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Monday, November 30, 2015

Adulthood to a Millenial

I couldn't tell you why, but this Twitter post got 16 "Likes" on my Facebook timeline.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

How to Build a Gingerbread House

Or, rather, how I built mine.

Now that Thanksgiving is over, it's time to haul out the holly and celebrate the arguably most-prominent holiday in America, Christmas! I celebrate both Christmas and Yule, it's Pagan ancestor, and building gingerbread houses has become a new tradition for me!

Last year, I recreated (perhaps a bit haphazardly, I'll admit) the Garney Mansion, a historic and beautiful landmark of Kansas City that tragically burned down in March of 2014. The family was exceptionally gracious in their allowing me to recreate their beloved home out of gingerbread, and were even more gracious to buy it from the fundraiser, Gingerbread Lane.

Gingerbread Lane is a wonderful fundraiser held by the Children's Center for the Visually Impaired, located in Midtown Kansas City. Local bakeries and pastry chefs gather to create staggering creations out of gingerbread, in hopes that they'll be auctioned off to help further fund the CCVI. This was my entry last year.

While this looks like there's a lot more decoration on it, I assure you that it's more flash and less substance. It was a bit ramshackled, in my honest opinion, but it truly wasn't bad for my first try!

This year's entry, called "Steve", is a bit improved!

Notice the windows? They're made from melted jolly rancher candies, and piped over with royal icing! The house originally had a half-timbered look fashioned from hand-painted Twizzlers, but they were so waxy and bent that they just wouldn't stay on. I ended up knocking all of them off and instead hand-panted each and every little bit of royal icing that was on there. I almost wish that I'd been smart enough to stick a little battery-powered light on the inside of that house before I'd attached the roof. Still, I'm quite proud of it.

The shutters on the windows were made from chocolate bar sections, and then piped over with royal icing. I was really proud of how they turned out!

The roof was, by far, the most-daunting part of the entire house! The roof was painted green using gel coloring with egg whites, and then left to dry. I then piped medium-consistency icing to create the shingles. It wasn't perfect, but I ended up being proud of the final result. I know that it has no chance of winning anything, but I hope that someone ends up buying Steve, if only to have an extra $50 or something to the CCVI's name!

My amazing boyfriend, B, (who happens to be a fantastic architect) was good enough to stick by me through the process, and even design the templates for my houses for both years. My dear friend Jay(of whom I've written several times) was also good enough to break away for several hours and help with the construction. Her hands are steady and her handwriting is far better than mine, so she did quite a bit of the piping and even wrote "willkommen" on the door mat for me.

Structure was the scariest part of this endeavor for me, just because I knew that the creation had to be 18" tall. The chimney went all the way through the house and offered as a sort of support beam. It was the scariest part of construction because it'd actually cracked in a few places while we were assembling it. Quick-thinking and calm Jay simply smeared it all back together with icing. Fortunately, it was able to be hidden within the structure of the house and wouldn't affect it cosmetically.

The house was finished with mere hours to spare and only had a few touches here and there in my mind. I was also exhausted from a sheer lack of sleep, so I honestly figured it was better to just stand on what I'd done rather than adding more things after the fact. The delivery was set for 9 am and I meant to deliver on time. I didn't really have the time nor energy to do my sugar cone trees. I did, however, make a "stone" path to and from the house using chocolates and a fresh coat of snow that's actually homemade marshmallow. You can find the recipe for marshmallows here; a single batch is all that was needed to cover this entire creation, but you can double-up if you want a really high pile of "snow"!

I also used oven-tried coconut flakes to add a little extra texture, just around the house and front porch. A few well-placed candies on the roof's pitch gave an extra splash of color, and a few peppermint candies here and there didn't hurt, either. I just wanted it to be simple, you know? After such a hard and stressful week, I wanted to make something simple, something that I could live with. Will it win any awards? It's likely not, considering this is only my second year doing the fundraiser, and all of the others were so beautifully done and heavily-decorated. I can hope for people's choice, sure, by asking friends to vote for me, but I can live with the fact that I'll not win anything.

Being a chef has taught me that it's sometimes not about glory, but about accomplishing something.

With little-to-no sleep on a 48-hour time frame, I build a gingerbread house from scratch. You can, too, using this recipe for gingerbread dough:

Gingerbread Dough
yields: 3 lb dough

  • 8 oz shortening
  • 7 oz sugar
  • 0.6 oz baking powder
  • 0.3 oz baking soda
  • 2 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 8 fl oz molasses
  • 2 eggs
  • 38 oz AP flour

This is a basic cookie method. 

