, and we were both incredibly thankful to have been a part of it. I’ve blogged in the past about the preparation for Allie’s wedding day: it had been a long time in the making, and I was fortunate enough to watch every step leading up to it. I was sitting with Allie on her living room floor when she initially told me about some guy named Kenny she really wanted to get to know. I was there the night she sent her first text, helping her engineer the perfect message before she hit send. She’d come over to my apartment to figure out what to wear on their first date, and I’d enjoyed dinner with them minutes before he proposed. I watched them get to know each other, fall in love, and make the decision to spend their lives growing in that love for each other and for Christ. My best friend, the one who used to giggle with me about crushes over sushi and Disney movies, became a wife this weekend.

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So, needless to say, after tearfully watching our best friend drive away from our porch and into her new chapter of life that night, Annie and I couldn’t race to the pantry fast enough.

Our recovery time wasn’t long, though, because after staying in an Airbnb for a night, the newlyweds returned just in time for us to drive them to the airport and say goodbye–for good. They were heading off on their honeymoon and then directly to California for the summer. I struggled to hold it together during the car ride, Allie’s arm tightly around my shoulders in the backseat. I became frustrated with my own mind, which decided to eagerly bring back every wonderful memory I’d ever shared with her to add to the sting of the occasion. We all laughed and chatted, filling up any silence that arose or tears that threatened to arrive early. When Annie asked what airline they were flying, I felt an emptiness unfold in my stomach with the realization that it was actually happening. She gathered her bags as the car came to a stop and picked the perfect airport mask. I followed her out onto the sidewalk, and the four of us tallied up their luggage before initiating the inevitably lengthy series of hugs: Allie and me, Annie and Kenny, me and Kenny, Allie and Annie, Allie and Annie and me, all four of us.

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You can always tell when it’s the last one, though. I’ve experienced enough goodbyes to know the feeling–the hug that’s just a little bit tighter and a little bit longer, the one that has to make up for all the hugs you suddenly realize you won’t have after it. Well, we eventually got to that hug, Allie and me. Another thing about goodbyes is that they instantly make you aware, in one moment, of everything you wish you had said or could say now to someone, all at the same time. As I hugged her, I wished that I would have told Allie more often how her friendship is the deepest I’ve ever experienced outside of family. How she challenges me, loves me, cares for me, and teaches me more than I could ever explain. How I have such admiration for her pursuit of the Lord, her heart for the  students she works with, her selflessness. How she cried with me and laughed with me and held me through my lowest moments. How she doesn’t have even a fraction of an idea just how beautiful she is. How, regardless of where our lives take us, I’ll never forget the experiences we walked through together throughout these last four years. IMG_3266

But I couldn’t say anything in the moment, let alone all of that. Instead we both said a lot of I love you’s, blinked through our soaked eyelashes, and finally stepped apart. As I watched her walk towards the airport, away from me and Annie and a pretty hefty chapter of our lives, my heart felt just about as heavy as I’d expected. When she finally turned her gaze away, though, Allie grabbed Kenny’s arm and dropped her head onto his shoulder; and even though that painfully symbolic gesture could have felt like salt in the wound of our goodbye, it didn’t. Kenny is the reason that I was able to make it through this weekend. Allie didn’t walk away from us on her own that afternoon–she walked away clinging to a person who adores her, who loves her unconditionally, who I know without a doubt will build a life with her rooted in faith and loyalty. What more could I ask for my best friend?IMG_3211

And while that doesn’t negate the need for frosting and graham crackers, it does reassure me that, through the sadness, everything really is going to be okay. For all of those tackling goodbyes in an already difficult time, I feel for you. Know that no amount of devastation can steal your sweet memories (or your sweet frosting 🙂 ).

 

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

2 Corinthians 4:17-18

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Tea Smoothies!

Ingredients

KIWI MINT SMOOTHIE

  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1 mint tea bag (I used Twinings green mint)
  • 2 kiwis, peeled, chopped and frozen
  • 1 packet stevia
  • 1/2 cup Greek Yogurt (frozen in ice cube trays for a frozen smoothie)

BLUEBERRY PASSION SMOOTHIE

  • 1/2 cup plus 2 TBSP almond milk
  • 1 Tazo “Passion” tea bag
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1 packet stevia
  • 1/2 cup Greek Yogurt (frozen in ice cube trays for a frozen smoothie)

LOADED BERRY SMOOTHIE

  • 1/2 cup plus 2 TBSP almond milk
  • 1 Trader Joe’s “Berries and Cherries” tea bag
  • 1/2 cup frozen raspberries
  • 1 packet stevia
  • 1/2 cup Greek Yogurt (frozen in ice cube trays for a frozen smoothie)

Instructions

  1. Heat the almond milk, add the tea bag, and allow to steep until milk is cold. Squeeze out tea bag and throw away, stir the brewed milk, and refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. Blend the tea, fruit, Greek Yogurt, and stevia in a blender or Nutribullet. Add more of any ingredient as desired to taste. Enjoy!

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Chocolate Berry Cake

IMG_2690My baking process had a rather substantial hole in it this week. It’s because of the fact that, on a typical recipe development day, the first step I take before ever touching any ingredients is to call my mom. Whether it’s from my kitchen at home, on a break from work, or pacing the aisles of the grocery store, I almost never miss our routine brainstorming session. And despite how much she teases me about never actually deciding to use her suggestions (rightfully so, sometimes), she answers and excitedly offers up her ideas every single time. I can always count on our conversations to give me the kick of inspiration I need to solidify my plans. IMG_2707

You all know, however, that today is Mother’s Day. (Don’t worry, I called my mother on Mother’s Day). This is the fourth year now that I’ve had to celebrate the holiday away from the special lady herself, which means it’s the fourth time that I haven’t been able to bake something special for the occasion. Seeing as I’ll be heading home in a month, though, I decided to create a recipe this week entirely dedicated to my mom. Though it took me some time to narrow down my exact concept, the decision itself made a few things immediately clear: it should probably include some sort of fresh berries, it must involve chocolate, frosting is a vital component, and it would need to be created all by my adult self, sans my usual brainstorming phone call.

And that is how this Chocolate Berry Cake came to be. I’m not writing this blog to talk about the cake, though. This post is about the wondrous Karen Durand.

For those of you who don’t know my mom, allow me to give you a little idea of who she is. For starters, she’s beautiful–blue eyes, brown ringlets (you can tell where my hair comes from), a dental poster level smile. I thought I’d get that one out of the way first, though, because anyone can look at her and see that. What makes my mom so darn incredible are all of the things you can’t look at her and know. You might not know, for example, that she created a blessing box in front of the school where she’s principal that she fills each morning with canned goods or homemade sandwiches for anyone in need of food. Or that during some of her only hours off she volunteers at a historic site, cleaning and helping to feed animals. You probably didn’t know that, during this quarantine, she’s been making personal trips to visit every single one of her students, reading books to them from across driveways and doing cartwheels and running alongside their bikes and whatever else will make them smile. You probably don’t know that she’s invested five years worth of of time, sweat, and elbow grease (summers included) into transforming that school into something unrecognizable from what it was when she started working there–we’re talking scrubbing bathrooms, painting the entire building, landscaping, purging the basement, you name it.  You wouldn’t know from just a glance that she’s made dinner for our family every night since I was a child, regardless of how late she worked each day. Or that she calls me every day to ask how I’m doing, even if I argued with her or hurt her feelings the day before. You definitely wouldn’t know that before she became a principal, she worked at a college where she became so emotionally invested in those students and coworkers that I’m still meeting new people all the time who’s lives were changed by her kindness. Or that she’s been leaving my sister and me surprise little notes since the days when they were tucked away in our elementary lunch boxes. IMG_2700

You wouldn’t know any of this because my mom is the kind of person who has been writing daily gratitude posts on Facebook during this pandemic highlighting everyone other than herself.