Preheat the oven to 350 farenheit, low fan. Sift your dry ingredients together. Cream your fats together with your sugars, then add the eggs one at a time, all using the paddle attachment. Switch to the dough hook and add in your flour. Don't worry about gluten development too much, as you're not really making this to be eaten. Chill for about an hour before rolling and cutting your shapes, which should be greased, for good measure.

For precision, roll out in large sheets, cut your pieces, bake halfway through, then cut AGAIN for trim while still warm. The initial bake should take about 10 minutes, and then an extra 8 minutes for the final set. I suggest cutting out the windows before the initial bake, then trimming away for straight lines, should you desire.

Royal Icing
yields about a pound

  • 12 oz powdered sugar
  • ½ tsp lemon juice
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2 oz egg whites

Sift the sugar and set aside. Place the egg white and lemon juice in the standing mixer with the whisk attachment. Add about half the sugar and begin whisking on  medium low until incorporated. Increase the speed and check consistency. Add sugar as needed to correct.

I doubled the recipe on the gingerbread dough to create an 18" tall house with a chimney and a giant high-pitched roof. You can save the leftover dough and use it to create holiday ornaments for your friends and family. Simply roll out and cut using the desired shapes, and pipe designs in royal icing. These are wonderful gifts for family members, and they're truly a sentimental.

Word to the wise: make sure you drill that hole
BEFORE it's baked!
I visited B's family just this evening and saw their Christmas tree, fully decorated, complete with two of my hand-made gingerbread ornaments from last year. They truly do stand the test of time! You can write the names of your loved ones on the ornament to customize it further, and decorate it using different colored icings.

For any questions regarding these techniques, please don't be afraid to comment, because I can't bite you through a screen!

If you like "Steve", please come out to Webster House in Kansas City to vote for it, or any other house you like! Voting jars are placed at each house, and each dollar counts as a vote. Even if you don't vote for mine, you'll be voting/donating to a very worthy cause.

Happy holidays from WannaBGourmande.com!

Thursday, November 19, 2015


Baking it forward with Ginger-Bread Pudding!

This morning, the illustrious Chef Alex Guarnaschelli showed up in my Twitter feed with this wonderful message:

Now, how could one refuse such a command from their Queen? I shan't shun my duties to Her Royal Majesty! And you shan't, either! Forthwith! Pip pip cor blimey! British things that are probably offensive! Ha ha!

Okay, I'm done.

Anyway, No Kid Hungry is a fantastic charity organization that fights against childhood hunger. Did you know that, even though about a third of children nowadays are overweight, 1 in 5 children in America are not sure where their next meal is going to come from? I think that's messed up on about ten different levels, but we all know my thoughts on childhood obesity by now, especially if you're a regular reader of my blog.

No Kid Hungry also partners with the Great American Bake Sale, which lets you personally start a bake sale to get your community involved and end childhood hunger! If that's a little too much for you, but you still want to help, simply tweet a picture of your baked goods, be they for the holidays or for "just because" with the hashtag: #BakeItForward and Food network will donate $1 per share to the No Kid Hungry fund! Need more proof? Okay, here you go:

See? Food Network is out there, helping us get involved! Sure, they could just donate a bunch of money, but isn't it more important to get the whole community involved? Isn't it more important to raise light to the issue that a fifth of American children are going hungry, and that we all need to do something about it? It's been a week since Food Network tweeted this and I'm just now finding out about it!

Share things on twitter and Instagram... Here are some of the things I'm sharing!

Ooooh, these are yummy Linzer Cookies, filled with cherry jam!

And just look at this wonderful Ginger-Bread pudding I made today, using leftover bits of gingerbread cake, all warm and gooey. I realize that the plating is a bit kitschy, but it's still a baked item, and I hope that Food Network will allow it.

Care to Bake it Forward with
a yummy pretzel bun??
Baking isn't just about feeding someone, it's about patience, and love. Some of my fondest memories come from being in my grandpa's bakery as a child, being plucked from my bed at 4 am and put in his truck, waking up in the bakery to the smell of cinnamon rolls being baked.

I remember being seven, and Grandpa in his white apron, handing me a hot cinnamon roll that was about the size of my face. I remember that joy, the smell, the steam rising from the oven. Baking is so important to me that I can't even express how much it makes me just well up inside to know that something as simple as a cinnamon roll, a warm bun from the oven, has made this much of a mark on me and my life.

I love baking because it's both science and art. Having the skill to bake is the most powerful skill I think I have.

Do I want bread? I shall have bread, and I shall not have to leave my house to get it! I see where cookies are not and say "That will not do." I want an English muffin and I can make an English Muffin. I am a Goddess that creates baked goods instead of people, and you can be, too.

Now, do you want to help? Of course you do! So, what are you waiting for? Get out there, and bake something! Snap a picture with your phone and get it on the internet! Fire up that twitter, that instagram! Do it!