Well, mom, today it’s your turn. I know that I can’t possibly enlighten those reading this blog to a point where they could understand just how amazing you are–that takes about 21 years of firsthand experience. But I hope that I can at least give them a sliver of an idea about the person you are and why I have no explanation for why I am blessed enough to be related to you. One day per year isn’t nearly enough to celebrate the person you are to me, to our family, to your kids and teachers, to this world,–and I’ve failed many a time to do enough on even the one day we get– but I want to make sure I take advantage of it this time to let you know that.

I realize that making you look at a picture of a cake you can’t eat is more borderline torture than a gift, but I thought this was the best way to celebrate for now. I hope you’re proud that I put on my big girl pants and did the whole thing by myself without our signature phone chat, but you’ll be happy to know that I hated it …you can expect a recipe call in a few days. You can also rest assured that this cake (and my face) will be in front of you in a matter of weeks. Until then, take today to relax if you can manage, and keep being your crazy amazing, talented, selfless, goofy, thoughtful, self.

I love you, Merm. Happy Mother’s Day 🙂

I thank my God every time I remember you

Philippians 1:3

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Chocolate Berry Cake

Ingredients

CHOCOLATE CAKE

  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 1 2/3 cup sugar
  • 100g chocolate (I used very sweet dark chocolate)
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 2/3 cup nonfat Greek Yogurt
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 TBSP cocoa powder
  • 1 egg plus 2 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup creme de cocoa, for soaking (optional, but highly recommended)

CHOCOLATE SWISS MERINGUE BUTTERCREAM

BERRY CHOCOLATE GANACHE

  • 1 cup mixed blackberries and raspberries
  • 2 TBSP lemon juice
  • pinch salt
  • 100g chocolate

Instructions

CAKE

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour 2 9″ cake pans.
  2. Melt chocolate and milk in a saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly. Allow to cool til room temperature or just warm. Mix in Greek Yogurt.
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment,  cream butter on medium speed until fluffy. Add in sugar gradually and continue mixing until well combined.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cocoa powder, and salt.
  5. Add egg and yolks, one at a time, mixing after each addition.
  6. Begin adding chocolate mixture and flour mixture, alternating between each and mixing after each addition until fully incorporated.
  7. Turn mixer speed up to medium  high and beat for a few seconds to ensure everything is mixed well.
  8. Split batter evenly between cake pans, and smooth with a spatula.
  9. Bake in preheated oven until a knife or toothpick comes out clean, about 28-32 minutes.
  10. Allow cakes to cool for 10 minutes in pans, and then turn out onto a cooling rack. Poke holes in cakes and drizzle creme de cocoa across the top of each. Leave to cool completely.

CHOCOLATE SWISS MERINGUE BUTTERCREAM

  1. Prepare Swiss meringue buttercream, leaving out the vanilla https://waltzoftheflours.com/2018/07/11/my-first-grownup-cake/
  2. Melt the chocolate in a saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly. Allow to cool.
  3. Mix in melted chocolate into buttercream (I used the paddle attachment on my mixer) until fully incorporated.
  4. Add any additional salt as desired.

BERRY CHOCOLATE GANACHE (prepare when you’re ready to use)

  1. Heat berries, lemon juice, and salt in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook until you can mash all the berries.
  2. Place the chocolate in a bowl.
  3. Press the berry mixture through a fine mesh strainer into the bowl with the chocolate.
  4. Mix until the chocolate has melted. Use immediately to avoid it setting before you’re ready.

ASSEMBLY

  1. Spread a layer of berry ganache and then buttercream over the first cake layer. Top with fresh berries, halved.
  2. Place the second cake layer on top, and cover the entire cake with a layer of buttercream.
  3. Decorate the top of the cake as desired with remaining buttercream, ganache, and berries. Enjoy!

 

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Lavender Chamomile Honey Conchas (Vegan aside from the honey! It’s organic)

IMG_2414It’s time for recipe two (out of I have no idea how many recipes yet) of my Baking with Tea series! I formed a plan for my flavors early on going into this week because I was generously gifted fresh honey from my beekeeper friend! The decision about what to actually make, though, was a rather spontaneous one: after an original plan to develop a cupcake recipe, I began feeling a itch to work with enriched dough instead! So, I sat down on my laptop fifteen minutes before the time I’d allocated for baking that day, and I began randomly reading about sweet bread recipes from around the world. Conchas immediately caught my attention, especially because I had, surprisingly, never seen them before–I realized that it was surprising when I called my sister to excitedly fill her in about my discovery, and she already knew exactly what I was talking about!

For those of you like me who are new to them, a concha is a Mexican dessert that consists of a sweet, enriched dough bun and topping much like a crisp cookie dough. They’re often decorated with patterns that evoke their name–concha is the Spanish word for seashell. There are similar versions of this concept in other cuisines, including a Japanese sweet called melonpan (melonpan often visually correlate to their name as well, with designs more like melons than shells). IMG_2446

I couldn’t believe that I’d never been exposed to either striking dessert! Being the token “baking nerd” among most of my friends and family, I sometimes feel like it’s my duty to be a foolproof well of dessert knowledge. When my sister informed me of her familiarity with these, then, my first honest reaction was embarrassment–I wanted to take back the innocent explanation I’d done and pretend that I’d known what they were all along. Of course, my sister did not find any issue in the fact that they were new to me. She was simply excited to hear that I was making them and that she could picture an idea of what I might come up with!IMG_2377

The reason I elaborated on our conversation is because this is quite a familiar situation for me. As a perfectionist, an older sibling, a type A personality, an Enneagram type 2, and probably every other stereotype that connects to those, one of my biggest fears is failure. My worst nightmare life experiences involve some form of appearing weak or incapable. I once joined a group of guys playing catch with a football at a party (an activity that I’ve enjoyed for years), and upon walking over to receive the first throw to me, I missed the ball, and it proceeded to smack me right in the center of my forehead. Sure it hurt a little, but the only significant pain I felt was in my very soul–my stomach was still in knots of humiliation by the NEXT MORNING.IMG_2359

It’s funny–well, mostly funny– looking back at those situations now: it seems silly how upset I could get over something hilarious like that. In fact, the panic about everyone suddenly questioning my athletic ability significantly hindered my chances of enjoying the rest of that fun afternoon! I assume I’m not alone in my tendency to protect my ego– we’ve all blindly nodded in conversations to avoid admitting we don’t know what someone is referencing, or sidestepped a question when it’s incorrectly expected that we know the answer. No one aspires to feel inferior around their peers.

That’s something I’ve really been challenging myself to change, though–that mindset of constantly twisting others’ knowledge and strength into my own inferiority. Because if I go around pretending I know everything (I’m speaking from experience as a 100% former child know-it-all), then I’m naturally squandering my opportunities to learn! It’s hard to listen well to someone or engage fully in an activity when all you’re thinking about is how you can keep up your facade…of keeping up. IMG_2435

So, the next time someone asks you if you know about a relevant news headline that’s actually news to you, or looks for your opinion about an artist or author you’ve never heard of in your life, or encourages you to participate in a task you fear you’ll mess up–embrace the unfamiliarity! Ask all the questions, admit you need further explanations, and throw away the fears of showing your humanity. Together, let’s do our best to remember that each day we do so becomes a chance to leave stronger and more knowledgeable than the one before. Wishing you plenty of baking, failing, and learning during this quarantine.

Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
    and the one who understands obtain guidance,

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
    fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 1:5, 7

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Lavender Chamomile Honey Conchas (Vegan aside from the honey! It’s organic)

Ingredients

BUNS

  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1 packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp yeast)
  • 1/3 cup aquafaba (liquid from canned chickpeas)
  • 1/2 cup melted margarine
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 lavender chamomile tea bags
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 TBSP honey (plus more for drizzling at the end)
  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading

TOPPING

  • 2/3 cup vegetable shortening
  • 2/3 cup sugar (vegan if desired)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 lavender chamomile tea bags
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • food coloring/fruit juice for dying (optional)