Eh? What's that? You aren't sure what you want to bake? Hmmm, that is a problem, isn't it? Well, may I suggest a delicious  Red Velvet Cheesecake with Graham Cracker crust? If you'll forgive the quality of the picture, this recipe is a real throwback to my start in the Pastry world! I made it for a friend, who was going through a rough time, and it was my first at-home cheesecake, that was not made in a restaurant! If I can make this, you can, too!

Hmm, that one takes too much time? Yeah, I can see that. Cheesecake is a little tricky, too, and might not be the best start if you're just  now starting to learn to bake. How about a Lemon Cherry Yogurt Cake, which is healthier than your average cake, and a delicious snack that you can easily bake in many shapes! You can bake this one in cupcake form, in ring form, in circle or square form...and it's delightfully moist. It's a very good cake that's just fine with or without icing. You can make a glaze for it, of course, but I just wanted a little powdered sugar on mine.

What? You mean  you want something more festive? Naturally! You'll want a festive cake for the holidays.... Okay, try this, Kansas City!

How about a Be Royal Roulade, in honor of the Kansas City Royals WINNING THE WORLD SERIES?!?!?!!!! You just try to NOT bake this for your holiday and get glowing reviews!

This cake is a fantastically fun bright blue spongecake with a marscarpone MOOOOOOOOOUSSE, fit for Royalty. And, if you like the roulade cakes, try a yule log, complete with chocolate bark and marshmallow meringue mushrooms.

Yeah. I know that it's on a star-spangled glass cutting board. I realize that it's more appropriate, probably, for the 4th of July. But the point is you can use the same recipe for the royal roulade(minus the blue food coloring) and make a Yule Log for your Christmas/Yuletide gatherings this year. For the bark, just melt some chocolate ganache over a double boiler and "brush" it on with a silicone brush for texture! You can do the same thing with chocolate frosting, of course, but there's just something nice about the real chocolate stuff...

What? You just want cookies? Oh, fine. Here you go. Cookies.

This one is made from chocolate chips, orange zest, and mini marshmallows
This recipe is my ultimate go-to "vanilla base dough", adapted from Milk & Cookies's recipe in their cookbook. You can use it to make chocolate chip cookies, of course, but you can also add mini marshmallows, chopped up pretzels, dried fruits and nuts, or even your favorite cereal to create your perfect cookie.

That should get you started on your Bake it Forward journey. Now, please, get out there and bake.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Pray for Paris

I am truly heartbroken to say that I am almost numb to the recent happenings in Paris. The death count is over 160 at this point, and the world seems to be in shock. There was also a big earthquake in Japan, yesterday, and now there's a tsunami watch.

I know that it doesn't do much to write about something. At this particular moment, I'm not sure what I can do. I'd love to do something, I really would. All I can do is say that I stand with you, I stand with Peace.

I can't believe how routine mass shootings and terrorist attacks have become for me. Perhaps this is what living in a warring country is like for other young women? Perhaps you become numb to it because if you felt how you were really supposed to feel, it might kill you?

Perhaps I'm numb over this despicable tragedy because I have nothing left to give at this point. Gods help Paris. Gods help Japan. Gods help us. Gods help me.

Gods help me understand why.

I don't know why I'm writing this. I know it does nothing. But perhaps someone else will see it and see that they aren't alone in feeling numb? Perhaps I'll be another thread in a great and beautiful fabric that will be woven in the coming days, weeks? Perhaps something will finally change?

We can only hope.

Yesterday was Friday the 13th, as well as World Kindness Day. I tweeted that morning about it. It all seems so surreal. Maybe Kindness is what we needed? Nothing brings kindness out in people quite like tragedy. I'm really glad I didn't make any jokes. I'd feel even worse than I do now; but at least maybe I'd feel a fragment of something.

My heart goes out to all the people of Paris, to their families and to their lost. My heart goes out to Japan, to Beirut. My heart goes out to all of you. I wish I could do something.

If there's anyone in Paris or Japan that would like a friendly thought or an ice cream recipe from a sassy American, or even a shoulder to cry on, the comment box is below for you to talk to me. I know it's not much, but all I can do is offer a listening ear.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Soapbox Rant: Selfies and Why I Love Them

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Instead of another food post, which I can't seem to find inspiration for, as of late, have a Soapbox Rant. 