Instructions

BUNS

  1. Warm milk in a microwave-safe bowl/cup (It should be lukewarm, around 105-110°F). Mix in yeast packet, and set aside until activated–yeast should get a bit puffy.
  2. In a large bowl, combine margarine, contents of tea bags, salt, aquafaba and honey. Mix well.
  3. Once the yeast is activated, add it to bowl and mix in.
  4. Mix in flour in multiple additions, until it’s all incorporated.
  5. Turn dough out onto a floured surface, and knead until very smooth and elastic–use more flour as needed to avoid sticking, but as little as possible is best. Use the windowpane test if you’re familiar with it to judge when it’s ready.
  6. Place the dough in a greased bowl, and flip it to coat the dough.
  7. Cover, and allow to rise until doubled in size (time with vary with environment; mine took up to three hours in certain conditions).
  8. Meanwhile, make the topping: combine all ingredients in a bowl, and mix until it come together (using your hands is messy at first but most effective, in my opinion). It should hold together when pressed without cracking. If you added juice for coloring, you may need to add a bit more flour to keep it from getting too wet. Set it aside.
  9. Prepare baking sheets by lining with parchment paper or greasing.
  10. After the dough has risen, gently punch it down, turn it out onto a floured surface, and separate into twelve even sections. Gently form each section into a ball by pulling the dough out and down into itself, and place them on the baking sheets (Leave lots of room between because they GROW).
  11. Separate the topping dough into twelve even amounts. Using a tortilla press or rolling pin, press each piece into a wide circle, flouring the rolling pin or press to avoid sticking.
  12. Place each circle on top of one of the buns as you make them, gently pressing the bottom edges to the bun and cutting off any excess.
  13. Using a sharp knife, score desired patterns into the topping dough of each bun.
  14. Gently cover with cling film/wet paper towels, and allow to rise until visibly puffed, around 30-40 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 325°F.
  15. Bake the buns in the preheated oven for about 18-20 minutes, or until the bottoms are slightly browned. (I actually prefer the temperature a bit higher, but it becomes easy to burn them at 350°F, so be especially cautious if you choose that route!)
  16. Drizzle with honey, and enjoy immediately!

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Baking with Tea: Brown Sugar Oatmeal Scones (V)

IMG_2042Before I get into the contents of the blog, I have to note the massive opportunities I overlooked in writing it. When I took these photos, my sole motivation was to highlight the flower shape of the scones without actual foliage, which I don’t currently have. It wasn’t until I texted the pictures to my family that I realized my puzzle pieces could be an homage to Autism Awareness Month–if only that had been intentional! Then, as I was finishing the post, I suddenly remembered that I had done a floral-themed shoot…on Earth Day. Well, regardless of whether it was my initial intention or not, I’d like to acknowledge both beautiful occasions! I’ll celebrate them despite the fact that I had no idea I’d be doing so before I started this–and, if you read the blog, you’ll see that perhaps that was more fitting than anything else…

I’ve been thinking, as I write at my kitchen table, about all the things surrounding this moment that I would have found unbelievable days, months, or years ago. Every single sentence I pull from the description of today has factors that attest to just how much change has occurred in my life! Let me demonstrate with this simple statement:

On this cold Tuesday afternoon in Pittsburgh, I’m writing a blog post for a recipe series about baking with tea.

First of all, the fact that I’m in Pittsburgh is something that I couldn’t have predicted for most of my life; I’ve never had any direct or indirect ties to the city. Second of all, I would have once blatantly refuted the idea that I might have a baking blog by now. Multiple people had tried to convince me to start one a while back, and I was convinced it was beyond my abilities. Thirdly, the fact that the recipe of choice was centered around tea would have been laughable for a long time because I passionately hated all varieties of tea until around 2017!  There’s also no reason that, before March, I would have anticipated being home writing on a Tuesday afternoon instead of at work–that’s something many of you can understand.  Finally, on a more recent note, I would have been shocked and disappointed two weeks ago as I strolled around the neighborhood in short sleeves, to know that today wouldn’t even reach 50°.IMG_2121

The reason I share this “exercise” of sorts is that it’s a reminder of the fact that, no matter how intently we study the past and present, we can never produce a guaranteed illustration of the future. In fact, our speculations are often wayyyy off. It brings me back to a few weekends ago, when I watched Blade Runner for the first time (great movie with a great sequel, by the way). My roommate and I chuckled at how comical the 1982 filmmaker’s depiction of what 2019 was in comparison to the true reality of that year. The boxy vehicles, eccentric fashion, and impossibly accurate photograph enhancement software from the movie certainly did not resemble the 12 months we’d just lived in ANY way. What’s more, just recall the sheer quantity of apocalypse day predictions that have come and long since passed, or the rapidly changing estimations regarding the current pandemic. Even the ideas I had about how I’d allocate my time today have shifted since I woke up this morning. When it comes to foreseeing the time ahead of us, we humans are simply unreliable.IMG_2070

While this inability is discouraging to a degree–I often wish that I could experience the security of knowing with certainty what awaits me in my life–it’s equally, if not more, comforting. When I look at the sentence I analyzed earlier about my day, I noted that essentially every part of it was something I would’ve never anticipated in the past. And yet, nearly every part of it was also positive in some way: I love Pittsburgh and have called it my home for four years now; I have a blog that keeps me inspired and allows me to share my passion for baking with others; my former aversion to tea has, thankfully, reversed course entirely; and despite the difficulties of quarantine, I’ve found countless rewarding elements of the extra time at home (Sorry, I can’t think of a reason to celebrate the freezing temperatures). What I mean to emphasize is that, if I’d had the option of dictating the future based on my own safe predictions, I would have never experienced the delights of those surprises.

In a time when phrases like “latest death toll projection” and “flattening the curve” and “re-opening phases” are bombarding our individual thoughts and global dialogue (and especially when many of the outlooks tied to them present grim depictions), it’s easy to fall into a despondent, fatalistic attitude. Without crossing the line into denial–certainly, many of these prophecies hold scientific weight–it’s incredibly relieving to acknowledge the unpredictability of life, to remember that no blue print contrived by humans is set in stone. Life will produce its unique combination of expected and unexpected scenarios, despite how vehemently we try to anticipate them.

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What’s more, I believe that we were created by a God who can and will orchestrate goodness through this crisis, even if every single negative prediction surrounding this chaos plays out. Our grasp of normalcy changes by the hour–just imagine what the Maker of flowers and animals and human brains and galaxies can do with today. With tomorrow. With this tragedy. We can appreciate every form of relief available during this time; knowing that we don’t have to (we literally can’t) foresee the days ahead AND that one day we’ll realize something good came from this, something beyond anything we could ever imagine in this moment–what a relief that is.

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

James 4: 14-15

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Brown Sugar Oatmeal Scones (V)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup quick-cooking oats
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1/3 cup vegan butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vinegar
  • 1 flax egg (1 TBSP ground flax mixed with 3 TBSP water, left to thicken in fridge for at least five minutes)
  • contents of 3-4 tea bags, depending on strength of tea (flavor of your choice: my favorites are Earl Grey and Jasmine)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for shaping
  • Optional: extra brown sugar or turbinado sugar for topping

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a baking sheet or line with parchment paper.
  2. Combine the almond milk and oats in a microwave safe measuring cup or bowl. Microwave for one minute, place in a large bowl, and then set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and contents of tea bags.
  4. Mix the vinegar and light brown sugar into the bowl with the oatmeal. Then, mix in the butter (it should incorporate pretty easily as the oatmeal will still be a bit warm).
  5. Mix in the flag egg.
  6. Begin adding the flour mixture to the wet ingredient mixture, mixing until it’s completely incorporated.
  7. Transfer dough to a floured surface, and press into a disc or rectangle, about 1/2 inch thick (either wetting your hands or flouring them will help in handling the dough). Cut desired shapes of scones, flouring your knife/cookie cutter/jar to avoid sticking.
  8. Place the scones on the prepared baking sheet and top with brown/turbinado sugar if desired.
  9. Bake in the preheated oven until just browned on the bottoms, about 15-16 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool, and enjoy!

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