*stretches* *pops neck* *steps on soap box*
While I'm not sure if this qualifies as a "normal" soap-box rant for me, I feel it needs to be said:
I am so vehemently pro-selfie. I really am.
I love seeing your selfies. I love seeing you. I love that you're saying "I am here."
"Oh it's narcissistic" you might hear some say? Consider this:
Great works of art were portraits of the rich, the royal, etc. Commissioning portraits could have been considered narcissism, don't you think? Maybe the argument is that it's documenting history? That this person was there, and existed? I think that's the same with selfies.
Another reason that I love selfies is because: WHAT IS SO DAMN WRONG WITH LIKING THE WAY YOU LOOK???
Yeah, I'm taking a selfie. I like the way I look. Does that threaten you? What's wrong with liking the way I look, in a society that tells me that I'm only allowed to like my looks if they fit [X] paramaters?
I picked up a women's magazine somewhat recently(I think it was Cosmo but I'm not sure) and on one page was "love your body" and then in the same magazine a few pages later there was an article about "LOSE THAT MUFFIN TOP SQUAT YOUR WAY TO A BETTER BUTT" and then a few pages LATER there was a cake recipe. What the f---why????
In a society where it is SO confusing and SO hard for women to find some kind of solid, consistent choice as to what to do when it comes to their looks, I don't see how taking a damn selfie is harmful.
A selfie says "I'm here. I look like this. And I'm okay with that."

Sure, you might post a few with angles and filters and makeup. So what? You're not hurting anybody. Take that damn selfie. I appreciate you and what you are saying. You're not waiting for someone else to come along and take your picture for you, to photoshop it to make you look good so you can finally look like those women in magazines. You're not waiting for someone ELSE to say "Hey, you look good, let's take a picture."
You are taking control of your body and your face by snapping that selfie. So keep 'em coming, because I love it. I silently cringe when I see your facebook profile pictures as anything OTHER than your beautiful faces and of cartoon characters or memes instead, even you dudes. Yes, I see that you like Looney Tunes, but I want to see YOU. I want to look into YOUR eyes. Please, take a selfie and use it as your profile picture!
I would love nothing more than to come back to this post a few hours later and find it full of selfies in the comments.
Please take selfies. Even you dudes. You can take selfies, too.
*steps off soap box*

Now, go. Take a damn selfie. You have the power to shut out those that call you narcissistic by ignoring them. You don't need that kind of negativity in your life.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Triple-Chocolate Mousse Tower

This is a triple-chocolate mousse tower I made at my new job! I won't tell you how it's made(as the recipes aren't mine) but I WILL tell you that it's fairly easy to recreate on your own time. I must say, though, that it's quite labor-intensive...but here's how you can do one yourself.

See these?

These are genoise cakes that have been baked in a very thin layer and then cut into rings.

Genoise cakes are dry, sponge-like cakes with little-to-no fat in them, so they're actually relatively healthy. A good genoise recipe is quite irreplaceable in a cook's repertoire, so I highly suggest finding one.

Genoise cakes are also fantastic for swiss rolls/yule logs, which I'll post about later to come in the holiday months! Sure, they're a little dry on their own, but they're truly fantastic for trifles and layered cakes, as their structure is quite nice and they stand up well.

These genoise cakes were baked in a very large sheet tray so that the batter was spread quite thin. Once cooled entirely, the cakes were stamped out using a ring cutter. You can, of course, use whatever shape you like.

If I were to make this cake again, however, I'd stack the whole, cooked cakes atop one another with each filling and then cut when it is entirely set, just to save myself some trouble and scraps. If you want circles, though, cut circles and proceed to the next step.

Now, I took the cakes and set them in ring molds like these ones. You can find these at just about any specialty store, or online. For extra help, you can also set them in acetate strips, which is excellent to help you see what you're doing.

These cakes are filled with milk, white, and dark chocolate mousses, all separated with a cake in each one. We decided on ganache as a topper, but you can use frosting or some kind of glaze. I personally think that they look quite nice just with a dusting of powdered sugar and some fresh fruit on top. The filling possibilities are truly endless, and they're a real show-stopper, especially if you're doing them for a party. You could even turn these into a tiramisu for a perfect individual portion!

How do you get that filling into moulds so neatly? Piping bags, of course. Simply fill your bags and pipe, paying attention to the height of each level. Again, this is where the acetate comes in handy, so you can see what you're piping.

See how neat and clean those look?

If you do use a ganache or frosting, however, be prepared to unmould them carefully and then smooth the sides with an offset spatula(or a butter knife) that's been dipped in very hot water. This will offer a smooth finish for you.

Garnishes, of course, are all up to you. I do, however, recommend that you only choose garnishes that'll make sense with your flavor profile. Don't put a random strawberry atop a tiramisu. Don't add random dark chocolate curls to a key lime flavored trifle. Don't choose for the sake of looks, but for the sake of taste. It doesn't matter what kind of pretty plate you have in front of you if it doesn't taste good. Taste first, guys. Taste. First.

Now, go, be inspired! Make towers of cake! Go forth, my children, and be free!